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TILE-SIG Feature: Back to School with Multimodality

by Alexandra Panos
 | Aug 24, 2012

What is multimodality?

Upon first hearing the word multimodality, it could easily be dismissed as another buzzword. Yet, multimodality simply means the ability to create and read a variety of modes of communication. Approaching literacy in multimodal ways emphasizes the many ways that individuals can communicate their ideas. This understanding respects individual students and promotes success in their literate lives.

IRA’s definition of multimodality emphasizes the increasingly digital nature of society’s modes of communicating.  Combining a changing and expanding number of technological modes to communicate and comprehend is intrinsic to multimodality in the 21st century. Literacy today requires competence in engaging with, evaluating, and creating these texts online as well as through more traditional methods. This especially honors our tech-savvy students, while also asking that educators guide learning in digital spaces. 

Our Responsibilities & Knowledge

Increasingly our responsibility as educators involves supporting students in all areas of their literate lives. The call to digital literacy action has sounded throughout our profession, and it often seems daunting. But, teachers already expect and teach skills which help students communicate in multimodal, if not always digital, ways. When we ask students to create a collage, draw a timeline, or read a science text with a diagram, we invite them to create and read multiple modes of communication. We already teach this as an important skill which we expect of our students. While schools and educators are in the process of moving from mostly print modes to a more tech-centered multimodality comprised of reflexive online spaces and design-based meanings, society already demands it of our students. 

Applications & Ideas

As we begin another school year, excited to meet our new students and set them off on an informative journey, we always explore ideas to enliven our curriculum. This year, why not start off by facilitating meaningful multimodal creations online?

The tools compiled here can be used to facilitate a more digital multimodal literacy for the start of a new school year.  In each tool it is easy to recognize an aspect of multimodality you may have used in the past: Glogster is very similar to a poster, Flickr is reminiscent of class picture walls. Ultimately, translating the creation of these complex multimodal tasks into the digital realm is not prohibitively difficult. 

Considering your objective to be purposeful communication, there is no end to what you can do with these tools.  Your room full of tech-savvy users/creators of digital content can support both you and the objectives of the work.  Opening the year using such democratic media will facilitate a supportive community of learners where everyone is both expert and apprentice. As the professional, it is important to have working knowledge of the tools we hope to use. Most of these online tools are very user friendly. However, if you find them unfriendly, tutorials are available on their respective websites.

Two areas educators may use to guide beginning-of-the-year activities center on getting to know our students and the creation of a safe learning community. Digital tools encourage students to share using modes with which they already communicate on a daily basis. Understanding these digital tools as a way of supporting multimodal literacy gives you the space to facilitate complex literacy events for all learners in support of beginning-of-the-year rituals.



Tools to Get to Know Your Students

Some Unit Plans for Getting to Know Students in Multimodal Ways

Tools for Supporting a Community of Learners
  • Edmodo: A secure social networking site which allows teachers to provide space for online communication and sharing. (free) See this video tutorial:
  • Edmodo Tutorial from Mr. Robitaille on Vimeo

  • VoiceThread: In addition to allowing students to upload images and tell a story using audio or video of themselves, it is possible to network and share with a preset group of users. (free) Also, check out the Reading Today Online blog post by Denise H. Stuart about VoiceThread.
  • Edublogs: Create a classroom blog where you can moderate comments and posts. (basic version free, charge for student users)
  • Flickr: Online photo sharing site for compiling class photos. 
Some Unit Plans for Creating Communities in Multimodal Ways
  • Wiki Lesson Plan - A grades 6-8 unit, students combine reading fragmented stories and researching online, to create wikis which mimic their online research to help guide them to designing writing for the digital age.
  • Multimodal Meaning Lesson Plan – A grades 3-6 unit, students are guided through the meanings authors and illustrators create through different media. Easily adapted for older grades.

Alexandra Panos is a middle grades Language Arts teacher in Chicago. Her future posts will focus on multimodal approaches which support digital literacy. is a website devoted to providing literacy instruction and interactive resources for grades K–12 from the International Reading Association, the National Council of Teachers of English, and Verizon Thinkfinity.  

This article is part of a series from the International Reading Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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