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2:3 Assessing Multimodal Texts

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What key theoretical insights about multimodality are required to effectively assess multimodal texts?

“Fully multimodal assessment is probably impossible, given the fact that once in a multimodal world, many children will immediately break any genre rules we may have identified” (Vincent, 2006, p. 56).  Good-o!  That’s just what I want to read when given the task to assess a multimodal text (please read sarcastic tone here!).

Vincent (2006) explains that to assess a multimodal text you need to understand the grammar of each semiotic mode used in the text.  These could be graphics, images, sound, music, animation and so on.  He asserts each of these require assessment in themselves.  However, he also quotes Stein (2003 in Vincent, 2006, p. 56) who argues that when all the modes are put together, “the whole can be greater than the sum parts.”  This means that assessing the individual modes in itself is not enough as when they are combined they create another aspect that also needs to be assessed.

What sprang to mind when I thought about what to put in a rubric was the subject of media.  Media teachers surely would already have rubrics I could adapt to suit my needs, they’ve been assessing multimodal texts for years.  This idea was soon put to rest after reading an article by Bearne (in Burke & Hammett, 2009).  While she supports my idea of multimedia being unfamiliar to English teachers and more familiar to design teachers, she points out how multimodal texts really are the product of different learning areas.  So while I could borrow from the media department, that is not enough.  Vincent (2006) realised the same.  In his study he did a search for multimodal assessments and found rubrics that assessed the media side of things, but not the content.  In his primary school classroom, he “relied principally on qualitative assessments based on Kress and van Leeuwen’s (1996) grammars of semiotic modes, and observations of the degree to which students integrated modes to present the messages” (Vincent, 2006, p. 54).  He continues with the argument of how important multimodal texts are in the classroom for students who have difficulties expressing themselves in a verbal or written format, but who effectively communicate through multimodal texts.  “The development of a multimodal text assessment tool therefore raises an issue of equity. We need such a tool if we are to recognise the achievement of students who have used these alternative pathways to literacy” (Vincent, 2006, p. 55).

The complexity of assessing multimodal texts does pose a problem.  Already we know how long a multimodal text takes to produce, which leaves teachers hesitant to embark on such tasks, and having assessment of the texts be so complicated further discourages teachers.   All together it makes it difficult to encourage teachers to adopt multimodal texts in their curricula.  As Vincent (2006, p. 55) points out,

“Unless teachers possess an adequate means of assessing multimodal texts, they will not assess them, and are unlikely to accept them as normal means of text production, to be judged equally with verbal texts. Yet my study, as well as studies such as those by Beavis (2001) and Daiute (1991), has strongly suggested that multimodal texts are a pathway to literacy for a substantial group of students.”

He continues with the argument of how important multimodal texts are in the classroom for students who have difficulties expressing themselves in a verbal or written format, but who effectively communicate through multimodal texts.  “The development of a multimodal text assessment tool therefore raises an issue of equity. We need such a tool if we are to recognise the achievement of students who have used these alternative pathways to literacy.” (Vincent, 2006, p. 55)

The UK Literacy Association has done some research in creating a standardised assessment for multimodal texts, but it has had some criticism (in Burke & Hammett, 2009).  Three strands for assessment were identified: composition and effect, text structure and organisation, and sentence structure and punctuation.  However, Bearne (in Burke & Hammett, 2009) describes several constraints these strands have in not being able to assess the full extent of multimodal texts.

Using Bearne’s progress markers (in Burke & Hammett, 2009) I have created a generic multimodal text rubric, without weighting, that could be adapted for different uses.

Generic Multimodal Text Rubric

I have also assessed my own multimodal text, found in my previous post 2:2 Creating Multimodal Texts.

Multimodal Text Assessment of My Country

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