Multimodal Literature

Chances and Challenges of Teaching "The Arrival", "American Born Chinese" and "The Unforgotten Coat" in the EFL Classroom

Master's Thesis, 2020

58 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. State of Research
2.1. Defining Literacy
2.2. Multimodal Literacy
2.3. The Concept of Multiliteracies
2.4. Multimodal Literature
2.4.1. Comics
2.4.2. Graphic Novels

3. Teaching Multimodal Literature in the EFL Classroom
3.1. Teaching Literature
3.2. Challenges of Teaching Multimodal Literature
3.3. Multimodal Literature in the EFL Classroom

4. Teaching Multimodal Literature
4.1. Choosing Multimodal Literature
4.2. Approaching Multimodal Literature
4.3. Shaun Tan's The Arrival
4.4. Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese
4.5. Frank Cottrell Boyce's The Unforgotten Coat

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

At the beginning of this decade we started to face a new world-wide crisis. Due to the current global pandemic many economic, political and social changes arise for everyone. Even if we cannot predefine the impacts of this transition in the long run, we can assume that it will effectuate changes for the working and social life of many people around the globe. In fact, this situation already requires new methods for learning, working and socializing on different levels. In times of globalization and mass migration, diversity and heterogeneity became natural phenomena. Besides, (foreign) languages and English as a lingua franca1 became more important for everyday life. It led to the implementation of new technologies, and especially new communication systems, which are frequently used world-wide. Communication apps like WhatsApp or Instagram, which are used by the majority of young people nowadays, are an integral part of social life. Today, the necessity for using these in learning environments is stronger than ever. With it comes the demand to use these communication systems appropriately. The influences of digital technologies also set new needs for learning and teaching in the English foreign language classroom2. The crisis, yet again, underlines the demands for new learning methods, which have long been discussed in schools and other educational settings.

With new mediums of communication, the meaning-making processes change and extend the possibilities for the individual. They offer new ways of participation in a globalized world and at the same time demand the use of new technologies in the ‘present technologically multimodal era' (cf. Gibbons 2008 110). Multimodality thus plays a major role. In the widest sense, multimodality describes the experience of living, as we experience our everyday life in multimodal ways (cf. ibid). Furthermore, language has always been a central part of being human. How we communicate, how we identify with ourselves and how we create meaning matters. Only through this communication can we participate in social surroundings, which is, indeed, the primary aim of education, especially for foreign language teaching.

Multimodal and multimedial forms of communication are becoming more important these days, especially in the field of academic research (cf. ibid). The current state of research on multimodality was pushed forward by the concept of multimodal literacies. It describes the connection between different modes and thereby demands appropriate language use in different situations. From the perspective of educationists, students should therefore learn to react to changes and also expand their knowledge autonomously. Besides literacy, multimodal and multimedial competences, critical reflection, learner motivation, and autonomous ways of working should be fostered in school settings (cf. Cope & Kalantzis 2009 174). Communication is by no means restricted to language-use only, but also focuses on the meaning-making process. The number of texts which people encounter in daily life is rising. There is a tendency towards texts, which interact with visual, audio and other effects. This goes hand in hand with the need to implement the new communication media, or at least find ways to encourage learners to deal with the meaning-making process on a multimodal level. Meaning is becoming increasingly multimodal, which means that besides written text, there are often other channels involved. Therefore, students have to acquire multimodal competences, so that they can use and produce multimodal literacies in the modern world. Whereas living in the physical world was required in the last centuries, today people need to be able to cope with the physical and the digital world in order to become active citizens. This thesis is based on the assumption that the need for multimodal, multimedial and digital learning will increase in the upcoming decades. The discussion about multimodality is therefore seen as unavoidable, especially in order to prevent insufficient teaching inputs which do not consider today's multimodal world. Multimodal novels, graphic novels and comics can be used as a possible learning object to foster the usage of multimodality. Multimodal literature connects similar modes, while still being connected to traditional novels. Comics connect visual and verbal modes as well as other semiotic resources to create a meaningful narrative. Graphic novels are related to traditional literature and to the comic medium. Thus, graphic novels do not lack in terms of complexity. However, there are also silent graphic novels, which do not contain any form of written text. Both, graphic novels and comics became more popular in the last 30 years and can be found on many best-selling book lists in the 21st century (cf. Hallet 2008 141). They offer authentic and appropriate learner input and are therefore acknowledged as motivational literature, especially for young learners. Thus, multimodal novels, graphic novels and comics also move into the focus of foreign language teaching.

