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Multimodality and the Breakout of the Visual

Reading by Design

While I agree that there is a shift in textual modes of representation from print to visual, I do not agree that there is a decline in textual modes of sharing ideas and content. It is rather a shift in how and what we read, view and teach about an author’s representations.

Kress related it best when he stated that “authors and readers can take advantage of the affordances of new media that “make it possible to use the mode that seems most apt for the purposes of representation and communication”. (p. 19) My early experience using pictures and text to read includes “See Dick. See Dick run.” where pictures and text collaborated to communicate meaning.

The tension that I see does not come from visual or print dichotomies. It comes from how we engage children in learning to read. By redefining reading as “taking meaning and making meaning from many sources of information, from many different sign-systems”, Kress provided a balance in the tension.

My sense of reading comes from my more recent experiences with the reading recovery program, but also in effective elementary classroom instructional programs. In both, students who learn to read are supported to make meaning through the careful application of semantic (meaning), syntactic (structural) and graphophonic (visual) cues. Pictures, text and symbols combine with previous experience to unlock the meaning of image and print. Both work together to share their secrets as laid down by the author.

In the classroom, the literate learner is taught to be a ‘meaning maker, code user, text user, and text analyser’ by fully integrating visual, written and spoken forms of presentation. The tension comes from other educators who teach reading by only using text and print, thereby excluding the full representation being communicated.

Bolter stated that “the juxtaposition of word and image creates a pleasing tension.” (p.63) In balancing that tension by using all forms of communication and representation, we can teach reading by design.

Bolter, Jay David. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print [2nd edition]. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum

Literacy for Learning: The report of the expert panel on literacy in grades 4 to 6 in Ontario. (2004). ISBN –7794-7430-9 (Internet).

Kress, Gunter. (2005). “Gains and losses: New forms of texts, knowledge and learning. Computers and Composition. 22(1), 5-22. Retrieved, August 15, 2009, from


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