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What Text(s) Means Now

Updated: Mar 31, 2023

By: Jason DeHart, Instructor

Key Statement: “Text” in today’s classrooms can be a dynamic, multimodal, multimedia way to engage students with course content.

Keywords: Literacy, Multimodality, Instructor Education


At times, building a classroom environment around the activity of reading printed text might feel anachronistic. Teachers and students live in a world of thriving digital technology and visual storytelling. Decades ago, the New London Group (1996) noted that the world of communication was on a trajectory of change, including increased information and post-typographical practices, and Champoux (1999a) noted the ready engagements students demonstrated when viewing film, as opposed to reading traditional printed texts. Communication practices are in flux, and ideas for teaching can be expanded beyond traditional methods to incorporate a range of meaning-making practices (Lapp et al., 2012).

This article traces the steps in co-constructing multimodal engagements with pre-service teachers in an online and hybrid undergraduate course from 2020-2021, with implications for working with a range of students in the secondary and postsecondary classroom.

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Cultural Markers With Multimodal Texts

One of the most salient emphases of the course discussed here was the influence of culturally responsive/sustaining pedagogy when choosing texts that could be read and shared in a classroom. Noting a reliance on both traditional texts and voices from White male groups, the author/teacher worked with learners to begin thinking about the ways in which texts act in conjunction with one another, including sharing linked lists of titles to draw attention to historically minoritized groups. Taking this linked [text set] approach meant that students could begin to see the aligned and oppositional, as well as complimentary and confrontational, ways in which texts related together (Ciecierski, 2017).

Film and graphic novels are major components of contemporary storytelling practices, so conversation began early in this course around how film can be used to disrupt bias and stereotypes, as well as share voices from minoritized communities (Champoux, 1999b). This work reinforces the writings of Hall (2020), including the ways in which words and signs are used to convey expressions of culture and identity across forms. From film, students added multicultural examinations of additional types of texts, including graphic novels (Sun, 2017) and infographic responses (Bedard & Fuhrken, 2019). The linked examples in this mentor text set helped students to create their own linked sets of texts. In the context of this course, multimodal composition was central in considering the types of texts chosen; students also had the opportunity to share their own compositions as they composed lessons that drew on the texts.

This work with texts and engagements was an opportunity to expose students to a range of texts that they could use in instruction. Additionally, the teacher/author offered modeled mini-lessons framed around a linking set of at least two or three texts, such as showing clips of author Veera Hiranandani when introducing Hiranandani’s (2019) novel, The Night Diary. This multimodal/media-oriented hook was shared as an example of how teachers could implement texts thoughtfully in classroom instruction.

From there, the next step in the course was to hand this process over to students for self-directed practice.

Handing the Process Over

Figure. 1. An example linked text set.

As demonstrated in Figure 1, the process for demonstrating linked sets begins with a central text that is read for details and compositional aspects, and then linked with additional materials, from film to memes to children’s books and graphic novels. This mentor text set was then used as a model for a workshop approach to building instruction. Implications for this handing-over include empowering pre-service and in-service teachers to explore traditionally published materials and consider in-depth the relationships between and among diverse texts, as well as critically consider the texts that have historically been centered in instructional materials. This process of critical consideration and text alignment is one that can begin with the teacher as mentor-practitioner, and then be handed over to students to explore and collect texts that correspond with personal areas of critical awareness or intersections of identity/identities.

In this controlled implementation, the work took place in small groups as students followed textual examples and began brainstorming their own text-centered sets for study and further work. This process included the opportunity to consider “texts” as not only prose works from celebrated authors, but also a range of culturally constructed and multimodally designed materials. Students chose from a list of topics related to social justice standards and concepts, critically considering the authorship behind texts as well as how texts related to one another. In addition, students had at least one opportunity to engage in teaching groups, practicing engagements with the verse novel, Other Words for Home (Warga, 2019). The content of this particular lesson example focused on the particular word choices of the author, and the ways that poetic expression could be considered as a contemporary example of verse to illustrate a refugee experience.