The aim of this thesis is to underline the necessity of multimodal approaches in literary learning. There will be a theoretical part about the current state of research. In this section, literacy and multimodal literacy will be explained, and argumentations put forward by Lankshear & Knobel. Bezemer's & Kress argumentations about the meaning-making process will be underlined. Furthermore, the pedagogical argumentations of the New London Group (1996) will be examined. The argumentations about multiliteracies by the New London Group must also be analyzed regarding the new developments of time. Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis (2009), who were both part of the New London Group in the first place, evaluated their own ideas more than a decade later and revised them in a new publication. Their ideas for pedagogical moves will be outlined and used for further discussions on the topic. Multimodal literature will be highlighted in particular. A closer look will be taken on the history and current uses of the genre, especially on comics and graphic novels. In chapter three, multimodal literature and its use in the EFL classroom will be discussed. The aim of this paper is to demonstrate that implementing a pedagogy of multiliteracies and multimodal literature can have a great impact on teaching in the EFL classroom. In the last chapter, three different multimodal novels will therefore be highlighted. An analysis will take place on how Shaun Tan's The Arrival, Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese and Frank Cottrell Boyce's The Unforgotten Coat can foster a multimodal literacy. For this purpose, possible ways of teaching will be drafted.

2. State of Research

2.1. Defining Literacy

Lankshear and Knobel claim that literacy can be seen as a centre stage for education nowadays (cf. Lankshear & Knobel 2006 7). It is therefore embedded in the curriculum and in everyday practices. Nevertheless, the term changed over time and was not always related to educational matters. Lankshear and Knobel argue that it replaced the terms reading and writing, which were previously used in discussions of the topic (cf. ibid.). R eading therefore referred to the decoding and encoding of texts (cf. ibid.). Before the 1970's literacy was rather connected to an illiterate status of adults, which was not pertaining to formal education. It rather referred to certain programs for adults outside of school, as in the 1950's and 1990's adult literacy was declared to be highly connected with the economic factors of a nation (cf. ibid.). Lankshear and Knobel use the term economic readiness to illustrate this (cf. ibid. 8). They refer to adult literacy programs, which were introduced in some Third World countries to enhance economic and social development. Therefore, the term literacy had no educational purpose before the 1970's (cf. ibid). In educational settings, however, the terms reading and writing were still discussed. Lankshear and Knobel add that ‘all of a sudden the term literacy was pushed forward' (cf. ibid. 9). They name three different possible reasons for this change.

Some might argue that there was a literacy crisis, which was based on widespread illiteracy, e.g. in the US and Britain (cf. ibid. 10). As the term was closely related to the economic situation, literacy became a key term for setting a path to access power and economic success (cf. Godhe 2014 28). Additionally, sociocultural perspectives gained popularity, e.g. due to studies of language and social science. In the 1980's and 1990's a focus was drawn upon practices involving texts (cf. Lankshear & Knobel 2006 10). However, the most important reason seems to be Paulo Freire's pedagogical assumption. According to Lankshear and Knobel, he defined literacy as a process of reading the word and the world (cf. ibid. 9). Therefore, he recognized the potential of teaching literature, which is not limited by decoding and encoding texts. Freire suggested that through literature, people learn about the world on a deeper and more critical level (cf. ibid.). Furthermore, he came up with the introduction of vocabulary, which was merely characterized through its authentic value (cf. ibid.). Therefore, he introduced emotions like fears, hopes and dreams for a better life. Through this authentic input, learners learned to read and write new words. Lankshear and Knobel point out that through discussions about those words and how they appear in written texts, learners were able to read and write them (cf. ibid. 9). Here, one can draw a connection to recent ideas of teaching and learning vocabulary through authentic input, meaningful usage, repetition and the addressing of different channels (cf. Thaler 2018 223ff.). The definition of literacy has therefore changed from the ability to decode and encode texts (concerned as reading and writing), to being able to understand and summarize them (cf. Godhe 2014 28).

