Multisensory – Multimodal…You’ve probably heard of these terms, and possibly applied them to your teaching approaches, but there are distinct differences that we may not be fully aware of.
In this blog, we are recapping a Literacy Leadership webinar with Dr. Terrie Noland and Dr. Whitney Lawrence, Director of Performance Management and Data Services, ESC Region 11 in Texas. Dr. Lawrence is a recognized thought leader on multimodality of critical literacy that promotes social justice and action. As an educator with dyslexia, Lawrence has dedicated her fields of interest to the delivery of effective multimodal strategies that support students who might have difficulty accessing language and literacy through traditional forms of learning. Listen now to build a shared understanding of these terms, and learn how to apply proven strategies with the goal of fully developing comprehension skills in readers of all ages, especially those who struggle to read.
What is Multimodal Literacy Instruction?
Multimodal literacy instruction is the interplay among diverse modes that carry meaning and messages. We use these modes to construct our understanding of the information shared. You can categorize them into five modes.
Linguistic mode is the delivery of written and spoken text. It is the way words are organized in sentences and paragraphs, and the development and coherence of words and ideas. (Writing poetry for example.)
Gestural mode is interaction between people and the movement of language. It is how we interpret our words in facial expressions, hand gestures, body language. This mode carries an outlet to communicate meaning. (Putting a hand up to mean “stop,” for example.)
Visual mode is the imagery we “see” in our communications such as colors, shapes, fonts. (Think of the emojis or the color red.)
Spatial mode implies the arrangement of elements that carry meaning. (Think about physical closeness between people or objects. Space carries meaning.)
Auditory mode is focused on sounds, ambient noises, the tone of your voice, even silence. (When we are silent, how does that make us feel?)
So multimodal literacy refers to the interplay of all of these modes in which we can construct meaning. You can develop meaning-making practices using these five modes and with diverse forms of texts, picture books, paintings, images, space and sound. (Think of human-read audiobooks for example.) Another example of multiple modes of communication and representation is an informational book that contains images, charts, and graphs coupled with written text. For learners with different modal preferences, this type of learning can be very effective.
Differences between Multimodal and Multisensory
Multisensory refers to the use of multiple senses in the learning process. This could include visual or auditory, tactile or our kinesthetic senses. (Kinesthetic is relating to a person's awareness of position, movement, or sensation. Think of touch for example.) Multisensory teaching might involve using manipulatives such as blocks or beads in a math activity or using music to help students remember information.
A multimodal approach to literacy and language recognizes that it is through the selection and orchestration of many diverse modes that we create effective learning. To make meaning, we must design, reframe, create and recreate our teaching approaches.
As literacy leaders – whether we are teachers, coaches, specialists, tutors, or administrators, we can take a broader perspective of literacy and language that applies multiple modes of instruction. As we do that, we open more space and opportunity for learning experiences that are centered on meaning and communicating, which we all know is the goal of any literacy and language development experience.
We hope you will listen on-demand to the entire Literacy Leadership webinar in which Dr. Lawrence delves deeply into various approaches and best practices to create multimodal learning experiences.
Everyone can apply a shared understanding of multimodality – whether you are an administrator looking through the lens of a teacher, or a teacher looking through the lens of a student, and so on.
About Whitney Lawrence
Dr. Lawrence taught at the elementary level for 10 years and was an instructional specialist at an elementary school in North Texas. She holds a Ph.D. in Language and Literacy from the University of North Texas, and is currently the Director of Performance Management and Data Services at ESC Region 11. Her areas of interest are multimodality, critical literacy, and curricula that promote social justice and social action.