Multimodal Literacy

Multimodal Literacy

Maryann Tatum Tobin (University of Miami, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7365-4.ch009
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Millennial readers are learning to navigate an increasingly robust system of symbols and patterns in order to become literate. This phenomenon, known as multimodal literacy, is providing for new and rich ways of teaching reading to address the complex thinking patterns of young students. However, the rapid pace of technological growth has created a confluence of basic literacy skills and the reading requirements of a multimodal world. Literacy educators must adapt their instruction to this new reality to prepare today's students for the challenges of this century and beyond.
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Since the latter part of the 20th century, the traditional notion of literacy has been redefined. Just as the invention of the printing press moved society into the typographic culture, now we are in what Provenzo (1986) termed the “post-typographic culture,” where the definition of a literate person now includes affinity with the computer, media, and visual literacies. In the post-typographic world, microcomputers revolutionized commerce and news media, but education is still late to the game. There are pockets of classroom use, but by comparison to how, for example, marketing, was transformed by social media and online metrics, education has largely seen isolated use of technology. However, within the last decade, tablet and portable device-driven learning has begun to see a more comprehensive change, and print books are taking a “back seat” to multimedia in the school life of students. Print-based texts contain elements of written language, images, and design elements such as typography and graphic design, but media-rich texts involve moving images, sound effects, and increasingly robust digitally-rendered elements that must be “read” by students (Sarafini, 2014).

Many students are immersed in media-centered environments that are different from classrooms of the past. This new technology comes with several acquired understandings for young readers, as they must learn to maneuver their way through both print text and a series of icons, images, and symbols. Literacy instruction, therefore, the “becoming literate” has moved from an ability to navigate and decode a printed text for the purposes of gaining new knowledge to the ability to access, manipulate, and apply information from a variety of print and non-print courses (Gee, 2007). These new literacies require a pedagogical revolution that incorporates processing a variety of modalities simultaneously in the classroom. Engagement with robust new literacies helps prepare students to not just be receptacles of information, but to think critically, observe and evaluate like scientists and historians (Abilock, 2001). To foster inquiry and project-based learning, schools are developing links between content area teachers and the central texts (both print and digital) through disciplinary literacy, that is the confluence of content knowledge, personal experiences, and the ability to read, write, listen and speak academically (Wineburg & Resiman, 2015).

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