Lankshear and Knobel recognize a development, which was pushed forward due to legislations like the No Child Left Behind Act in the US, through which the term literacy was finally given its legitimacy (cf. Lankshear & Knobel 2006 11f.). The authors conclude that there are several ways to look at this term nowadays. As it was pointed out, literacy has replaced reading and writing in many fields of literary studies. Many newspapers changed their name accordingly (e.g. the Australien Journal of Reading became the Australien Journal of Language and Literacy). Thus, reading and writing are still important terms in education. Lankshear and Knobel explain this by noting that literacy has always been a merely sociological concept (cf. ibid. 12). It therefore does not always replace the terms reading and writing in educational settings, but rather keeps the focus on the sociological concept as such.

Lankshear and Knobel point out that people read and write differently out of different social practices, and these different ways with words are part of different ways of being persons and different ways and facets of doing life (Lankshear & Knobel 2016 13).

This quotation demonstrates that the sociocultural perspective is important. By changing terms to literacy, therefore, the focus remains on the social aspect. It is, however, also important to view it as an important industry which is still growing (cf. Lankshear & Knobel 2006 13). Lankshear and Kobel claim that, ‘ literacy soon emerged as a major focus within educational research' (ibid. 14). Furthermore, literacy was acknowledged by educationists and the variety of practices was taken into account. The authors thereby mention that educationists built more into the conceptions of literacy in order to defend and preserve the term (cf. ibid.). This is also shown by the concept of multiliteracies, which will be analyzed in chapter 2.3.. Furthermore, literacy is somehow still defined as a new phenomenon, as it aims to produce something new and relevant (cf. ibid. 12).

Lankshear and Knobel furthermore refer to Green (1988), who introduced three dimensions of literacy (cf. ibid. 15). These dimensions bring together meaning of a language and its context without prioritizing one of those dimensions. Firstly, the operational dimension focuses on the language aspect of literacy, which means that the participant is able to use the written language appropriately (cf. ibid.). Secondly, the cultural dimension refers to the appropriate meaning of a social practice (cf. ibid. 16). Thirdly, the critical dimension refers to the awareness that all literacies are socially constructed (cf. ibid.). This means that they include values, rules and perspectives of a certain culture. Lankshear and Knobel therefore claim that, ‘to participate effectively and productively in any literate practice, people must be socialized into it' (ibid. 16). This also leads to the conclusion that participants do not only imitate but can actively produce literacies themselves.

2.2. Multimodal Literacy

Multimodal literacy, and the term explains itself, is a type of literacy, as pointed out above. Whereas, multimodal literacy may be a new term being discussed, the term multimodal does not describe a new phenomenon. Every experience individuals encounter is multimodal, as we hear, see, smell and touch. Whenever we use different channels at once, we speak about multimodality.

