I'd like to begin by echoing your excitement about The Briggs-Chisnell Project. The opportunity to participate with you (and others) in a dialogue concerning educational issues that are important to us has the potential to be transformative.
For this post, I'd like to take up one of your questions regarding mutiple literacies. You wrote:
"Where before we would see a form (i.e. a sonnet) and we would therefore know how to decode it (and we called this literacy), now the forms approach the limitless, and what as readers are we to deduce?"
To begin my response, I'd like to pose the following question: How do readers learn to decode a sonnet? Educational institutions is part of the answer, but it's not complete. A culture that values literature--sonnets, in particular--might be another part of the answer. (And when I speak of culture, I'm thinking of the words "pluralistic" and "evolving" and "interactive.")
The forms today are moving toward "limitless," thanks, in part, to technology, but it's also a result of an everchanging culture that we are both a product of and a participant in. Therefore the definitions of literacy are changing. Educational institutions, particularly those obsessed with testing and assessment, like to maintain rigid definitions of literacy. For example, a sonnet is a sonnet, not a mutimodal composition consisting of spoken word, still image, video, music, and sound. However, outside of the academic word, there's a lot more going on.
Kathleen Blake Yancey, current president of NCTE, wrote in her CCCC Chair's address in 2004:
"Never before has the proliferation of writings outside the academy so counterpointed the compositions inside. Never before have the technologies of writing contributed so quickly to the creation of new genres . . . the members of the writing public have learned . . . largely without instruction and, more to the point here, largely without our instruction. They need neither self-assessment nor our assessment: they have a rhetorical situation, a purpose, a potentially worldwide audience, a choice of technology and medium--and they write."
So to return to the original question, readers learn how to decode the new forms by participating as members of the writing public. This is what is happening--now! But this situation brings up another question: What role(s) do we, as teachers of literacy, play in this dance of signifiers?
Short answer: We help our students to become more critical consumers and producers of texts in a myriad of forms and mediums.