Over the past two years my blogging activities have become significantly reduced. This isn’t just on my professional blog but my blogging and writing has taken a hit in every area. Various factors have contributed to this including workload, moving house, preparing for my wedding and life in general. My activity on Twitter was also put on hold for many of the same reasons and perhaps a change in the atmosphere and way in which Twitter is used too. However, I returned to Twitter and noticed a large debate taking place about the use of “ineffective” teaching methods with mention of video texts being an ineffective medium for teaching.

The thing to remember, as with all text types, is that it is the use of resources which makes them effective. When I started teaching my school was a lead school for the Creative Partnerships programme and one of the things which we were told frequently was that effective creative learning doesn’t always have to be teacher-led. It is very much about the teacher being the facilitator. I remember being highly praised by an inspector because my Year 2 children were being incredibly independent in delegating tasks and leading their own learning to create their own animation as part of a creative learning project. There is a huge difference between creative learning and creative teaching but during my time in the classroom I have noticed that strategies that promote creativity and creative learning are being marginalised for the sake of rote learning to meet national standards. The climate for this seems to be getting worse.

It also saddened me to see the use of multiliteracies and multimodality is potentially being marginalised too. I have always been a huge advocate of new literacy studies (I did my MA in it) and believe that the education system should be relevant and provide children with the skills to be literate in all of the meaning making systems which society provides. I am therefore planning a series of blog posts about the use of multimodality and its relevance to today’s society.

In defence of multiliteracies and multimodality

Changes to the types of texts we read and the way we interpret them are rapidly occurring in the modern world. Hence, one has to be literate in a range of meaning systems, or modes of representation, in order to participate fully in today’s (and tomorrow’s) society (Callow and Zammit, 2002). We have been witnessing a shift away from the written and spoken word to an increasingly diverse range of new literacies (Williamson, 2005). The challenge of digital technologies and cultures requires a fundamental rethinking of both curriculum and pedagogy. It requires educators to move beyond the present print-bound curriculum, and to acknowledge the full range of ‘literacies’ that encapsulate multiple modes of meaning (Buckingham, 2002; Lankshear and Knobel, 2003). There was a time when ‘literacy’ could be understood as the business of putting words into sentences on pages, and doing this correctly according to standard usage (Kalantzis et al, 2002). However, with the widespread use of technology now embedded in popular culture this definition of literacy is no longer suitable because technologies enables students to actively and interactively explore and deconstruct texts, which should be  central to the English curriculum.

Children bring a wide experience of texts to their school work, which are now seen as important curriculum resources (QCA/UKLA, 2005; Unsworth, 2001). These new literacies include:


This suggests that the idea of literacy in government guidance, as being focused solely on print-based texts, needs to be adapted to reflect children’s social literary practices. Unsworth (2001) suggests that:

“In the twenty-first century the notion of literacy needs to be reconceived as a plurality of literacies and being literate must be seen as anachronistic. As emerging technologies continue to impact on the social construction of these multiple literacies, becoming literate is the more apposite description” (Unsworth, 2001: 8).

However, while there is a growing recognition that the shift from print to digital technologies requires redefinition of the nature of literacy as well as new teaching methods, what may count as effective learning of literacies in the ‘information age’ remains problematic (Goodwyn, 2000).

Multiliteracies theory advocates the need for technology to be embedded in the curriculum to reflect the literacy practices of an ever-changing society. ‘A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies’ (New London Group, 1996), rises out of the need for an awareness of cultural and critical literacy practices, emergent technologies and practices within the rapidly evolving social and global environment (Matthewman et al, 2004). The New London Group state that literacy pedagogy has traditionally meant learning to write using standard forms of national language in a page-bound, official manner, which has been a carefully restricted project. They assert that:

“Literacy pedagogy must account for the burgeoning variety of text forms associated with information and multimedia technologies” (New London Group, 1996: 2).

This highlights the importance of technologies within the English curriculum and suggests that we need to rethink what they are teaching and what literacy pedagogy may now need to address (New London Group, 1996). The group state the relevance of social context which emphasises a need for pupils to be able to work with texts of popular culture, which is consistent with the views of Unsworth (2001). In a multiliteracies perspective, the current curriculum focus on linear text-based literacy as the dominant language of society represents a very limited conception that fails to address a global technologically advanced society (Genzuk, 2005). Although the established, language-based literacy pedagogy will remain highly necessary, it will be by no means sufficient for the development of the kinds of literacy practices of the new millennium (Unsworth, 2001).

The adoption of technology in schools should not always be focused on a ‘technical’ level whereby teachers would focus on acquiring technical skills with computers and then trying to apply these at a practical level (Conlon, 2000). However, it is necessary for children to engage at a critical level, which is an integral part of the multiliteracies theory:

“A critical level of engagement also provides students with opportunities to develop their understanding about the way we construct and communicate information in our society” (O’Rourke, 2001, 2).

In this sense teachers and pupils need to find their way around this emerging world of meaning that requires a new, multimodal literacy (Cope and Kalantzis, 2000). ICT plays an important part in this because it is technological and media modes that allows children to look at texts beyond their surface and make meaning in more complex ways, through many modes, context and knowledge of the world. A critical level of engagement must bring these modes together so that technology is considered in terms of its human communication and effectiveness in message transmission (O’Rourke, 2001). However, in order for this critical engagement to take place children need to be able to interpret systems of signs and shared meaning when looking at multiple modes.

