Literacy, media and multimodality: a critical response

In recent years, literacy educators have increasingly recognised the importance of addressing a broader range of texts in the classroom. This article raises some critical concerns about a particular approach to this issue that has been widely promoted in recent years – the concept of ‘multimodality’. Multimodality theory offers a broadly semiotic approach to analysing a range of communicative forms. It has been widely taken up by literacy educators, initially at an academic level, and has begun to find its way into policy documents, teacher education and professional development and classroom practice. This article presents some criticisms, both of the theory itself and of the ways in which it has been taken up within the wider context of curriculum change. It argues that, in its popular usage, multimodality theory is being appropriated in a way that merely reinforces a long-standing distinction between print and ‘non-print’ texts. This contributes in particular to a continuing neglect of the specificity of moving image media – media that are central to the learning and everyday life experiences of young children. Drawing on recent classroom-based research, the article concludes by offering some brief indications of an alternative approach to these issues.

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