The focus of multimodal literacy rather lies on the cultural and linguistic diversity and the new communication technologies. The concept of multimodal literacy discusses changing demands of learning. Here, the concept merely refers to the terms of operational and cultural knowledges (cf. Lankshear & Knoble 2006 16). It therefore concentrates on the appropriate language use and its meaningfulness. Godhe highlights that within this multimodal approach, all modes are meaning-making devices (cf. Godhe 2014 29). The most important aspect of multimodal literacy is that language is no longer seen as the key to meaning-making, but rather as one of many ways of expressing meaning (cf. ibid.). Sanders & Albers also highlight that multimodal communication is defined by its multiple modes (e.g. visual or digital). The authors refer to argumentations by Kress and Jewitt (cf. Sanders & Albers 2010 8). In those argumentations, four aspects for meaning-making were introduced. Firstly, they introduce materiality, which refers to the materials that are used to create meaning (images, written words, music etc.) (cf. ibid.). The second aspect framing describes how elements of a visual composition work together (e.g. how images in a graphic novel are arranged). With the aspect of design they describe the concept of meaning-making. This concept considers how people create meaning with the materials and resources given at a particular moment. Finally, the last of the four aspects describes the production. This concept focusses not the actual product and the technical skills (cf. ibid.). Sanders & Albers conclude that, ‘working with multimodal literacies is an essentially interactive and flexible, dynamic and integrative, social and cultural practice that cannot be reduced to anything less' (ibid. 5). They also put the argument forward that in today's world, a literate person must know more than how to read and write. They must also be able to create a range of paper-based and online-texts and participate in and create virtual settings. Important for this thesis is the claim that learners need to critically analyze multimodal texts that integrate visual, musical, dramatic, digital and new literacies (cf. ibid. 2). Teaching multimodal literature will be discussed extensively in chapter three. Furthermore, multimodal literacy attempts to describe the multiple forms of communication by identifying how the different modes interact. The modes therefore also depend on each other. Bezemer & Kress explain this through the example of a doctor who is teaching his students during a surgery (cf. Bezemer & Kress 2016 2f.). They indicate how the doctor uses semiotic resources for teaching, namely gestures to point at things and speech to name things (cf. ibid.). While he points at the liver of the patient, he names the organ. Bezemer & Kress illustrate that without naming the object, the students would not know which of the organs is described as the liver (cf. ibid.).

This shows that modes are also interfering with each other to produce meaning. The authors argue that methods and activities, which we encounter in everyday teaching practice under headings such as communication or learning, belong to the field of meaning-making (cf. ibid. 4). They draw a connection, even if it is not a particular aim of their work, towards aspects of socialization and identity (cf. Bezemer & Kress 2016 4). These aspects also play a role in further discussions about teaching multimodal novels. In their multimodal approach, Bezemer & Kress demand that all signs shall be taken seriously, regardless of their specific mode (cf. ibid. 5). What is most important and interesting for educational purposes is the sign-makers' interest or intention (cf. ibid. 6). The authors argue that the aim of institutions is to foster environments in which sign-makers can expand their semiotic repertoires. This simultaneously means that sign­makers have to be aware of the underlying principles (cf. ibid.). This can be seen as one major goal of dealing with multimodality in educational settings. Bezemer & Kress, furthermore, give arguments for finding terms that describe the characteristics and potentials of all modes (cf. ibid. 6). They argue that terms such as non-verbal, body language and visual literacy take language as the primary mode and therefore do not acknowledge the full potential of all other modes (cf. ibid. 6f.). Nevertheless, this thesis aims at teaching multimodal novels in EFL classrooms. Therefore, language shall be taken into account to a greater extent. However, the authors provide some necessary arguments about the means and processes for meaning-making, which are also important for this work. Bezemer & Kress point out that taking the notion of multimodality seriously means finding, constructing and using terms that [...] apply to and encompass the characteristics and potentials of all modes (ibid. 6).