Multiliteracies theory fits in with the overall theory of semiotics, whereby discussion is focused around individual elements in texts that convey meaning together. Past experience with print texts has meant that most adults and children have a relatively detailed knowledge of the semiotic system of print texts but little of the semiotics of multimodal texts (Anstey and Bull, 2006).

Multimodality is one of the key elements of multiliteracies theory and asserts that children should learn to engage with meaning through a diverse range of modes including linguistic, visual, auditory, gestural and spatial meaning systems. Kress states that many of the ways that children make meaning, through multiplicity of modes, means and materials are not recognised by the adult forms of culture and tend not to be included in the curriculum. It is multimodality that deeply affects the paths into literacy of children, therefore there is a strong need for this to be reflected in pedagogy (Kress, 1997). Kress calls for the need to dislodge written language from the centrality it has held and include other modes such as visual forms in the curriculum (Kress, 2000). The concept of multimodality forces a rethinking of the distinctions usually made between communication and use, and in particular reading and use. For a theory of multiliteracies this is crucial (Kress, 2000). In terms of impact on the National Curriculum documents there are two distinct areas that require altering if children are to work multimodally. The first move is from studying and analysing writing to starting to analyse images. The second is the transition from studying solely the medium of book to the medium of screen (Kress, 2003). According to Kress (2003):

“These two together are producing a revolution in the uses and effects of literacy and of associated means for representing and communicating at every level and in every domain” (Kress, 2003: 1).

In short, children need to be able to read a variety of text forms (or ‘literacies’) across a range of modes and therefore media in order to be fully literate in today’s society. Technolgoies is central in this vision as it is technology that provides many of the ‘modes’ for learning (Kress, 2003).

The combined effects on writing of the dominance of the mode of image and of medium of the screen will produce deep changes in the forms and functions of writing. This will then, in turn, have profound effects on human, cognitive/affective, cultural and bodily engagement with the world (Kress, 2003).

When I first started teaching there was a huge emphasis on multimodality through the renewed Primary National Strategy for Literacy. The government even produced the ‘More than Words’ document which I referenced previously through collaboration with the United Kingdom Literacy Association. However, this has become sidelined in recent years through the new National Curriculum and the promotion of purely text-based communicative practices.

My next post will be focused on concepts of multimedia learning and an argument (with academic evidence) of whether this improves learning.


Anstey, M. and Bull, G. (2006) Teaching and learning multiliteracies: changing times, changing literacies, Australia: Australian Literacy Educators’ Association.

Buckingham, D. (2002) ‘New Media Literacies: Informal learning, digital technologies and education’ in Buckingham, D. & McFarlane, A. (2002) A digitally driven curriculum? London: IPPR.

Callow, J. & Zammit, K. (2002) ‘Visual Literacy: From Picture Books to Electronic Texts’ in Monteith, M. (Ed.) Teaching Primary Literacy with ICT, Buckingham: Open University Press.

Cope B. and Kalantzis, M. (2000) ‘Multiliteracies: the beginning of an idea’ in Cope, B. and Kalantizis, M. (Eds.) Multiliteracies: Literacy Learning and the Design of Social Futures, London: Routledge.

Conlon, T. (2000) ‘Visions of change: information technology, education and postmodernism’, British Journal of Educational Technology, Vol, 32(2), pp109-116.

Genzuk, M. (2005) ‘Visions of Possibilities: Multimedia Literacy in Teacher Education’, Urban Ed, The Magazine of USC Rossier School of Education, Summer 2005.

Goodwyn, A. (2000) ‘‘A Bringer of New Things’: An English Teacher in the Computer Age?’ in Goodwyn, A. (Ed.) English in the Digital Age: Information and Communications Technology and the Teaching of English, London: Casell.

Kalantzis, M., Cope, B. & Fehring, H. (2002) ‘PEN: Multiliteracies: Teaching and Learning in the New Communications Environment’, Primary English Teaching Association, Marrikeville: Australia (Obtained via the ERIC Database: ED465170).

Kress, G. (1997) Before Writing: Rethinking the paths into literacy, London: Routledge. Kress, G. (2000) ‘Multimodality’ in Cope, B. & Kalantziz, M. (Eds.) Multiliteracies: Literacy Learning and the Design of Social Futures, London: Routledge.

Kress, G. (2003) Literacy in the New Media Age, London: Routledge.

Lankshear, C. & Knobel, M. (2003) New Literacies: Changing Knowledge and Classroom Learning, Berkshire: Open University.

Matthewman, S., Bright, A. and Davies, C. (2004) ‘What Does Multimodality Mean for English? Creative Tensions in Teaching New Texts and New Literacies’, Education, Communication & Information, Vol. 4(1), pp153-176.

New London Group (1996) ‘A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Future, Harvard Educational Review, Vol. 66(1), Spring 1996, ISSN: 0017-8055.

O’Rourke, M. (2001) ‘Engaging Students through ICT: A Multiliteracies Approach’, Teacher Learning Network Journal: Change, Growth and Innovation, Vol. 8(3), pp. 12-13.

QCA/UKLA, 2005) More then words 2: Creating stories on page and screen, London: Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

Unsworth, L. (2001) Teaching Multiliteracies Across the Curriculum: Changing the contexts of text and image in classroom practice, Buckingham: Open University Press.

Williamson, B. (2005) ‘What are multimodality, multisemiotics and multiliteracies?’ Futurelab, May 2005.

Leave a Reply