Ultimately, students performed three major tasks: (1) building curated sets of texts linked to topics of interest; (2) composing and sharing brief instructional approaches in a mini-lesson format that drew from texts; and (3) expanding on the texts with particular focus on comprehension and vocabulary instruction. This process enabled students to actively choose materials they wanted to include in their teaching and has implications for how instructors can ask their own students to peruse and select reading materials.

These collaborative teaching opportunities gave students the chance to share in thinking about how to co-construct text-centered instruction and implement a range of invitational multimodal engagements, including author videos; digital maps; memes; and other types of video clips, including scenes from films that depicted multidimensional views of cultures, or clips that related to aspects of culture, including foods and holidays. Teachers who wish to expand their curriculum to include a range of authors and experiences can engage in similar work. For example, a recent clip from the Disney+ series, Ms. Marvel (2022), is a featured text to introduce the British Partition of India in the current iteration of this project.

In terms of feedback, students commented informally on how the process of going through the texts helped them create a meaningful product, how they had learned to teach as part of the work in ways that they had not yet experienced, and how looking at texts in this way helped them think about building background knowledge. One student, in particular, commented on the ways that the teacher-created examples helped them experience a part of history (the British Partition of India) that they had never before encountered. Since the end of the course, a number of students have reached out to discuss the ways that texts they chose could continue to be part of instructional practices in the classroom.


In this online and hybrid course with pre-service teachers, an approach to building text sets across multimodal examples allowed for expanding definitions of what counts as text and mentoring students in linking a range of materials together to form linked sets of texts. These text sets then became a site for expanded work in terms of vocabulary, comprehension, and writing engagements, so that pre-service teachers had not only a ready-made network of readings across media/forms that they could employ in their work, but a storehouse of resources and teaching ideas that could be a continuing resource.

Being a reading advocate in the 21st century is unique. Although texts are accessible through a variety of means, there continue to be inequities in both the degree to which students have access to these texts, as well as the ways these types of texts and engagements are welcomed in academic spaces. Texts, in all their forms, continue to be produced and, to that end, the work of locating salient work is never complete.

Reading, writing, and composing are ongoing processes, as is honing craft and considering the voices that are given attention in classroom spaces.

Discussion Questions

  1. What texts are currently centered in my classroom?

  2. In what ways do my students interact with texts? With other media?

  3. How do I build background knowledge and cultural insight when reading with students?


Bedard, C., & Fuhrken, C. (2019). Deepening students' reading, responding, and reflecting on

multicultural literature: It all started with Brown Girl Dreaming. English in Texas, 49(1), 25


Champoux, J. E. (1999a). Film as a teaching resource. Journal of Management Inquiry, 8(2),


Champoux, J. E. (1999b). Seeing and valuing diversity through film. Education Media

International, 36(4), 310–316.

Ciecierski, L. M. (2017). What the common core state standards do not tell you about

connecting texts. The Reading Teacher, 71(3), 285–294.

Hall, S. (2020). The work of representation. In T. Prentki (Ed.), The Applied Theatre Reader (pp.

74–76). Routledge.

Hiranandani, V. (2019). The night diary. Puffin Books.

Lapp, D., Moss, B., & Rowsell, J. (2012). Envisioning new literacies through a lens of teaching

and learning. The Reading Teacher, 65(6), 367–377.

The New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures.

Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60–92.

Sun, L. (2017). Critical encounters in a middle school English language arts classroom: Using

graphic novels to teach critical thinking & reading for peace education. Multicultural

Education, 25(1), 22–28.

Warga, J. (2019). Other words for home. Balzer + Bray.

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1 Comment

Jan 17, 2023

Jason DeHart’s challenge for us to reconsider how we define and use texts “as not only prose works from celebrated authors, but also a range of culturally constructed and multimodally designed materials” aligns with a concept and pedagogy trademarked in honors education some four decades ago. The National Collegiate Honors Council’s City as Text™ experiential model of interdisciplinary, reflective, field-based inquiry into how not just words but place, self, communities, experiences, performance, and other processes and products of human imagination and construction can be “read,” analyzed, and shared through structured explorations. critical reflection, and writing or other forms of communication.

The methodology has inspired pedagogical innovations inside and outside the classroom as teachers and students examine how books, film, architecture,…

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