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Multimodality

“Right now, in parks, renovated warehouses, front steps, playgrounds, friends’ basements, and cafes all around the world, young people are seeking and creating spaces to be. Within these contexts, they are engaging in a range of multimodal literacy practices: accessing and participating in a variety of digitally mediated spaces, creating and disseminating representations of self, communicating with multiple audiences, and acquiring and producing informational texts. They are, quite simply, literate in many ways. This statement raises a deceptively straightforward pedagogical query: How would we teach if we assumed all youth were literate?” (Vasudevan, 2011, p.88)

Envision a typical classroom. There are a number of students sitting in rows of desks, or maybe groups. They are given a text to read and asked to write in response to the text. Maybe they are answering specific questions. Maybe they are critiquing, but the basic mode of learning is reading for information and writing to prove comprehension. This is what school learning has looked like for generations. Now consider the quote above and all of the spaces where young people are making meaning of the world and adding their meaning to the world. The students that we teach live in a fast paced world where they interact with more and more media every day. They have meaning-making skills that we can only begin to imagine. Yet there is a gaping divide between school learning and real world literacies.

Now imagine a classroom where the real world literacies directly inform classroom practices. Students’ ways of making meaning of the word around them are taken up for school subjects. Students’ ways of creating meaning for others and self-expression are understood as valuable and representative of their knowledge. The connection between what is learned and practiced in school and what is learned and practiced outside of school is evident to the teachers and the students alike.

All too often traditional schooling only recognizes one mode of learning and knowledge expression as valuable. By privileging one way of knowing over others, we regularly send the message, both overtly and inertly, to our students that they do not belong or their way of being is wrong and must be fixed.  Multimodal approaches to learning allow us to disrupt this normalized notion of knowledge and create learning opportunities that are inclusive of the variety of learners we teach.

Getting started with multimodality:

  • Reflect on someone in your pedagogical life - a student, a colleague, a teacher - whom you have not yet gotten to know.  How can you create ways to know this person multimodally?
  • Try to list the various modes of knowing and creating meaning represented by your students.  How do they regularly interact with each other and with the world? What literacies do they enact to make sense of the world around them?
  • What literacies, other than text, do you have access to in your classroom?  How might these literacies become part of the work of your classroom?

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