Therefore, they argue that, in the case of multimodality, modes always appear in combination (cf. ibid. 7). The authors refer to the social semiotic theory, which can be seen as the basis for multimodality. They refer to the fact that they reject terms like digital learning or online learning because they can seem like new kinds of learning. Bezemer & Kress describe ‘learning as learning' and ‘communication as communication'. Therefore, they rather stick to terms as ‘learning in a digital environment' (cf. ibid. 8). Furthermore, they argue that ‘signs will always show characteristics specific to the environment in which they were shaped [.]'(ibid.). Social semiotics takes the sign as its starting point. Signs are defined as elements in which a meaning is connected to a material form. Moreover, a sign has different characteristics, as described by Bezemer & Kress (cf. ibid. 9). First, there is a reason for the combination of meaning and the material form, which has a particular purpose. Therefore, the sign-maker can express the meaning he or she wants to convey by the use of this specific sign. Furthermore, the sign is shaped by the environment (cf. ibid. 9). The sign-maker can only use modes which are available in the particular environment at that particular time. The last characteristic is described by the potential of a mode (cf. Bezemer & Kress 2016 10). Bezemer & Kress explain that each mode must have a specific affordance (cf. ibid.). As the potential differs from one mode to another, each mode also causes different effects. This can be explained by the potential of a poster, which might include images and writings. A power-point presentation, however, has the potential to also include audio effects. The authors conclude that modes have to be considered regarding to their specific environment and in relation to social, geographical and temporal conditions (cf. ibid.). While the multimodal approach concentrates on the different modes and how they can create meaning, there is another important concept that is closely connected to this field of research. Namely, the concept of multiliteracies, which will be highlighted in the following section.

2.3. The Concept of Multiliteracies

The term multiliteracies was first mentioned by the New London Group, which first met in 1994. The group consisted of ten heterogene scientists and educationists from different English-speaking countries, such as the US, Britain and Australia. Their aim was to work on a new pedagogical concept which also addresses the social, economic and political changes of the last decades. The authors argue that globalization, linguistic and cultural diversity and new communication systems must play a major role in pedagogy (cf. Cazden et. al. 1996 60). Therefore, they claim that the term literacy has to be extended. The New London Group also acknowledges that the primary aim of education is the participation in public, community and economic life. The authors demand a new kind of pedagogy which takes the increasing number of multimodal texts and multimedia technologies into account (cf. ibid. 61). Moreover, they highlight the importance of learning about the relationship between images and written words (cf. ibid.). The New London Group also aims to rethink what to and how to teach. They claim that in all of the English-speaking countries they came from there was no singular, canonical English that could or should be taught, due to the ongoing changes the language undergoes (cf. ibid. 63). They conclude that cultural differences, heterogeneity and new communication systems demand a change of literacy pedagogy (cf. ibid.). With the term multiliteracies, the New London Group wanted to address two characteristics that they found important for the issue at hand. Firstly, ‘the multiplicity of communication channels and media, and [secondly] the increasing saliency of cultural and linguistic diversity' (Cazden et. al. 1996 63). They described mere literacy as a concept , which focuses only on language. However, multiliteracies are defined by its focus on the combination of representational modes, which differ according to culture and context, cognitive, cultural and social effects (cf. ibid.). This is closely related to Kress' argumentation about modes , which was highlighted before. However, the New London Group also introduced a new pedagogy of multiliteracies because modes such as language are constantly remade by their users (cf. ibid. 64). The authors claim that new communication systems are reshaping the way we use language (cf. ibid.). People encounter cultural and linguistic diversity which is the reason for the changing nature of language learning (cf. ibid.). The New London Group sees reasons for this in the changing postmodern society of the 20th century. The group refers to mass production, introduced by Henry Ford, and contrast it to the new demands for working life. Here, they mention new ideas demanded by contemporary working life, namely commitment, responsibility, identification and teamwork. It is therefore seen as unavoidable that literacy pedagogy should undergo a change (cf. ibid. 66). The authors demand that students be provided with the skills and competences they need in order to fulfill expectations of working life. In addition, ‘students need to develop the capacity to speak up, to negotiate, and to be able to engage critically with the conditions of their working lives' (ibid. 67). They highlight cultural and linguistic diversity as a premise for changing literacy. Regarding language learning, students shall learn to negotiate regional, ethnic, or class-based dialects, variations in registers, code switching and different visual and iconic meanings (cf. ibid. 69). Furthermore, they argue that thinking positively about differences is the basis for productive resources (cf. ibid.).

