Literacy is important in all content classrooms, however, mathematics has a language of its own. Mathematical language can be displayed through many means such as symbols, numbers, graphs, tables, theorems, proofs, and so on. Often, students find this language to be foreign and may struggle to comprehend the concepts when given information in solely one context.
Therefore, it is important to display these difficult ideas in multiple forms so that the students may establish connections to ideas they encounter in real life. This can be done using multimodal representation. Taylor (2008) described multimodal representations as “using different modes of communication, such as speech, writing, image, gesture, and sound, to represent or communicate meaning.” In a math classroom setting, the opportunities are endless for the forms this may appear through.
Teachers may find that the same two problems arise while trying to incorporate multimodal representations in the classroom: lack of time and resources. Using multimodal representations requires time spent searching for those representations and preparing for class. It is tempting to take the easy way out by using the text material provided and easily accessible.
Some teachers may also find that one attempt to use multimodal literacies may not have gone well, but it is important to determine whether that outcome stems from “intervention failure or implementation failure” (Barton, Whittaker, Kinzie, Decoster, & Furnari, 2017). Finding new and creative ways to understand the material can work wonders if teachers are not afraid of stepping out of the typical box. The time and effort put forth by teachers is positively reflected on the students’ literate lives (Barton, Whittaker, Kinzie, Decoster, & Furnari, 2017).
More often than not, math teachers may hear students make a comment along the lines of, “Why do we have to learn this? I will not to use this in life.” Students must often “be convinced of why they might be interested in, or have a need for, disciplinary literacy practices before being taught (or otherwise forced into) more complex notions of how to use them” (Taylor 2018). Providing material, methods, and activities that entice students to engage in the lesson is critical because disengagement does not mean less intelligent or creative, but rather, it often means they are uninterested or lack understanding.
Multimodal literacies are an effective practice in establishing that connection and igniting interest in the students by making the material they are learning feel meaningful as it is connected to real life matters.
Being able to overcome the aforementioned obstacles in order to provide the students information in a variety of forms is crucial for students’ literate lives because it enhances their social competence skills, allows them to apply their knowledge from the classroom in real life, and excel in their studies.
This method is also highly inclusive as it has the capability of reaching students of all learning styles, with learning disabilities, with sensory disabilities, and of all language and cultural backgrounds which is important because “there is not one means of representation that will be optimal for all learners” (CAST 2018). Applying multimodal literacies used in a classroom setting have the potential to make relevant and authentic connections in mathematics because students use different modes outside of the classroom because they do not just communicate via printed word constantly.
Content area teachers can incorporate multimodal representations in their instructional strategies by offering alternatives for information provided visually and auditorily. An example of this would be having the students learn a song that will help them memorize what the slope of certain graphs look like.
Along with the song, provide the lyrics, pictorial representations of both the graphs and what the body movements that accompany the song look like, and demonstrate the movements along with the song. By doing so, you are allowing three different ways for the students to receive the information, visually, audibly, and kinesthetically. Songs are an effective multimodal literacy because they are catchy and can be connected to current topics that are relevant to the students.
This method can also be applied in projects and homework assignments. The traditional way involving working problems out of the textbook are not efficient. Not only are these methods not using any techniques that will enable connections so students will know the material, but the students are able to use technology to find the answers to those problems. There are many computation websites and answer keys accessible so the students will find the answers without actually doing any learning.
An effective solution to this problem would be allowing the students creative control to create their own assignments. Guidelines and rubrics are of course necessary, but by allowing the students to authority to choose what they believe would best represent the material makes the students feel more excited to dive into the assignment. One example of this can be done when learning different three dimensional geometric shapes. You can set guidelines about identifying shapes in real life and describing their properties.
Provide the students with examples such as listening to a song and seeing if they can pick out shapes depicted in it. Another would be keeping track of their path as they walk around a building with multiple floors to see if they can find a path that would create a shape. By showing a few examples in class it provides further explanation of the new information as well as gets the students mind going as they develop the concepts and make connections to them as individuals.
Activities are another opportunity to implement multimodal representations inside the classroom because it puts equations, definitions, and theorems in terms that are better understood by the students. Providing the students with information in the form of tangible objects, active movement outside of their seats, and opportunities for collaboration with peers allows the students to view the material being taught in the lesson as a real life matter. Students motivation to engage in class will rise as they will be excited to do more than sit and listen to a lecture.
One example of this would be providing different sized pool noodles for a lesson over adding and subtracting fractions. Each student will have their own size noodle labeled with a fraction. Ask the students to find another fraction(s) that will make their total equal to a variety of fractions. After the students have found their match(es) allow time for class discussion over the more difficult matches and how these may be found. This activity provides a visual representation of fractions in a fun, engaging manor.
Multimodal representation is a vital element in enhancing literacy skills in all content areas because all students process and learn information in different ways. By providing information in numerous ways, they are more likely to find method they understand and can establish connections between their way and the others. By doing this, they are then enhancing their ability to receive and understand information. One student made a comparison between multimodal and a casserole.
If you only provide things in one way, that\’s like showing someone a casserole but not telling them what’s in it. By using other modes as well, it is like listing the ingredients and the recipe so the student can make the casserole themselves rather than relying on someone else to provide for them. As teachers, we should be enabling our students to make their own recipes and allowing them to adjust it to make it their own.