Multimodal Literacy

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Carey Jewitt, Gunther R. Kress
P. Lang, 2003 - Education - 196 pages
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Multimodal Literacy challenges dominant ideas around language, learning, and representation. Using a rich variety of examples, it shows the range of representational and communicational modes involved in learning through image, animated movement, writing, speech, gesture, or gaze. The effect of these modes on learning is explored in different sites including formal learning across the curriculum in primary, secondary, and higher education classrooms, as well as learning in the home. The notion of literacy and learning as a primary linguistic accomplishment is questioned in favor of the multimodal character of learning and literacy. By illustrating how a range of modes contributes to the shaping of knowledge and what it means to be a learner, Multimodal Literacy provides a multimodal framework and conceptual tools for a fundamental rethinking of literacy and learning.

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“An explicit assumption in much multimodal work is that language is partial” (3). As multimodal theorists believe that there are always may modes in a communicational ensemble, the meaning of the message is distributed across all of these. The authors also explain “each mode is partial in relation to the whole of the meaning” (3) In their search for a better understanding of the multimodal, the authors ask: “What do we need to understand about the facilities offered by new communication technologies, in their configuration of modes and users of the media? What do we need to understand about new forms of message arrangements on the ‘page’ or the ‘screen’ and their role in learning?” (4) The authors here bring a social semiotic theory to multimodal theories of literacy, a theory which inherently emphasizes the “role of people in meaning-making , to their social agency” (4).
The authors believe: “social semiotics views the agency of socially situated humans as central to sign-making. “From a social semiotic perspective, people use resources that are available to them in the specific socio-cultural environments in which they act to create signs, and in using them, they change these resources…signs are constantly newly made, in a process in which the signified (what is to be meant) is realised through the most apt signifier (that which is available to give retaliation to that which is to be meant) in a specific social context” (10). And reading, according to a social semiotic theory, is also about sign making, but here, the process is reversed: “The process starts not from a person wanting to signify to the world outside, but from wanting to represent signs in the world outside (made by some other) to their inner self “ (13).
I find the authors discussion and research studies on meaning making and learning (how learning is a multimodal process) very informative and useful. What is needed, however, is a more thorough discussion of a social semiotic theory of the multimodal.

About the author (2003)

The Editors: Carey Jewitt is a researcher at the Institute of Education, University of London, and an editor of the journal Visual Communication. She has written widely on multimodal learning and teaching. Her recent publications include Multimodal Teaching and Learning: The Rhetorics of the Science Classroom (2001) with G. Kress, J. Ogborn, and C. Tsatsarelis and A Handbook of Visual Analysis (2001) co-edited with T. van Leeuwen.
Gunther Kress is Professor of Education and English at the Institute of Education, University of London. He has an interest in the interrelations in contemporary texts of different modes of communication and their effects on forms of learning and knowing. His recent publications include Reading Images (1996) with T. van Leeuwen; Before Writing: Rethinking the Paths to Literacy (1997); Multimodal Discourse (2001) with T. van Leewuen; and Literacy in the New Media Age (2002).

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