Multimodal in low-tech classrooms

Students and teachers need not have access to the latest digital technology or expensive equipment to meet the outcomes of the multimodal components of the new Stage 6 English syllabus.

Jowen Hillyer, an English head teacher in a regional NSW school, addressed the challenges of delivering multimodal elements without reliable technology — such as in some regional, remote or low-SES schools — at the Centre for Professional Learning conference on English in Years 11/12.

“While we may be 17 years into 21st century learning, it is difficult to BYOD [bring your own device] when you can’t BYO lunch,” Ms Hillyer told the conference in Surry Hills in August.

“After the questions, the panic, the regional consultant visits and as much professional learning as we could find, we came to a few conclusions. Ultimately, while technology should be a part of teaching and learning, it is not essential for teaching multimodality.”

To break the term down, multimodality can be the use of spoken word, image, gesture, sound and speech, combined in many different ways .

“So students do not need to produce a sophisticated digital narrative or make a film to meet the outcomes,” Ms Hillyer told Education.

“When thinking of multimodal components, look at a mix of old and new technologies and pedagogies, such as books, comics, posters, slide presentations, e-books, blogs, e-posters, web pages and social media, through to animation, film and video games.”

Some presentations without technology, but still meeting the requirements, could be:

  • reader’s theatre, where students “perform” by reading scripts without costumes or props
  • hot-seating a text’s character or characters, played by the teacher or a student, who are interviewed by the rest of the class group
  • talk shows, with props and images, where students interpret characters, conflicts, themes, and issues for the group
  • novel/concept show bags that contain tangible objects that are discussed by the group
  • radio plays
  • develop an interior monologue of one of the characters at a particular moment in the novel/film or illustrate a particular concept then perform it to the class
  • exhibition booths where students present to assessors
  • comic strips and graphic displays where students present to peers and analyse their own work
  • have students write a story, then analyse and explain it to the group in a literature circle/book critic “show”
  • make a newscast
  • create and present a scrapbook or yearbook
  • present an elevator pitch.

Ms Hillyer said the syllabus offers an amazing array of suggestions for those with technological capabilities and resources.

“But it is an equity issue for those of us who do not even have broadband in our towns or who have Department laptops with keys obscenely rearranged or missing,” she said.

“There is also the provision to teach film and while it may not be the preferred option it is where many of us will start.

“But if you want something engaging other than film, don’t dismiss gaming, even in a low-tech classroom. Gaming comes with rich narratives and deep societal concerns. Even Minecraft can be used in this space.”

A useful resource that outlines the concept of using video games as an Enlgish tool is Terry Heick’s article Exactly How to Teach With Video Games in the Classroom.

“So while this syllabus offers challenges for those of us in low SES and rural/remote locations, it also offers us a chance to explore multimodality in creative and engaging ways,” Ms Hillyer said. “Our 21st century learners need to be adaptable, flexible and fearless, with or without technology.”

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