Multimodality in Perth

September 16, 2011

Just back from a trip to Perth to do some PD for Pearson Professional Learning. It’s a long flight but certainly makes you realise how big (and empty) Australia really is. Flying directly over Lake Eyre in full flood was definitely worth the trip alone.

I spent a really enjoyable day with a group of Western Australian teachers doing PD on an aspect of the new Australian Curriculum: English which seems to have barely registered with teachers yet: the reading and creation of multimodal texts. While it’s great to see this being advocated, the curriculum is less impressive in the support it offers to teachers in the implementation of multimodality. In fact, in some places, it’s almost embarrassingly timid and limited in its scope. In Year 10, for example, the elaborations suggest website creation as a possible project for English students. What about creating a digital story, a chapter for a digital novel (google Inanimate Alice), a book trailer….or really any number of more interesting genres?

The other problem is that the document offers pretty good advice on specific aspects of grammar that need to be taught, but there’s really not a lot of useful advice about multimodal grammars. There is some recognition of work that’s been done on the visual, but there is no evidence that the writers are aware of van Leeuwen’s work on typography and sound, Stenglin’s work on 3D space, or Martinec’s work on action – just to name a few.

The teachers in Perth found these grammars a useful addition to their toolkits for teaching. After discussing the context-text model and approach to grammar that underpins the new curriculum, we then used the multimodal grammars to analyse magazine advertisements and an excerpt from a Dave Hughes comedy performance. We also looked at the way multimodal resources are used differently in various modes. Specifically, we looked at the way lyrics are transformed when music and singing are added, and then the changes that occur to the text when it’s converted to a video clip. Ways of refreshing the teaching of a classic novel such Pride and Prejudice were also explored. Did you know that it has been converted into a hypertext, board game, choose your own adventure book and newsfeed, and Jane Austen even has her own facebook page and twitter account!

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