With regard to private lives, the authors conclude that new technologies have the potential to enable greater autonomy. As no individual is part of just one community, the New London Group claims that people have to be able to encounter different communities in a social setting. From the perspective of the authors, this is what students have to learn at school. Learning processes, therefore, have to incorporate different interests, intentions, purposes and commitments. Furthermore, languages, discourses and registers have to be used as a resource for learning (cf. ibid. 72). The authors support this for the sake of a pedagogy that opens up possibilities for greater access. Therefore, schools can become a place where learners encounter mass media 11 and diverse communities (cf. ibid.). To underline their argumentation for a new literacy pedagogy and for multimodal competences, the New London Group defines three elements of the meaning-making process, which will be explained in the following. They start their argumentation by referring to Design. The term refers to users who have been socialized and therefore inherit values, rules, and conventions, but are simultaneously active designers of meaning (cf. Cazden et al. 1996 64f.). Furthermore, the term highlights that the meaning-making process is actively performed by someone. Available Designs concentrates on the given resources of different modes (cf. ibid. 74). It describes individual knowledge, e.g. technical skills and language registers. The second term Designing explains cognitive processes such as reading, seeing or listening (cf. ibid. 75). At the same time this process leads to a transformation of the learner himself/herself. The third aspect, Redesigned, describes the outcome - a new meaning. It can therefore be described as a transformed meaning and simultaneously works as a new Available Design (cf. ibid. 76). Furthermore, they describe Design Elements. The authors name different categories, such as Linguistic Design, Visual Design (colors), Audio Design (music, sounds), Gestural Design (gestures and facial expressions), Spatial Design, and Multimodal Design. Because this thesis primarily focuses on multimodality, only this aspect will be described at this point. Multimodal Design describes the interconnection between different modes and is therefore seen as the most significant category (cf. ibid. 78/80). All of these aspects are defined by multimodal literacy, which inherits hybridity (connection of different modes) and intertextuality (relation to other texts, genres and modes) (cf. ibid. 82).

As mentioned before, meaning-making is always multimodal. The authors highlight that every written text is multimodal to a certain degree, because it is visually designed, e.g. in terms of typography (cf. ibid. 81).

Besides these content-based aspects, the New London Group also presents methodological ideas for the implementation of multimodal literacies in educational settings. Four components are suggested: Situated Practice, Overt Instruction, Critical Framing and Transformed Practice.

The first dimension, the Situated Practice, connects the students' knowledge - further described in the category of Available Designs - with the knowledge of experts, who have mastered certain practices. Those experts shall guide learners and their learning process (cf. ibid. 85). Therefore, the experts must be aware of the learner's previous and current experiences. The identity and interests of the individuals must also be taken into account (cf. ibid.). Furthermore, the New London Group mentions the learning atmosphere in which learners must feel safe. Learners however do not only learn everything shown by experts. The dimension of Overt Instruction attempts to cover this problem. The learner should practice what was learned. The experts, therefore, guarantee scaffold learning activities. Over Instruction aims to control the learning process as well as make the learner aware of this process.

Through Critical Framing learners experience the boundaries of what they have just learned. They have to frame the knowledge they have acquired according to ‘historical, social, cultural, political, ideological and value-centered relations' (Cazden et al. 1996 86). The New London Group illustrates this by referring to DNA, which ‘replicates itself'. However, if DNA is put into water, is does not replicate. Therefore, the knowledge is relativized.

With the last dimension of Transformed Practice the knowledge can successfully be used in other contexts which the learner encounters (cf. ibid. 87f.).

The work of the New London Group initiated further discussions among scientists and educationists in the field of multimodal literacies. As multimodality manifests itself especially when using new technologies, the work that had been done in 1994 must be considered in view of the specific time period. Therefore, Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis, who were both founding members of the New London Group revised their work accordingly in 2009. By highlighting the technical changes which occurred between 1994 and 2009, they justify the extensions made to the concept of multiliteracies. In 1994, laptops and PowerPoint had not been available; nowadays a wider range of digital technologies is available, many of which change the concept of multiliteracies (cf. Cope & Kalantzis 2009 165). Cope and Kalantzis point out that they had not anticipated that the concept of multiliteracies would garner this amount of attention. They highlight that even a ‘Google search' was unimaginable in the mid-1990s (cf. ibid.). In 2009, however, the term multiliteracies was searched on Google more than 60,000 times (cf. ibid.). They therefore conclude that ‘the world was changing, the communication environment was changing, and it seemed to [them] that to follow these changes literacy teaching and learning would have to change as well' (ibid. 165).

