The article reviews important concepts in the literature of (new) literacies literature and provides insights in the presentation and development of identity and literacy of an EFL immigrant learner, and calls for a broad and critical reexamination of ‘literacy’ in today’s society.
Here, I am going to briefly comment on the ideas of the article in terms of the construction of identity and the implications of literacy education. I would relate to adolescents’ development and education while considering the two aspects and share my opinions on related educational issues.
1. Affordances of the Internet and Its Implication on identity formation
Apart from the concepts of ‘identity’ and ‘literacy’, other important constructs are “voice" and “design". As the title suggests, one can ‘design’ the self or give voice to one’s identity not only by deploying the existing linguistic and semiotic linguistic resources, but also by adopting and reshaping the resources to “create new meanings and ways of presenting the reality". The existing resources as well as the adoption and recreation of resources is made possible and readily available by the computer and the Internet. They afford users the channel and resources to create and present their own identities in an imaginative world— the Internet community.
2. Identity and mental health development
Almon’s awareness of two different ‘I’s reflects the true confusion of identity that an adolescent is very likely to go through, but which they normally would not share with others apart from really close and supportive friends in daily life. And Internet provides such a channel to share with friends and go through the difficult phase of adolescence more smoothly.
CMC also promotes emotional intelligence, communication skills and friendship among adolescent users. The case study shows that through CMC, it can be easier and less embarrassing for boys to adopt a supportive, consoling role as traditionally attributed to females. The traditional role put too much stress on men to be strong, so strong as to be non-feeling; and too much stress on women to be gentle and understanding towards others that many will hold back from displaying the true self that differs from the stereotypical characteristics. The roles of physical factors that highlight gender differences in face-to-face communication are minimalised in CMC communication. It helps Almon feel ease to display his abilities that are normally attribute to women and develop his understanding, empathy, and communication skills to help his friends and deepen his friendship, which would in turn strengthen his identity and enhance his self-esteem.
One implication I can think of in real life educational practice is that, if a student is problematic with class work but too engaged in using the computer, teachers / parents should talk with the student/child in a trustful manner and find out what he learns from the Internet, instead of restricting the student/ child from playing with the computer recklessly.
The affordances of CMC and the use language chosen by Internet users call for a broad and critical examination of the notion of language and literacy in today’s society. I strongly agree with the author on this point. While Almon was marginalized in classroom English learning targeted for so-called standard English and experienced frustration and low self-esteem, he gained confidence, psychological and emotional support as well as great improvement in his English proficiency by learning and using non-standard English. In this light, for TESOL practitioners, instead of trying to get students struggle to meet the out-dated prescribed rules of standard English, it may be high time to rethink about the ‘standard’ of English and respond to the real communicative and educational needs.
It would be beneficial if L2 teachers could integrate teaching the genre features of the language use in CMC and help to guide students in their use of the internet, while promoting their linguistic ability through practical language use at the same time. It will not only motivate students to learn English— because communication on the Internet is a topic of their interest and concern, but will also expose students to a new text type and broaden their understanding of the flexibility and complexity of language in use.
One way to integrate this method into the current exam-oriented English education in China is to modify extracts of CMC language use of English, such as IRC, and redesign it as a passage for the section of Reading Comprehension in English tests. The peculiar format of the passage which is different from other reading passages will attract students and really make student want to make a sense out of the extract and make genuine efforts to understand the passage. I think it will be fun to decode the message in the extracts, just like solving a puzzle.