Thursday, 25 July 2013 17:29

Assessing Multiliteracies

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Assessing Multiliteracies

A few months ago I wrote an introductory article on what Multiliteracies theory is and another on why it should be a classroom focus. In this article I will expand on the topic and discuss how to assess multiliteracies. It’s great to say educators are going revolutionize practices to get students ready for the 21st century, but if the assessment measurements don’t align with the practices we have no way of ensuring students are reaching the goals we are setting for them.

The issue with standardized tests, such as the frequently used multiple-choice exam, is that they are often only capable of measuring lower levels of learning. Kalantzis, Cope and Harvey (2003) maintain:

“Standardized testing measures whether its one-size content knowledge has fitted all (which it never can, and in fact measures the similarity of some student to the single set of assumptions about knowledge and thinking)” (pg. 24).

The difficulty with standardized testing measures, as mentioned in my previous article, is that skills required by 21st century learners are collaboration, communication, and self-direction,.—all higher-level skills that can’t be measured with paper-pencil tests.

If you are expanding your instruction to include multiliteracies pedagogy, it is likewise necessary to expand your assessment to include multiliteracies strategies; otherwise, it will be unclear if your learners have fully achieved the outcomes you have set out for them. Complex, multifaceted, higher-level learning outcomes require more complex and multifaceted assessments.

Here are some possible examples suggested by Kalantzis et. al (2003):


What is Measured

Projects (problem-based or otherwise)

The ability to plan, collate and present, and/or the ability to problem solve within the context. Requires a deep and broad understanding of outcome(s).

Performance Assessment

The ability to plan/organize, implement and problem-solve. Requires a deep understanding of outcome(s)

Group Assessments

The ability to collaborate (individual capacity), problem-solve and, resolve conflicts. Requires a deep and sometimes broad understanding of outcome(s).

Portfolio Assessment

This measures an individual’s unique experience and individual strengths as well as ability to reflect on a broad array of what has been learned.

The main difference between the suggested assessments above and the assessments we typically see in the college classroom is the majority of responsibility in the above lies on the student. They don’t need to just regurgitate information or, in the worst-case scenario, provide the right answer by taking a guess and getting it correct 25% of the time; Multiliteracies assessments are largely self-directed, and therefore requiring in-depth research on a subject.  Reflecting on this knowledge contextually or connecting it to new or related subjects , either individually or within a group, will clearly demonstrate successful comprehension and incorporation of 21st century skills within the learning environment. These are all skills our 21st century learners require to be successful in the various fields they enter.

However, I’m not suggesting you discard all traditional forms of assessment. Multiple-choice tests certainly do have their place; especially when testing for lower level outcomes or the testing of foundational knowledge before moving on to the more complex outcomes in your classroom. But  when it comes to assessing those complex, higher-level outcomes, make sure you are doing it with an assessment that is robust enough to evaluate every facet.

(Image adapted from Wiggins and McTighe, 2005)

Do you use multiliteracies pedagogy and/or assessments that measure multiple attributes? Share your experiences in the comments below.


Kalantziz, M., Cope, B., Harvey, A. (2003). Assessing multiliteracies and the new basics. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice. 10(1), 15-26.

Wiggins, G.P., McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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Christie Robertson

I remember what it was like being a new instructor: too many questions and too many resources to sift through. My goal as a writer for Learning Connections is to help instructors with common teaching issues, whether they are f-2-f, blended or online. I want answers to those frequently asked question to be easy to find!