The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing


“…a newer medium takes place of an older one, borrowing and reorganizing the characteristics of writing in the older medium and reforming its cultural space.” (Bolter, 2001, p. 23)

Bolter’s (2005) definition of remediation struck me a bit like a Eureka! moment as I sat at lunch in the school staffroom, overhearing a rather fervent conversation between a couple of teachers, regarding how computers are destroying our children. They noted how their students cannot form their letters properly, and can barely print, not to mention write in cursive that is somewhat legible. The discussion became increasingly heated as one described how children could not read as well because of the advent of graphic novels, and her colleague gave an anecdote about her students’ lack of ability to edit. When the bell rang to signal the end of lunch, out came the conclusion—students now are less intelligent because they are reading and writing less, and in so doing are communicating less effectively.

In essence, my colleagues were discussing what we are losing in terms of print—forming of letters, handwriting— the physicality of writing. However, I wonder how much of an impact that makes on the world today, and 20 years from now when the aforementioned children become immersed in, and begin to affect society. Judging from the current trend, in 20 years time, it is possible that most people will have access to some sort of keypad that makes the act of holding a pen obsolete. Yes, it is sad, because calligraphy is an art form in itself, yet it strikes me that having these tools allow us the time and brain power to do other things. Take for example graphic novels. While some graphic novels are heavily image-based, there are many that have a more balanced text-image ratio. In reading the latter, students are still reading text, and the images help them understand the story. By making comprehension easier, students have the time and can focus brain processes to create deeper understanding such as making connections with personal experiences, other texts or other forms of multimedia.

As for the communications bit, Web 2.0 is anything but antisocial. Everything from blogs, forums, Twitter, to YouTube all have social aspects to them. People are allowed to rate, tag, bookmark and leave comments. Everything including software, data feeds, music and videos can be remixed or mashed-up with other media. In academia, writing articles was previously a more isolated activity, but with the advent of forums like, scholarly articles could be posted, improved much more efficiently and effectively compared to the formal process that occurs when an article is sent in to a journal. More importantly, scholarly knowledge is disseminated with greater ease and accuracy.

Corporations and educational institutions are beginning to see a large influx of, and reception for Interactive White Boards (IWB). Its large monitor, computer and internet-linked, touch-screen abilities make it the epitome of presentation tools. Content can be presented every which way—written text, word processed text, websites, music, video, all (literally) at the user’s fingertips. The IWB’s capabilities allow for a new form of writing to occur—previously, writing was either with a writing instrument held in one’s hand, or via typing on a keyboard. IWBs afford both processes to occur simultaneously, alternately, and interchangeably. If one so chooses, the individual can type and write at the same time! IWBs are particularly relevant to remediation of education and pedagogy itself, because the tool demands a certain level of engagement and interaction. A lesson on the difference between common and proper nouns that previously involved the teacher reading sentences and writing them on the board, then asking students to identify them—could now potentially involve the students finding a text of interest, having it on the IWB, then students identifying the two types of nouns by directly marking up the text with the pen or highlighter tools.

Effectively, the digital world is remediating our previous notion of text in the sense of books and print. Writing—its organization, format, and role in culture is being completely refashioned.


Bolter, J. D. (2001). Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print (2 ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

December 13, 2009   No Comments

Multimodalities and Differentiated Learning

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

While there are many theories out there on how to meet the needs of diverse learners, there is one common theme—to teach using multimodalities. The strong focus on text in education has made school difficult to a portion of students, students whose strengths and talents lie outside of the verbal-linguistic and visual-spatial-type abilities. Thus the decreasing reliance on text, the incorporation of visuals and other multimedia, and the social affordances of the internet facilitate student learning.

Maryanne Wolf (2008) purports that the human brain was not built for reading text. While the brain has been able to utilize its pre-existing capabilities to adapt, lending us the ability to read, the fact that reading is not an innate ability opens us to problems such as dyslexia. However, images and even aural media (such as audiobooks) take away this disadvantage. Students who find reading difficult can find extra support in listening to taped versions of class novels or other reading material. Also, students with writing output difficulties can now write with greater ease with computers or other aids such as AlphaSmart keyboards.

Kress’ (2005) article highlights the difference between the traditional text and multimedia text that we often find on web pages today. While the predecessor used to be in a given order and that order was denoted by the author, Kress notes that the latter’s order is more open, and could be determined by the reader. One could argue that readers could still determine order with the traditional text by skipping chapters. However, chapters often flow into each other, whereas web pages are usually designed as more independent units.

In addition, Kress (2005) notes that texts have only a single entry point (beginning of the text) and a single point of departure (end of the text). On the other hand, websites are not necessarily entered through their main (home-) pages, readers often find themselves at a completely different website immediately after clicking on a link that looks interesting. The fact that there are multiple entry points (Kress) is absolutely critical. A fellow teacher argued that this creates problems because there is no structure to follow. With text, the author’s message is linear and thus has inherent structure and logic, whereas multiple points of entry lends to divergence and learning that is less organized. Thus it is better to retain text and less of the multimedia approach such that this type of structure and logic is not lost. The only problem is that it still only makes sense to a portion of the population. I never realized until I began teaching, exactly how much my left-handedness affected my ability to explain things to others. Upon making informal observations, it was evident that it is much easier for certain people to understand me—lefties.

Kress’ (2005) article discusses a third difference—presentation of material. Writing has a monopoly over the page and how the content is presented in traditional texts, while web pages are often have a mix of images, text and other multimedia.

It is ironic to note that text offers differentiation too. While the words describe and denote events and characters and events—none of these are ‘in your face’—the images are not served to you, instead you come up with the images. I prefer reading because I can imagine it as it suits me. In this sense, text provides the leeway that images do not.

Multimodalities extend into other literacies as well. Take for example mapping. Like words and alphabets, maps are symbolic representations of information, written down and drawn to facilitate memory and sharing of this information. Map reading is an important skill to learn, particularly in order to help us navigate through unfamiliar cities and roadways. However, the advent of GPS technology and Google Streetview presents a change—there is a decreasing need to be able to read a map now, especially when Google Streetview gives an exact 360º visual representation of the street and turn-by-turn guidance.

Yet we must be cautious in our use of multimodal tools; while multimodal learning is helpful as a way to meet the needs of different learners, too much could be distracting and thus be detrimental to learning.


Kress, G. (2005). Gains and Losses: New forms of texts, knowledge, and learning. Computers and Composition, 5-22.

Wolf, M. (2008). Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. New York: Harper Perennial.

December 13, 2009   No Comments