Over the past year, you and your students have had extensive experience navigating digital platforms and modalities, e.g., podcasts, videos, articles, historic photographs, newsreels, etc. In this blog post from Mary Ann Cappiello and Erika Thulin Dawes, authors of the new book, Text Sets in Action, consider connections between what you’ve learned and the potential of using multimodal texts in an even more strategic way in the future.
This has been a school year like no other. Throughout the year, you’ve likely gone from being fully remote, to hybrid, back to remote, back to hybrid, and now, perhaps, mostly in-person teaching. You may be finishing out the school year in “room and Zoom” mode. You may now be teaching only the learners in your physical classroom. Or, you may remain one of your team’s fully remote teachers, supporting the children and families who did not return to in-person school this spring by choice, necessity, or some combination of the two. Your classes have likely been disrupted due to close contacts with COVID. You’ve learned to “pivot.” You are amazingly resilient. You are also exhausted.
Reflecting on a School Year Like No Other
As educators of preservice and inservice teachers, we’ve had a unique opportunity to bear witness to what teachers are doing this year, and the unique privilege of supporting that work in whatever ways that we can in and outside of our classes. In this school year like no other, we have watched our students lean into their obligations to their K–12 students, their belief in student-centered learning, their quest for engagement, and their commitment to anti-racist, anti-bias, and social justice-oriented teaching. They see the children in front of them, and no matter the obstacles, they’ve worked hard to support them and their families, to bring joy into the classroom, to ensure their physical needs are being met, their interests honored. Throughout it, they have faced challenges in their personal lives; they’ve gotten COVID-19; they’ve remained separated from loved ones; they’ve lost loved ones. None of this has been easy or simple.
After spending the last nine to ten months focused on getting through the week, the day, and the hour, it may be hard to look back on the year with any vision. It may feel too soon to see the forest for the trees. It may be too soon. But as we consider our year and we reflect on the kinds of learning opportunities our students and others teachers we know have created in their classrooms, we are hopeful that some of the pivots of the last year will stick.
Opportunities for Multimodal, Multigenre Learning
Hybrid and remote learning has centered the role of digital texts unlike any other moment in our collective teaching lives. We have all been using different learning platforms, from Google Classroom to Canvas to Blackboard and more. But teaching and learning would have been impossible without access to digital texts. Now that you and your students have had extensive experience navigating platforms and modalities—podcasts, videos, articles, historic photographs, newsreels, and more—how we can we harness the potential of multimodal texts in an even more strategic way in the future?
We are excited by the increased opportunities for multimodal learning, and the ways in which multimodal, multigenre text sets can form a bridge between the lessons learned by necessity during the pandemic and our teaching practices moving forward. In Text Sets in Action: Pathways Through Content Area Literacy, we write that “[o]ffering students a collection of texts that represent different lenses on curriculum content requires students to think critically, to dig deeper, and to consider what they know and don’t know, do understand and don’t understand, and do believe and don’t believe. It sets the stance of inquiry and responsibility, positioning the teachers and students together as active learners” (p. 13). These collections of texts that we call multimodal, multigenre text sets contain at their center high-quality children’s, middle grade, and young adult books of all genres, juxtaposed with one another as well as with visual, auditory, and written texts. This includes everything from a street sign, a label, or a primary source document, an artifact from the ancient world, and street art.
Harnessing the Power of Text Sets
In Text Sets in Action, we provide examples of multimodal multigenre texts across the curriculum areas of language arts, mathematics, science and social studies. We provide portraits of curriculum units structured by texts sets and additional sample text sets for you to try in your classrooms. Throughout, we model the integration of high quality children’s books and engaging digital texts such as these:
FIGURE: Beaks Text Set
In the above diagram, you see a single text set within a larger third-grade unit in chapter three, focused on the concepts of adaptation and biological evolution. The unit begins with an exploration of plant and animal life cycles. We then take a deep dive into a study of birds to better understand the concept of adaptation. We developed text sets for birds’ different body parts to look more closely at adaption. In the text set outlined above, students examined the different shapes and structures of birds’ feet and their similarities and differences. They read sections of children’s books, such as Paddle, Perch, Climb: Bird Feet are Neat and Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Backyard, traditional reference books such as Sibley’s and Audubon, and then explored digital texts, including the extensive multimodal resources of the Audubon and Cornell Ornithology Lab websites. Through the photographs, videos, and audio recordings on those sites, students deepened their understandings gleaned through the age-appropriate children’s books, used their new understandings to navigate more complex digital texts and to apply their knowledge through direct observations of bird feet, and then synthesized the experience by connecting the structures of various bird’s feet to the roles they play in the birds’ survival and the process of biological evolution.
FIGURE: Structures Text Set
This text set is drawn from a mathematics unit on Geometry and Design. This unit centers architecture and the work of architects to meet mathematical standards that focus on geometry, measurement and the design process The unit promotes a sense of architecture as an art form, describing architects as artists with dreams and visions of how to create beautiful and functional spaces. This multimodal text set features buildings and the processes of constructing these buildings. Each children’s book title is paired with a video presentation of the same structure. The texts vary in complexity and provide a forum to unpack the mathematics at work in design and construction. The videos provide students with visual tours of the structures and additional information about how each was designed and built. Featured buildings include the Ray and Maria Strata Center at MIT, Fallingwater, The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Brooklyn Bridge.
We Want to Hear from You
In Text Sets in Action, we write about the different ways that teachers have used print and digital texts to engage students, center student learning, and support critical thinking. As we look to next school year, we’re eager to work with teachers as you engage in the process of taking stock of what you’ve learned. When you have a chance to breathe a bit, and think a bit, we’d love to hear from you about the ways in which you used digital multimodal texts in your classrooms this year. What worked? What didn’t? What makes sense moving forward? What challenges do you face in trying to reframe curriculum in multiple modalities?
About the authors
Mary Ann Cappiello is a former ELA and Humanities teacher and middle grade curriculum facilitator for language arts and social studies. She is now professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. She is co-author of Teaching with Text Sets and Teaching to Complexity.
Erika Thulin Dawes is professor of language and literacy at Lesley University, where she strives to equip teachers with a passion for children’s literature and a wealth of creative teaching strategies. She has worked as a classroom teacher, a reading specialist, and a literacy supervisor. Erika is co-author of Teaching with Text Sets and Teaching to Complexity.