The Importance of Multimodal Learning in the Classroom

Cynthia L. Selfe, author of The Movement of Air, the Breath of Meaning: Aurality and Multimodal Composing argues that a one-track mind focus on print in college classrooms undermines and disregards the importance of aurality and the other composition modalities, such as speech, music and sound, for establishing meaning as students perceive and understand the world around them. In turn this promotes the exclusion of students whose abilities and means of learning and communicating culturally aligns with that of non-print composition modalities.

If teachers and professors alike explored the full spectrum of modalities in their curriculum and assignments, they would offer their students a more eclectic and accessible means of expression and communication that will ultimately professionally and socially prepare them for the literate world.

When I was in school I found that I learned best when I could interact with my learning environment visually and aurally. The use of sound is extremely important. I think the same is said for many other students, but I have found our education system to be very stuck in its ways. Slowly but surely our classrooms are being upgraded, ironically even now, with classrooms being transformed and perceived in ways we wouldn’t have guessed, online and through zoom! We are in a place of untapped change. And mixed mediums of modality are at the forefront.

Sound is not one note. Sound is vibrational, not only can it be heard but it can be felt. Sound can come through many mediums from Sound Art to Podcasts, from audiobooks to music. This offers students a richer perception in experience and in listening .

When teachers and professors limit the access to the full spectrum of composing modalities and prioritize print over all, they inhibit and limit the understanding of their students. Additionally, it falls into harmful historical patterns that have left students of color behind. Students of different minority communities, utilize and celebrate modes of aurality, through performance, poetry, and song. The way they communicate and present is enriched by sound. The way we listen is of the utmost importance, and the way we listen is changing. Hocks and Comstock said it best in their article, “Composing for Sound: Sonic Rhetoric as Resonance, “ Teaching Sonic Rhetorical engagement through fully embodied listening practices helps students to produce increasingly complex and sonically rich multimodal projects.”. Students also learn how to analze the sound we come in contact with.

Print isn’t the only modality that matters. It is not the only form in which we can get the best perception of the world, It’s one of many. When educators showcase print in the purposeful absence of music, speech, and sound, they take away their student intellect’s intellectual agency and limit, in some ways, their ability to listen.

Exclusively focusing on Print Literacy works against the interests of students of color and of minority groups whose cultures use multiple modalities of expression, and merging the different modalities gives them variety when it comes to identity, learning and expressing themselves digitally.

When it comes to digital writing and creating sound is just as important as the pen itself.



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Gabrielle Burton

Gabrielle Burton

Senior Undergrad at CSU Northridge majoring in Cinema and Television Arts with an emphasis in Screenwriting. Writer, Director, and Editor based in SF and LA.