Pedagogic Potentials of Multimodal Literacy

Pedagogic Potentials of Multimodal Literacy

Maureen Walsh (ACU National, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-120-9.ch003
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This chapter discusses the changed nature of literacy within new communication contexts, the literacy that is needed for reading, viewing, responding to and producing multimodal and digital texts. Potentials for redesigning literacy pedagogy within new modes of communication are demonstrated for educational contexts. As a basis for this discussion, the author analyses classroom evidence using examples of three case studies from a research project conducted in primary schools in Sydney, Australia. In the research project teachers in several primary schools worked with the author/researcher to consider ways of redesigning literacy pedagogy within e-learning and multimodal classroom contexts. Interesting and significant changes occurred in their classroom practice. Teachers developed programs that incorporated a range of technology, including Web 2.0, and were able to maintain a balance between print-based and new literacies. Examples are presented and discussed to highlight the differences in pedagogy needed for ‘multimodal literacy’ combined with traditional literacy practices.
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There is now an acceptance of the textual shift that has occurred for today’s students whose environment is filled with visual, electronic and digital texts. The terms ‘multiliteracies’ (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000; Unsworth, 2001), ‘new literacies’ (Lankshear, C. & Knobel, M. 2003), ‘multimodal texts’, ‘multimodal discourse’ and ‘multimodality’1 (Kress & van Leeuwen, 1996, 2001, 2006) represent attempts to describe the textual shift that has occurred and to conceptualise the changed learning paradigm that is fundamental for literacy and learning in an age of increased digital communication.

Students of today quickly learn the range of technology that allows them to multi-task with a variety of digital media and mobile technology to surf the internet, send a text message or photo to a friend, play a digital game while listening to music, or create their own multimedia texts through hybrid texts such as weblogs. ‘Texting’ or SMS messaging is part of what has been termed the new ‘textual landscape’ (Carrington, 2005) that has expanded rapidly with the introduction of Web 2.0 technology. The multi-tasking involved in texting, that may incorporate rapid use of abbreviated spelling, numbers, photos, graphics and icons, is a skill needed for activities such as blogs, wikis, podcasting or gaming. Moreover, this multi-tasking itself incorporates the merging and synchronising of text, images, sound and movement. Do we really know how such multi-tasking and morphing is affecting the way children learn? Are the processes involved in activities such as texting, blogging, or communicating online developing different cognitive abilities than those required for reading and writing traditional print-based texts? Or are these new modes of communication merely requiring traditional literacy skills to be applied to new types of texts?

Such questions are currently being investigated by many researchers world wide. We are in a time of transition with new theories and new pedagogy evolving while at the same time newer forms of digital communication are emerging. There are arguments that classrooms are in danger of becoming redundant unless significant changes are made to curriculum and assessment practices. A recent report in the United Kingdom (Bearne et al, 2007) has shown that children of all ages are more likely to access digital rather than print-based texts outside school. This research has implications for the use of texts inside school. We need to consider what type of pedagogical shift is needed to incorporate the textual shift that has occurred and the underlying digital cultures that are embedded within multimodal communication. There are many reasons why schools cannot be expected to replicate the multimedia experiences that students engage in outside school. However we do need to examine how new modes of communication can be integral to classroom communication.

Curriculum documents and assessment requirements for reading and writing are based on established theories around the reading and writing of print-based texts. These theories have determined specific approaches and strategies for teaching reading and writing to assist learners at all stages of learning. We need ongoing research to theorise the interactions that occur as readers process various visual, aural, spatial and textual modes, separately or simultaneously, in digital texts. Do students read digital texts for meaning in the same way as they read print-based texts? What digital reading strategies need to be developed for deeper levels of inferential, analytical, critical and evaluative understandings? What differences are there between the process of sending a text message and handwriting a message on paper? How do we incorporate the possibilities of imaginative design and production possible for a website, blog or DVD into the writing curriculum?

Key Terms in this Chapter

Multimodal Texts: Those texts that have more than one mode, such as print and image or print, image, sound and movement. A multimodal text is often a digital text but can be a book, such as picture book, information text or graphic text. Multimodal texts require the processing of more than one mode and the recognition of the interconnections between modes. This process is different from the linear reading of print-based texts.

Multimodal Literacy: Refers to meaning-making that occurs at different levels through the reading, viewing, understanding, responding to, producing and interacting with multimodal texts and multimodal communication ( Kress & Jewitt, 2003 ). It may include listening, talking and dramatising as well as the writing, designing and producing of such texts.

Multimodal Learning Environments: Refer to classroom environments where teachers and students are using and interacting with different types of texts and tasks across a range of curriculum areas. Literacy and learning may occur as cohesive processes in the interchange between texts and learners.

Multimodality: Refers to the simultaneous reading, processing and/or producing and interacting with various modes of print, image, movement, graphics, animation, sound, music and gesture. These modes, as well as language, are often referred to as different semiotic resources ( Kress & van Leeuwen, 2001 AU16: The citation "Kress & van Leeuwen, 2001" matches the reference "Kress VanLeeuwen 2001", but the capitalization is different. ) in that they each are symbol systems for communicating meaning.

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