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  • Writer's picturePete Crowcroft

Multiple Modalities

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

Written by Nicola Yelland and Angela Molloy-Murphy, this podcast takes us through the benefits to early childhood education that exist when multiple ways of expression are accessible to young learners.



Multiple Modalities
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multimodal literacies

A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies (New London Group, 1996) enabled new ways of thinking about becoming literate and helped us to contemplate the impact of new technologies in our everyday lives. It also caused us to consider social diversity as well as how the accepted conventions of communicating and making meaning vary according to different cultural, social or knowledge content specific situations. Being able to communicate successfully requires knowing and understanding how to use the patterns of language in varying contexts. A pedagogy of multiliteracies recognized that we make meaning in different modalities – linguistic (written), visual, spatial, tactile, gestural, audio, and oral. This means that literacy pedagogies need to go beyond print and oral communication to incorporate multimodal literacies. Meaning making requires that learners be able to switch between these modalities.

This connects with the work of Kress (1997) who noted that:

Children act multi modally, both in the things they use, the objects they make; and in their engagement of their bodies: there is no separation of body and mind. The differing modes and materials which they employ offer differing potentials for the making of meaning; and therefore offer different affective, cognitive and conceptual possibilities.” (p 92)

Thus, preschool learning ecologies should incorporate opportunities for multimodal play so that children are able to make meaning in different modalities to enrich their understandings of their everyday lifeworlds (Yelland, 2015; 2018). For example, when Charlotte (age 4 years) made a clay flower and laid the petals and leaves out on a plastic plate to dry. She then declared that she was going to ‘draw it with a pencil’. The conversation that followed showed that Charlotte was able to negotiate the idea of three dimensional and two dimensional modalities with comments such as:

‘I can pick up the clay petals … but they are hard …because they are clay… on a flower they are soft…. I can’t pick up the flowers I drew…’

In another scenario Rosie was playing with an iPad one day in kindergarten and started to make a voice recording. As she was experimenting making a wide variety of noises, she noticed something happening. Rosie then chose to use a pen and paper to create a series of wavy lines across the page. Initially, the educator thought that Rosie was attempting to produce some writing but in talking to her she realised they were the sound waves of the voice recording.

Rosie declared, ‘When it is bigger it is louder, when it is smaller it is quieter.’

As she talked Rosie continued to draw and made noises with her lips of various tones and loudness, so she could watch the sound waves move on the iPad. Other children came to watch, and she showed them what was happening and explained it to them by drawing the sounds waves as well as replaying the sound on the voice recording. The educators listened and talked with Rosie about her experiences making time for them all to explore the ways in which the modality of sound waves worked and connected with meaning making.

In thinking about these learning experiences it is useful to think about the following questions:

What role do educators play in supporting all children to explore and represent their learning in a variety of modalities?

How can the use of digital technologies complement the existing materials and modalities and encourage communication through modes that may not be readily used or understood by educators and children?

Creating learning ecologies to encourage multimodal representations with varied intentional teaching strategies (DEEWR, 2009) enable young learners to experience rich learning opportunities, working collaboratively to build their knowledge base, becoming multiliterate and extend their design, systems and computational thinking capacities.

Several young children sit on the floor of their classroom atelier in a circle with large mounds of clay in the center. Ava, aged 5, presses the side of her face on one of the mounds saying, “I heard water inside the clay!” After doing the same her friends agree, saying, “Me too! I saw the water inside this clay,” and “I feel water.” Violet, who is rendering a river in clay says, "I [feel water] too. Inside of my river. So it’s working.” A short debate follows amongst the children regarding if water is a good thing or a bad thing. Violet ends the debate with the observation that water “keeps you alive. That's the good thing about water." (Molloy Murphy, 2021).

These children, who used clay in the classroom almost daily, were using their clay literacies to think multimodally about the presence of water in clay, and in the world, and what it might mean. This small story of children and clay shows the multiple, complex, and entangled nature of literacies in children’s meaning-making and world-making; illustrating the pedagogical potential of multiliteracies in young children’s learning.



Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations. (DEEWR)(2009). Belonging, being

Kress, G. (1997). Before Writing: Rethinking the paths to literacy. New York, NY: Routledge.

Molloy Murphy, A. (2021). Storying with Clay: Storytelling as a more-than-human event. ArcGIS Online.

New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies. Harvard Educational Review, 60(1), 66-92.

Yelland, N.J. (2018). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Young children and multimodal learning with tablets. British Journal of Educational Technology. 49(5). 847-858.

Yelland, N.J. (2015). Pedagogical prompts: Designing experiences to promote deep learning. In W. Cope & M. Kalantzis (Eds.). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Learning by Design. (pp 288-304). London: Palgrave.



Yelland - 2018 - A pedagogy of multiliteracies Young children and
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The Footy Boys
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What modalities do you see children using to make meaning of their world? (Linguistic, spatial, visual, aural, oral, kinaesthetic)

Which modalities are privileged in your school setting? Is this a conscious choice? Why might you consider making room for multiple modalities?

What literacies are important to your school culture? How do/ can you cultivate these literacies?

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