Multimodality in writing

Submitted by: Elin Strømman
Abstract: Multimodality in Writing
Keywords: multimodality, agency, affinity spaces
The aim of this ethnographically oriented PhD-study is to describe and investigate the multimodal representations in elementary school students’ digital writing practices and texts. What characterizes the multimodal representations in texts written in L1 and Science? The purpose is to pursue findings that can be applied to a better understanding of disciplinary literacy practices in school. The data is analysed from different theoretical perspectives that align with one another: New Literacy Studies (Barton, 2007; Gee, 2005) and multimodality (Bezemer & Kress, 2008; van Leeuwen, 2005). The data sources are field notes, interviews, students’ texts and their “talk around texts”.
Combining the social semiotic multimodal analysis (SSMA) of the meaning potentials of multimodal representations with ethnographic accounts of their use in context, resulted in the following findings: Students are active creators of content and demonstrate an innovative use of semiotic resources in both subjects. When representing knowledge, students interpret, select, transform and combine the different modes and semiotic resources available to them, based on the social context and the specific aims they strive to achieve. The students’ multimodal representations are fusions between school literacy practices and the literacy practices of gaming and communicating in social media.
In this paper, I discuss the emergence of multimodal representations in students’ texts, review some of the theoretical perspectives on agency in SSMA, and examine the links between agency, multimodal translations (Bezemer & Kress, 2008) and affinity spaces (Gee, 2005). This take foregrounds the agency of students in that they make significant representational choices guided by certain interests and social conventions, and framed by the context of writing texts in school. As such, this paper aims to be of interest to a diverse audience comprising educators, teacher educators, student teachers, and fellow literacy researchers.
Barton, D. (2007). Literacy: An Introduction to the Ecology of Written Language. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Bezemer, J., & Kress, G. (2008). Writing in multimodal texts: A social semiotic account of designs for learning. In Written communication, 25(2), 166-195.
Gee, J.P. (2005). Semiotic social spaces and affinity spaces: From the age of mythology to today's schools. In D. Barton & K. Tusting (Eds.). Beyond communities of practice: Language power and social context. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press
van Leeuwen, T. (2005). Introducing Social Semiotics. London, UK and New York, USA: Routledge.