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Adolescents' New Literacies With and Through Mobile Phones

reviewed by Kelly Johnston

coverTitle: Adolescents' New Literacies With and Through Mobile Phones
Author(s): Julie Warner
Publisher: Peter Lang Publishing, New York
ISBN: 1433144085, Pages: 198, Year: 2017
Search for book at Amazon.com

Being well into the 21st century, the question is no longer how educators prepare for adolescents’ use and learning of new literacies, but how educators can actively engage with the myriad literacies adolescents are already adeptly using in their everyday lives. This is arguably one of the greatest challenges facing educators and researchers alike, especially in the field of literacy education. In her book Adolescents’ New Literacies With and Through Mobile Phones, educational researcher Julie Warner positions adolescents as digital composers and argues that their everyday uses of mobile phones are useful for more fully understanding youth literacy practices, including literacy practices taught in schools such as writing.


To “build a nuanced understanding of the complex and highly inventive communicative practices of youth who compose with mobile phones” (pp. 1–2), Warner examines data based on three adolescent participants’ mobile phone composing across digital and physical spaces, including a ninth grade English classroom at a rural, public high school. To guide her research, Warner draws from a range of theoretical concepts, including Bakhtin’s (1982, 2002) dialogism and chronotypes, highlighting not only the social and networked nature of mobile phone composing but the spatial nature as well. These guide her methodological use of connective ethnography, which extends beyond traditional ethnography to include participants’ online worlds.


After providing an overview of the research study in her opening chapter, Warner details in Chapter Two the ways in which technology has been taken up and understood in relation to school contexts, drawing on specific concepts, such as affordances of the mobile phone and digital literacy practices, which are revisited as she discusses findings throughout subsequent chapters. Thus, Chapters Three through Nine are set within relevant research contexts that link Warner’s data and findings to larger bodies of work.


Chapter Three demonstrates the influence mobile phone composing has had on concepts of space and place. For instance, Warner shows how her participants’ digital literacy practices allow them to connect through and traverse new space-time contexts given the mobility inherent to mobile phone use. The relevance of this finding is picked back up in Chapter Nine, where Warner illustrates the ways her participants produced new social spaces for themselves and connections to the world through literacy practices such as digital curation and “favoriting” others’ social media as a form of feedback.


Chapter Four expands on this theme of mobile phone composing as a social practice. Warner integrates the work of Bakhtin (1982) to interpret her participants’ mobile phone composing as a social practice rich with opportunities for co-construction with digital audiences. Warner highlights the potential connection between adolescents’ digital composing and school-based composing, noting the ways in which audience feedback (from other students and the classroom teacher) has already been a form of social composing in traditional school settings. Chapter Five expands on the social aspects of mobile composing by highlighting the participants’ fluid and fluctuating mobile phone activity. For example, Warner discusses data from one participant who engaged in mobile literacy practices in unanticipated ways and at unexpected times.


Chapters Six, Seven, and Eight highlight the multimodal affordances produced through mobile composing practices. Warner first discusses the visual communication made possible through mobile phones, exploring how participants used photography, emojis, and GIFs to move beyond alphabetic text for composing that “marrie[s] the aesthetic and the communicative” (p. 125). Warner then expands on the social aspect of such visual communication through participants’ digital curation and the transformative potential of digital critical literacies. Warner argues that digital curation, in which “digital composers create or recontextualize a text using others’ content quickly and fluidly and without permissions or citation” (p. 127), has potential for “meaningful cultural production” (p. 140). Through examining participants’ digital literacy practices of curation, such as retweeting or quoting song lyrics, Warner discusses how youth drew from others’ voices to form agentic voices of their own. Such transformative power can be channeled as a means for conceptualizing digital critical literacies. As adolescents traverse social spaces via mobile phone composing, Warner argues, “youth need to understand that in taking up the semiotic and discursive affordances in a space and circulating them they are in effect brokers of ideologies” (p. 153). In this sense, as adolescents tap into mobile phone composing as a social practice, it is vital that educators and adolescents themselves recognize the neoliberal entities that are shaping major aspects of their digital literacy practices (such as using social media apps like Instagram). In doing so, adolescents can harness multimodal tools to become not only consumers of digital texts but also producers of technology that influence future digital literacy practices.


Each of these chapters allows for a deeper understanding of the possibilities that abound for research and practice through mobile phone composing as well as the ways in which such composing shapes adolescents’ identities, social worlds, and agentic possibilities. Warner consistently links to these deeper implications throughout each chapter. Warner concludes the book with her final chapter arguing for an expanded understanding of composing through her examination of adolescents’ mobile phone literacy practices. While her suggestions are particular to mobile phone composing, Warner’s call for expanded notions of literacy echo those of prominent scholars in the literacy field (e.g., Leander & Boldt, 2013; Siegel, 2006). Implications abound from Warner’s research for literacy researchers and educators alike. Researchers are encouraged to consider new frameworks that might adequately account for the multimodal nature of digital literacy practices such as mobile phone composing. On the other hand, by noting traditional schooled literacy practices, Warner also highlights implications for educators, including recognizing composition (online as well as offline) as a co-constructive, dialogic process.


The arrangement of the chapters allow for a non-episodic reading of the book, allowing the reader to focus on particular themes related to mobile phone composing if one so chooses. This book would be especially useful for social science researchers, graduate instructors, and graduate students interested in connective ethnography, digital literacy practices through mobile phone composing, and the application of Bakhtin’s theoretical concepts. Additionally, educators from multiple spheres may be drawn to the practical and evidence-based uses of phones related to everyday adolescent composing.


Bakhtin, M. (1982). The dialogic imagination. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Bakhtin, M. (2002). Forms of time and of the chronotope in the novel: Notes toward a historical poetics. In B. Richardson (Ed.), Narrative dynamics: Essays on time, plot, closure, and frames (pp. 15–24). Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University Press.


Leander, K., & Boldt, G. (2013). Rereading A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Bodies, texts, and

emergence. Journal of Literacy Research, 45, 22–46.


Siegel, M. (2006). Rereading the signs: Multimodal transformations in the field of literacy

education. Language Arts, 84(1), 65–77.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, 2018, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22363, Date Accessed: 10/18/2018 12:22:57 AM

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