Digital technology has changed literacy as we know it. Schools need to look outside of the Common Core to pinpoint skills that will make students more competitive in today’s world. Even résumés for employment are now interactive. That means we must educate students beyond written text using multiple literacies. This may put teachers at a disadvantage in terms of skill. But instead of avoiding the task, we should embrace our students’ ability to do more. 

While expanding the curriculum can sometimes lead to bells and whistles taking over scholarship, it is important to place emphasis on content first and save “the pretty” for second. Visual literacy and visual thinking are components of graphicacy, and therefore play an important part in transliteracy. 

Transliteracy, like graphicacy, uses pictorial encoding and decoding, presents information using multiple formats, and combines a roster of skills to communicate an outcome. It involves visual thinking and ability to deconstruct what the brains sees, whereas visual thinking refers to output. It is about learning how to design by combining images, audio, and text. It is multidimensional, uses different platforms, and creates a level of communication that is multisensory.

Transliteracy is essential for today’s learners. It is about integrating the design of information using a variety of technologies for the best possible result to convey meaning. It is the process of taking an idea and adding layers of information to take it to its final stage well beyond a traditional approach. Transliteracy will become the underpinning of good educational design, because it is driven by the best way to communicate an idea. We have long advocated for teaching students to think like designers, and it will transform the way they learn. 

Today, there is a burgeoning need to categorize and reshape information in innovative, recognizable, image-based ways. Transliteracy is just that. The onslaught of stimuli in a variety of formats, platforms, and social media has changed. It is a multidimensional world of 3D and 4G information. The nonstatic nature of learning on a variety of devices allows for this. From an educational standpoint, this means designing complex information (, both as teachers and students, as viable forms of communication. Transliteracy is the process of changing ways of seeing and a method of demonstrating facets of meaning beyond traditional approaches.

—Patricia Russac is co-founder of the American Society For Innovation Design in Education with Mercer Hall. She is also a 13-year K–8 educator at Buckley Country Day School in Roslyn, New York, USA.


Students must first master the ability to read and write effectively, coherently, and with clarity before they can interact transliterally. Transliteracy is the ability to read, write, and interact across a range of platforms, tools, and media, from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio, and film to digital social networks. The application of transliteral skills is contingent on our ability to do these things. In other words, transliteracy is predicated on the ability to read and write. We must first be literate before we can be transliterate. 

When we begin to teach transliteral skills, there is an assumption that students are already adept at interacting with texts. I am not sure how transliteracy would satisfy the development of these essential language skills. It is not, therefore, prudent to replace traditional language arts skills—the practice of reading and writing and interacting with a variety of texts—with transliteral skills. 

I do believe that it is important to embrace the notion that transliteral skills are here to stay and that they are vibrant and vital. Transliteracy, then, should be considered and valued as a non-negotiable skill set that all students must possess, but let’s leave poor language arts out of it. That is to say that transliteracy is not necessarily within the purview of language arts teachers alone. Just as language arts teachers have long fought to share the responsibility for reading across the curriculum, transliteracy belongs to all educators. 

As a former English teacher, I feel I must defend the power of creative and analytical thinking that comes from reading both fiction and nonfiction texts. These skills are vastly different from the experiences that our students may have on, say, Tumblr or Vine. I don’t mean to suggest that our schools should not embrace transliteracy. All educators need to promote transliteracy as vital to the effective development of 21st century skills—across the curriculum—not in lieu of language arts.  

To say that transliteral skills should replace language arts is to virtually say there is no value in the reading of classic or modern texts as a foundation of our literacy. In essence, that would mean there is no context upon which students can subsequently exercise transliteral skills. I dare say I would not have been able to write this very response had I not been taught to value the plain old reading of both classical and modern texts.  

—A former high school English teacher, Jody Lambert is currently the assistant principal at Wamogo Regional High School in Litchfield, Connecticut, USA. She facilitates professional development for teachers to promote the use of technology in the development of literacy skills.