The argumentation begins by drawing attention to multilingual - and multimodal literacies. It was pointed out before that English became a lingua franca in recent years. Moreover, Cope and Kalantzis also claim that English diverted into multiple variations of English in the context of globalization. Nevertheless, the traditional literacy curriculum was still taught to a singular standard of grammar, literary canon and standard national forms of the language (cf. ibid. 166). Therefore, this is criticized by 13 the authors, especially because the New London Group showed that there was a need for change as far back as 1994.

They refer to a pedagogy of multiliteracies, which addresses the everyday experience of meaning-making. Furthermore, they refer to the increasing multimodality in contemporary forms of representation, which have to be considered for further discussions (cf. Cope & Kalantzis 2009 166). They claim that the emphasis on a language-only approach has to be shifted towards a multimodal approach that also integrates other modes to multimodal texts (cf. ibid.). Concerning the four methodological ideas, Situated Practice, Over Instruction, Critical Framing and Transformed Practice should be implemented in teaching. The aim of the revised paper was to analyze if the ideas are still relevant.

They conclude that through the invention of new technologies, such as iPods, wikis, blogs and SMS messages, new literacies have emerged (cf. ibid. 167). At this point one has to mention that the revised paper from 2009 was written more than a decade ago. This not only shows how quickly changes occur, but also demonstrates that the concept of multiliteracies is always developing. The use of WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook, and more recently apps like Tik-Tok and Snapchat, would now have to play a role in this discussion. In the present discussion, it shall be recognized that these new technologies also lead to new social practices, as sending messages becomes easier and is more often connected to audio and visual effects. Yet, again, it is relevant that those social practices also form new identities and personalities (cf. ibid.). Cope & Kalantzis point out that the ideas of multiliteracies stood the test of time (cf. ibid.), which leads to the conclusion that it might also be relevant in the 21st century, two decades later. They conclude that in fact, it has proved to be a useful guide to understanding and practice - the centrality of diversity, the notion of design as active meaning making, the significance of multimodality and the need for a more holistic approach to pedagogy (ibid. 167).

In a world, where people encounter increasing diversity, this is what make this thesis relevant. Meaning-making shall be recognized for teaching in the EFL classroom to a greater extant. Furthermore, the significance of teaching multimodality should be underlined in the following argumentations.

It should be clear ‘that education provides access to material resources in the form of better paid employment'. In addition, it enables participation in social life and it promises personal development (cf. ibid. 167). Even though Germany's education systems, which comprises of different forms of schools is criticized, education is still declared as one of the key sources for social equity (cf. ibid. 167f.). Therefore, it attempts to minimize the gap between haves and have nots. However, without delving into the reasons for this, the gap between rich and poor people is growing (cf. ibid.). Cope and Kalantzis point out that education and literacy teaching in particular, however, continue to promise the reduction of those negative aspects (cf. Cope & Kalantzis 2009 168). The authors highlight that education nowadays plays an even greater role for social and economic progress.

