There is no denying that in the 21st century, teachers have gone from strength to strength in using technology in the classroom and this has changed the classroom landscape significantly. The digital age has introduced new avenues to explore for learning and teaching beyond the traditional classroom methods.
Nowadays, teachers are often using multimodal approaches to enhance learners’ comprehension of a topic. According to Marchetti and Cullen (2015) ‘underlying a multimodal approach are modes, which are visual, audio, text or speech, and movement channels used in a classical classroom situation.’ Therefore, a multimodal approach in education can mean catering for diverse learning styles such as kinesthetic, audio and visual, as well as using learning materials incorporating different modes of learning such as words, images and sounds to encourage learners to interact with the content in order to better understand it (including the use of learners’ home languages).
For learners acquiring English as an additional language (EAL), utilising a multimodal approach in the classroom proves to be an even more effective and dynamic method. Bao (2017) states that ‘for students of English, multimodal teaching has been shown to inspire students’ motivation to read after class and build up their confidence in learning English’, as well as ‘promote autonomy and improve motivation to learn’ (Ganapathy & Seetharam, 2016).
An example from a Geography lesson might include:
Incorporating active use of multimedia in the classroom such as interactive apps and websites, music, video clips and any other online resources makes learning more engaging and relatable to learners. And, we do not even have to mention that during Covid the physical walls of the classroom as such were demolished and the more traditional teaching and learning process has consequently progressed beyond that with the help of digital tools.
However, as much as the above-mentioned in terms of screen-based learning offers an engaging visual and auditory learning environment, nothing can replace verbal communication and its role in developing fluency and confidence. The ability to communicate effectively in English and/or in any other language(s) remains empowering. Taking part in classroom discussions, group activities, pair work, collaborative projects and oral presentations are vital for enhancing speaking and listening skills, and are essential for language acquisition. By engaging in real-life scenarios, learners can grow their linguistic confidence.
Another add-on will be using authentic materials such as news articles, literature extracts, research quotations etc to expose learners to diverse perspectives and contextual language use, thus offering them language fluency beyond textbooks.
The fusion of visual, auditory and interactive elements creates and fosters a holistic approach within the classroom thus catering to different learning styles and individual needs. Incorporating technology tools as part of a multimodal approach to teaching and learning in the classroom should complement, not replace traditional teaching methods offering a balanced and engaging learning experience for all types of learners. Here is where teachers as facilitators play a pivotal role to guide and offer all learners a combination of a wide and rich range of multimodal learning experiences so those learners can choose the most effective and comprehensive one for them.
Needless to say, problems still persist. Limited access to devices, poor internet connectivity, underdeveloped digital literacy and poor learner engagement will remain as challenges; however, providing alternative resources, catering to individual needs and creating a supportive classroom environment and tailored support will encourage participation and ensure inclusivity.
Nonetheless, the advantages of a multimodal approach for EAL learners cannot be denied or overlooked. When teachers embrace a multimodal approach in the classroom by amalgamating screen-based activities and digital learning tools with interactive discussions, authentic materials and the learners’ home languages, they create a dynamic and immersive learning environment. Through this, learners are empowered to develop their linguistic skills as well as 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration and communication in a multicultural, multilingual and interconnected world.
Bao, X. (2017) Application of multimodality to teaching reading. English Language and Literature Studies, 7(3), 78-84
Ganapathy, M., & Seetharam, S. A. (2016) The effects of using multimodal approaches in meaning-making of 21st-century literacy texts among ESL students in a private school in Malaysia. Advances in Language and Literary Studies, 7(2), 143-155
Marchetti, L., & Cullen, P. (2015) A Multimodal Approach in the Classroom for Creative Teaching and Learning