The issue of assessing multimodal texts is challenging, because it asks teachers to evaluate texts they may not be familiar or feel comfortable with, i.e. a blog. With so much focus on traditional written texts (as print on paper), with visuals more of an add-on and complimentary rather than containing the meaning in and of itself is new to many teachers. This is the conclusion I have come to from my experience as a professional educator and from my previous research. It also reminds me of my grade 12 art class when I was in high school. I had wanted to explore creative aspects of video, however my art teacher told me I could not submit video for an assignment, because he did not know how to assess it. It makes me wonder how many students have had their expertise of or knowledge using different forms of “text-making” made irrelevant in in-school spaces. With the increasing proliferation of new literacies students engage in outside the classroom, teacher responsiveness is key, as Bearne (2009) suggests, “teaching approaches will increasingly need to reflect the kinds of texts with which students are familiar” (p. 31).
Thinking about multimodality in school projects, I like the idea of the focus on process rather than an end result. From this perspective, Bearne notes that “this means that teachers’ own assessments will need to be very well informed about the dimensions of multimodal teaching and learning and the ways in which progress in multimodality might be described” (p. 19). Thinking about learning or knowledge as situated (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989) learning takes place within the totality of experiences with other people within specific learning environments. Thus, a focus on the process of learning may give a more holistic account of a student’s learning than simply an end product, devoid of the richness and depth of understanding and experience the student engaged in to achieve that end goal. Even though standardized testing and reporting focuses on the end product, I believe it is possible and important for teachers to gather this rich data, as learning in process. Kalantzis & Cope (2012) would agree stating “research shows that ‘situated assessment’ in the form of regular and multiple forms of feedback produces enhanced learning outcomes” (p. 411).
To account for this, Bearne’s (2009) argument is for developing the language or “framework for describing multimodal texts” (p. 20) necessary for teachers to guide their assessments of learning in process, especially when incorporating new literacies into the classroom. She posits “there needs to be a way of describing the dimensions and characteristics of multimodal texts and, importantly, a way of describing what progress in multimodal reading and text comprehension might involve” (p. 21). Bearne outlines the criteria for assessing these diverse modes with the understanding that students have “access to a growing repertoire of different types of multimodal texts and opportunities to discuss them and the authors’/directors’ choices to create different effects” (p. 21). This requires an educator who is willing to incorporate a multiplicity of modes into her practice. The overall assessment criteria are described as the following (p. 22):
i) Decide on mode and content for specific purpose(s) and audience(s);
ii) Structure of texts;
iii) Use technical features for effect;
I believe, as Bearne suggests, that these criteria are a good starting point for assessing multimodal texts. It may also be helpful to develop this “meta-language” (Bearne, 2009) with students as a collaborative effort in developing and using this new language. Once a vocabulary for is created, perhaps incorporating more multimodal texts into classroom practice will no longer be something to fear for teachers new to using diverse modes in the classroom. I also believe the responsibility is on the teacher to create a technology-inclusive space for exploration; even if the teaching comes from the students to help the teacher understand what the students are engaging with. I see this collaborative school space where both teacher and students are learners very rich and exciting.
Brown, J.S., Collins, A. & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher. 18(32), 32-42).
Burke, A. & Hammett, R. F. (Eds.). (2009). Assessing New Literacies: Perspectives from the classroom. New York: Peter Lang.
Kalantzis, M. & Cope, B. (2012). Literacies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.