Activity 7

Multimodal Semiotic Analysis

To complete this Unit, you will be asked to conduct another classroom observation, this time undertaking what is called a ‘multimodal semiotic analysis’, which could support you in developing a more critical attitude towards your existing notions of the classroom environment.

This approach was developed a few years ago by Professor Gunther Kress and his colleagues at the University of London Institute of Education for use in the evaluation of secondary English classrooms.

Multimodal semiotic analysis can also, however, be used more widely to look beyond the verbal and written content of any lesson, as a means of understanding the teaching and learning processes in any classroom.

It is an approach which encourages the observer to focus on all of the culturally shaped aspects of a classroom environment which could be available for meaning making.

A key principle of this approach is to look at different ways in which meanings about learning and about the subject are made. A range of foci (modes) are considered in terms of ways in which they build up the quality and content of the teaching and learning experience.

Modes used in Multimodal Semiotic Analysis (Kress et al., 2005) can include:

  • Classroom layout
  • Teacher movement
  • Visual display
  • Speech
  • Gaze, gesture and embodiment
  • Voice quality
  • Students' posture/movement

READ: Read: Kress, G. et al. (2005) Chapter 3, ‘A new approach to understanding school English: multimodal semiotics’ in English in Urban Classrooms. A multimodal perspective on teaching and learning, Abingdon: RoutledgeFalmer (also in the Module 1 readings booklet).

REFLECT: To what extent could this multimodal semiotic approach to classroom observation give you a deeper understanding of the reality of the classroom experiences of pupils and teachers?

WRITE: Make detailed notes, referring to particular pages and examples in the chapter, about what Kress et al. seem to mean by the following key terms: (a) semiotic (b) mode (c) multimodal.

(Allow 25 minutes)