Increasing Student Voice, Creativity, and Technological skills with Multimodal Writing

I recently attended an engaging and impactful multimodal writing workshop led by Angela Stockman. While I’ve included multimodal writing in my high school English classes for a while now, the workshop reinforced its importance. The typical focus on the alphabetic mode as being better or more important than the other modes (haptic, aural, visual, gestural, and spatial) perpetuates a detrimental view that limits and harms our students of diverse cultures (see Zaretta Hammond’s Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain). This spurred me to not only continue but to expand my use of multimodal texts in my classes as both the object to learn and the product to create.

What is Multimodal Composition?

Texts in my class include the usual books, short stories, and poems, but they also include infographics, posters, photo essays, websites, videos, podcasts, interactive and immersive experiences, and even video games. My students and I deconstruct these “texts” and use what we learn to then create our own “texts.” Students have a wide array of choices when they create a product and can show their learning in the way that best suits their audience, purpose, and preference.

During one unit of study, we read memoirs focused on various mental health challenges and illnesses. Along with researching and creating annotated bibliographies about the illness their memoir talked about, students learned about Public Service Announcements (PSAs). We determined what makes a PSA effective and what sorts of techniques were most useful in their development and then students created their own PSAs that were then hung around the school to help to educate others and destigmatize mental illness.

Students are motivated and engaged to express themselves in these creative ways and are not only able to “write,” but they are also able to navigate the design principles of these varied techniques to deliver their message on multiple levels, thus honing their critical thinking skills simultaneously. Furthermore, students learn to use multiple technologies to accomplish their goals, ranging from RodeCaster Pro podcasting equipment to Canva to create posters, infographics, and photo essays to video editing software to HTML coding to create websites and so many more.

Other examples of student creations can be found on the Student Voices Podcast and The Blogging Project: Student Blogs.

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