Looking Back and Moving Forward Blog Series · Multimedia · multimodal · technology · writing workshop

Multimodal Writing: Reflections and Shifts As We Move Forward

In one of our third-grade distance learning classrooms, there has been a French toast frenzy. Because one of the students not only wrote his informational piece about the tasty breakfast treat, but also created a video showing how to make it, his classmates have all become specialists. 

This student teaches his audience how to make French toast.
French toast has been a big hit in a third-grade classroom.

One of the common phrases I hear or read when educators are talking about reading is that there’s no such thing as a non-reader. There are students who have not yet read the right book. I could say something similar when it comes to writing. Here goes: there’s no such thing as a non-writer. There are students who have not yet found the right topic and format of expression. People are programmed to communicate, and writing is a way to do it! Just as the expansion of access was something to consider before the pandemic, it is absolutely something to keep as educators move forward.

Technology usage has skyrocketed since March 2020, and many people have learned about platforms that previously existed, but were not widely used. These platforms provide opportunities for a variety of ways to communicate, provide access, and offer entry points for students who have yet to identify as writers. Multimodal writing is not a new concept; texts, memes, TikToks, tweets, vines, infographics, and more all provide additional forms of high-impact communication. Shawna Coppola shares insights about visual communication here in an article that was published before March 2020. She also has a one-pager that provides and explanation and many examples of multi-modal writing. And if you really want to be inspired, head to Shawna’s Padlet. Shawna wrote Writing Redefined, and I recommend it highly! It’s a book that can transform writing instruction. 

Padlet created by Shawna Coppola

Academic writing emphasizes alphabetic text, and by that, I mean communication through paper or a keyboard, and words. Alan’s report on French toast met lots of writing standards without inspiring his classmates to chef it up. There is an expectation for “proper” grammar that addresses spelling, punctuation, and grammar, and may or may not be reflective of how students speak and communicate in their daily lives. This sort of writing has an important role in the lives of many people, as it involves cover letters, emails, and other professional sorts of communication. However, there are many ways to deliver a message or tell a story. 

Some of the highest impact forms of writing that people consume blend visuals, fonts, and written words. And many times, those forms of writing– social media, posters, advertisements, commercials, speeches, videos– are created to impact the world. In addition to these variations from alphabetic text, there are also the opportunities for audio and video as a way to communicate. Here are a few ways to consider incorporating multimodal writing into the experiences of students in your classrooms or purviews. 

A Unit on Multimodal Writing

After attending a presentation from Shawna, I was inspired to write a unit that leaned into multimodal writing. Another colleague and I created a Padlet of examples for students to see the many ways and options to deliver messages. From there, we challenged students to consider some questions:

  • How can they express their message? 
  • What medium offers the highest impact? 
  • How can they hone their expression to add to the impact? 

Awareness of the audience is an important skill to develop for all writers, and this unit inspired second-grade students to create and revise in order to deliver messages that could change the world. I think this unit and the concepts within it are appropriate and engaging for grades 2-8, as they lean so heavily into creativity and innovation. 

Caption: Modes they could us

As students collected messages and various ways to express them, they also considered language, word choice, font, repetition, pacing, and other craft moves to strengthen their message. Students had a blast with these decisions, volume of writing was high, and the conversations, collaborations, and critiques were constant. Yes, many pieces were drawings– they were second-gaders!– but with nudges, students added writing and clarified their meaning and intent with an expanding consideration and understanding of audience. 

Multimodal Enrichment Opportunities for Students

While I did not have the chance to teach this entire unit to older students, I did get to work with some strong sixth-grader writers who completed their research-based essays and were eager to consider other ways to deliver their messages. We framed the idea of other forms of communication as an extension for them, and the energy and agency soared. Right away, there was interest in memes. One student who had studied and written about the complexity of causes for the Titanic’s demise, came up with this meme: 

This photo, from the movie Legally Blond, was captured from https://www.thedailystruggle.co.uk/10-important-life-lessons-elle-woods-taught-us/

She had a great time explaining to me the connections she saw between her favorite movie and the Titanic. In a couple of days, she made several other memes, and I have no doubt that she would have loved the idea of adding video and audio, as well. For a student who loves to write as she does, and also has mastered the alphabetic essay, this multimodal opportunity invited creativity, humor, and innovation, skills and attributes that will serve her well!

Multimodal Opportunities Throughout Curriculum

French toast expert Alan’s teacher, Christine Neskie uses Padlet extensively for students to share their thinking. (For incredible inspiration, be sure to follow Christine on Twitter. She’s awesome!) Therefore, students have had multiple opportunities to practice their presentation skills. One of her students wrote about skiing as an information piece. From there, he created an elaborate model of all he was talking about and a video presentation to accompany it. 

On a smaller scale, Christine’s class did a quick study of Katherine Johnson, and Christine invited students to share their knowledge in whatever mode worked for them. As you can see on the Padlet, there were written reports, but also audios, videos, interviews, artwork, timelines, and more. 

Closing Thoughts

Multimodal writing was not a new concept before the Pandemic. However, as students’ and teachers’ comfort levels and knowledge about technology has soared, the opportunities have also increased. Universal Design emphasizes the importance of offering students ways to express what they know and are able to do in various ways. Multimodal writing not only provides multiple ways of expression, it inspires creativity and innovation, skills that matter in life. There is no question that I will be weaving it into curriculum and options for writers wherever and whenever I can!


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9 thoughts on “Multimodal Writing: Reflections and Shifts As We Move Forward

  1. What resonated the most to me in this article is the advocacy that every student is a reader (No such thing as a non-reader). Thank you for sharing this information and resources on the different ways we can get students to express their voice.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This is really exciting and inspiring. It’s so great to celebrate all the different ways in which we can communicate, and then make a choice on which mode best suits our purpose. Very inspired and I love the way it is written – I feel like I’m back in the staff tea room having an excited chat with a similarly enthused colleague.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I love this approach! It connects so well to the way we read and absorb information – which is, to say, EVERYWHERE. I keep thinking that it’s a great way to get writers to think about the best medium for a particular message. But you’ve also got me thinking that this circles back to our roles as readers. We can all be better “noticers” of the messages around us, where they come from, and how well that medium supports that message. I’m going to have to think more on this. Thanks for a thought-provoking article and some powerful resources to boot!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. #theirworld,theirvoice
    For the second time in two days, y’all are making me eager to run right out & share ideas w/ my teachers! Multi-modal writing would be such an engaging way to wrap up this extraordinary year. This article validates formats/platforms of writing that may be foreign to some of us, but are relevant & relatable to students. Love how this pushed my thinking!

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I wasn’t able to put a name to this concept before, but it makes perfect sense and I can’t wait to learn more about it and use it “officially” in my classroom. Great article!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I love hearing about how teachers are overcoming constraints and using technology as an advantage to learning. I have not used Padlet to its fullest. Your examples here are inspiring. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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