It was previously discussed that the New London Group contrasted today's economic situation with Ford's ideas of mass productions. Cope & Kalantzis add to this discussion by highlighting the fact that in last decades, children had to develop an outdated concept of literacy. They claim that the ‘underlying lesson of the basics was about the social order and its sources of authority' (cf. ibid. 169). This seems appropriate for a time in which workers should be passively disciplined. However, this does not correspond to today's situation in which human capital is presented as more important than ever before (cf. ibid.). Cope and Kalantzis mention some of the skills that are important for working life nowadays, such as intellectual property, technological know-how, business processes, organizational flexibility, brand identity, design aesthetics, customer relationship and service values (cf. ibid.). The authors suggest that these competences can be acquired through educational settings or special training programs (cf. ibid.). With a pedagogy of multiliteracies, the New London Group wanted to establish a literacy that support these new demands (cf. ibid. 170). Literacy therefore has to be reshaped. In the co-option of teamwork, a common vision and corporate culture, Cope and Kalantzis, see the potential for the invention of new, more egalitarian working conditions. (cf. ibid. 171). Moreover, the authors, support a new citizenship in which people take a more self-governing role in the different communities they belong to (cf. ibid. 172). Therefore, the multiliteracies approach suggests a pedagogy for active citizenship, centered on learners as agents in their own knowledge processes, capable of contributing their own as well as negotiating the differences between one community and the next (ibid.).

The most significant change in the field of multiliteracies occurred in personal life. Many children today group up using iPhones and playing online games. These media allow them to become different character in narratives who are able to determine the outcome of the game/their visual lives (cf. ibid. 173). Today's learners are therefore used to being actors rather than an audience. The authors claim that ‘old logics of literacy and teaching are profoundly challenged by this new media environment' (ibid.). Furthermore, they highlight that the learners might be disappointed because their expectations on the level of engagement are much higher than what the learning content offers (cf. ibid.). This is because the differences among learners are not limited to the workplace, market and communities, but are also felt in fields of interest, experience, values, social languages and discourses. This leads to a diversity that ‘in fact, has become a paradoxical universal' (cf. ibid.). Cope and Kalantzis argue that the kind of person who can live well in this world is someone who has acquainted the capacity to navigate from one domain of social activity to another, who is resilient in their capacity to articulate and enact their own identities and who can find ways of entering into dialogue with and learning new and unfamiliar social languages (Cope & Kalantzis 2009 173f.).

Therefore, the concept of multiliteracies aims primarily at creating conditions for learning which support learners in their development. (cf. ibid. 174). Not only should learners become comfortable with themselves and their identity, but they should also be flexible to cooperate and negotiate with others. While those differences exist, learners should be able to find a common sense (cf. ibid.).

The changes outlined cannot be ignored by any contemporary pedagogy, especially not with regard to multiliteracies (cf. ibid.). It must be acknowledged that the meaning­making process has become more productive recently. This has to be taken into account by any pedagogy. Literacy teaching is not only about skills and competences, but rather focuses on creating individuals who are open to diversity and deal with it accordingly (cf. ibid. 175). Cope and Kalantzis point out that the logic of multiliteracies is one that recognizes that meaning making is an active, transformative process, and a pedagogy based on that recognition is more likely to open up viable life courses for a world of change and diversity (ibid.).

Multimodal teaching, therefore, is not about teaching the forms and structures of modalities, genre or discourses. In today's world it is necessary to teach these complexities in order to experience and deal with diversity (cf. ibid. 176). Cope and Kalantzis add that the process of meaning-making, the transformational act, is the essence of learning (cf. ibid. 177).

When it comes to the different modalities, Cope & Kalantzis separated written and oral language as two different modes. They also give more examples that describe the connection between the different modes.


1 The term lingua franca examines that English is seen as a ‘contact language'. Therefore, persons who do not share a common mother tongue choose English as their language of communication (cf. Seidlhofer 2005 339).

2 in the following shortened ‘EFL Classroom'

Excerpt out of 58 pages


Multimodal Literature
Chances and Challenges of Teaching "The Arrival", "American Born Chinese" and "The Unforgotten Coat" in the EFL Classroom
University of Cologne  (Humanwissenschaftliche Fakultät)
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ISBN (Book)
EFL, Multimodality, American Born Chinese, The Arrival, The Unforgotten Coat, Teaching, Multimodal, Literature, Graphic Novel, Comic
Quote paper
Sabrina Denz (Author), 2020, Multimodal Literature, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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