Multimodal Literacy

My (Cathy) pre-service students were assigned a multimodal aspect to a major assignment this year.  If you are not familiar with the Theory of Multimodality, it is Gunther Kress’ alternative to Linguistic Theory (which only privileges reading and writing as the main modes of communication in a school curriculum).  The Multimodal Theory contests that in our new age of multiple literacies, students need to be communicating, responding and expressing through many different modes of communication (e.g. speaking, music, moving, gesturing, image, and digital technology).

When I first introduced the multimodal assignment to my students, there was some trepidation and even some anger.  It was suggested I did not have the right to be marking them on their artistry or on creativity.  Hence, I had to teach the concepts behind Multimodality Theory so they could better understand what we need to be offering students of the 21st century.  They needed to see that it would allow them the freedom to express in modes of their own choosing; that it was not graded as art but as a production of design; and, that the work could be symbolic or interpretive depending on the meaning they were portraying.  The multimodal projects would also be shared in class so all could learn from them.  This project was not just them regurgitating information for me, it was them designing and producing personally meaningful projects that express what they learned and what they deemed significant.

This week we finished viewing the projects.  They were amazing, and the student response to these projects was encouraging.  My students (concurrent students just finishing a five year educational degree) had never been given this kind of an assignment before.  They loved the element of choice; working together; taking a risk; pushing their boundaries; feeling creative; and, doing something they were interested in.  The modes they selected  to express themselves though were sometimes more traditional (dancing, rapping, singing,  writing and reciting  poetry, creating 3D sculptures, puppetry, multi-sensory art installation pieces); sometimes digital (iMovies, pod-casts, prezis, Pow Toons, popplets, infographics);  and, were often a combination of both.

Collectively, we were all blown away by the results.  We were moved.  We were inspired.  My students all said they would definitely use multimodality now as teachers.  Below are a few images of my students presenting their projects:

role play poemfish bowlRAPguitarpuppet photo (13)

Now, I have to assess these designs… but that, dear reader, is for another blog.

About Dr. Cathy Miyata

Cathy Miyata is a professor at Wilfrid Laurier University. She is also an acclaimed storyteller and writer. She has performed and lectured in Serbia, Japan, Malaysia, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Sweden, Mexico, the United States, Egypt, and across Canada

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