Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Breaking with Tradition: Multimodal Literacy Learning

Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Breaking with Tradition: Multimodal Literacy Learning

Article excerpt

Multimodal literacies instruction... enables children to have creative autonomy, to think and act in unique ways, and allows all children to have academic access through dynamic paths.

Sanders, 2010, p. 131

The children in Mrs. Elliott's third grade class sat on a colorful carpet with an outline of the United States printed on it. (All names are pseudonyms.) They all faced her as she sat on a little wooden stepstool that raised her just barely above their heads. She held in her hand, up where everyone could see, a book called Come Look with Me: Enjoying Landscape Art with Children (Blizzard, 1997). She asked the children what they noticed about the colors the artists used in the works of art reprinted in the book. Their art teacher had talked with them in the past about how artists use color to create moods and feelings in their paintings so I heard excited comments about lights and darks, reds and blues, and calm or exciting. Throughout the carpet conversation, I noticed that a boy named Franco spent the entire time high on his knees, stretching over his classmates to look more closely at the book his teacher held. His gaze was fixed on the pictures in the book and he appeared to be studying the artwork closely, but he did not share his responses as the other children did. He seemed to be absorbed in really looking at the paintings.

Traditionally, teachers' approaches to literacy instruction and learning in schools tend to center on the communication modes of written language such as reading and writing. In the classrooms that many of us remember, the printed word was most often the dominant and privileged mode of making and sharing meaning (Harste, 2003). Even in today's classrooms, children whose strengths do not lean toward the areas of verbal or written language, including those who are learning English as a second language, may find themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to learning and communication in such a classroom. The ideology of our traditional, print-centered educational system and values often position these students as learners who are deficient somehow when this may not truly be the case (Olshansky, 2008).

In actuality, outside the classroom walls, we all live in an increasingly multimodal world (Harste, 2010; Kress, 2010; Sanders 8c Albers, 2010). Social semiotic theory relies on the understanding that literacy involves complex social practices that include all the modes, or ways, we have for making meaning in our social and cultural worlds (Kress, 2003). This theory enables us to use multiple, often over-lapping sign systems such as visual art, mathematics, dance, and written language to help us make sense of the world around us and to expand our understandings of what it means to be literate in our society (Albers, 2007a; Eisner, 1998; Short, Harste, 8c Burke, 1996). This is an important consideration for educators because the social practices at play in the classroom send strong messages to students about what kind of learning and whose kind of literacy is valued. In turn, students' thinking and learning are influenced by those experiences and the opportunities they have to learn - or not (Albers, Vasquez, 8cHarste, 2008; Borner, Zoch, David, 8c Ok, 2010; Christianakis, 2011).

In their world outside of school, due in large part to the societal growth in electronic media, today's children have much experience with reading and creating a variety of multimodal texts such as videos, e-books, text messages, and even family photo books created using online software (Kress, 2003). Different modes provide different opportunities for making and representing meaning, depending on how the maker and the reader interpret them (Albers, 2007b; Albers ôc Murphy, 2000). A multimodal curriculum, or a curriculum that supports a multimodal perspective, can provide the framework for a flexible literacy curriculum that values the lives and multiple ways of knowing that learners bring to the classroom (Albers, 2006; Berghoff, Egawa, Harste, ÔcHoonan, 2000). …

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