Students require clear, accessible literacy teaching guidelines and an explicit supportive pedagogy to help them develop the necessary skills and knowledge to successfully construct (and interpret) multimodal meaning.

When asking students to create multimodal texts, the literacy focus is to ensure students have access to the literacy knowledge and skills required to make considered decisions in designing meaning. This means, students (and us as their teachers) need to know how  different communication modes makes meaning, separately and together.

How can we do this?

We can begin by identifying the literacy requirements of the multimodal creating tasks we set. What specific literacy knowledge and skills do our students need to create this text,  in this context? What prior knowledge and experience, do students have? What is the purpose of the text? Who is it for? What is the content? From this basis, we can then design teaching and learning activities to develop these specific literacy outcomes. Working through this process will build students’ knowledge of how to use the different meaning making resources available to them, and it also helps develop a metalanguage to talk about it.

An introduction to visual literacy provides resources for understanding more about how the different visual elements work to create meaning; particularly visual knowledge of still images which is influenced by the language of visual art, and of moving image through film and media studies.

In practice, a lot of learning about how a multimodal text can communicate meaning through each of the modes and in combination, occurs through close analysis of examples and guided discussion. For example, a student asked to create a comic strip or graphic novel needs to understand how the visual resources such as line, shape, colour, framing, characterisation, social distance, angle and perspective can work to create meaning in this format; how the linguistic resources such as dialogue through speech, monologue via thought bubbles, and narration work; and how the visual and linguistic resources work together to create meaning.

Use examples of comic strips and graphic novels to teach and extend students’ knowledge and understanding of these different contributing visual elements. An e-version of the comic strip means sound effects and voice can be added so a teaching focus here would need to extend to developing knowledge of the meaning using different aspects of sound as well.

Reading (and deconstructing) examples of these texts shows how this is a critical component in the process of developing student knowledge of the meaning making resources available to multimodal authors.


The Teaching/Learning cycle

This three step process: Deconstruction of sample texts, Joint construction of a new text as a model, and Independent construction of a new text; comes from Genre-based pedagogy. As depicted in this diagram, the aim is to make the entire learning task very explicit through building up student knowledge about the meaning making modal systems in a shared metalanguage.

The cycle features a deconstruction stage, where models of the target genre are presented, a joint construction stage, where teachers scribe another model text in the same genre based on suggestions from students, and an individual construction stage, where students write in a genre for the first time on their own. All stages involve setting context and building up field (shared knowledge about content) and a critical orientation to the genre (with respect to its function in the culture).

Martin, J,R.  Genre and language learning: A social semiotic perspective Linguistics and Education, Volume 20, Issue 1, 2009: 16

SFG teacher-learner-cycle.jpg

Martin, J,R.  Genre and language learning: A social semiotic perspective

Linguistics and Education, Volume 20, Issue 1, 2009: 16

This resource for  implementing the Genre Teaching and Learning Cycle for Writing offers detailed information on the stages of text construction and explores the genre teaching and learning cycle in depth. While it is specifically focused on print texts, the same process can be applied to multimodal text construction.