Multi-Modal Strategies

The final post for this inquiry project will demonstrate different methods that I have seen and researched as part of the Multi-Modal inquiry project.


Peirce (1893-1910) claimed that all disciplinary meaning-making practices, including mathematics and science, can be represented by a triadic account of how signs have meaning.


Representation of sign or signifier- Verbal, visual, mathematical, embodied, word text, image, gesture, action, graph, table, symbol, diagram, use of discourse conventions

Referent in world – Physical object, experience, artefact, situation/context, process

Meaning- Sense made of sign, concept, idea, theory, explanation


This theory shows different combinations of materials that are usually effective in a science-based lesson or classroom. Many of these combinations can also be applied to other school subjects.


Russell and McGuigan

Russell and McGuigan (2001) noted that the developmental processes of student understanding involve the “re-coding of representations”, implying that conceptual change entails a process of re-representation, where learners generate and transform “representations which are stored in different modalities, with meta-cognitive ‘explication’ mediated by linguistic processes” (p. 600)

Essentially what these researchers are describing, is that multi-modal teaching is important so that students can begin to make cross-curricular connections, as well as making connections to the real world. It is also noted in their research, that both student and teachers generated various representations of the target concepts, and knowledge constructions was viewed as the process of making and transforming these different modes of representation. These constructions of knowledge scaffolded their understandings in relation to their perceptions of the real world and it’s current/historic events.

Florax and Ploetzner

These two researchers have focused on students’ construction of self-explanation diagrams of understanding concepts across multiple topics. Rather than emphasise a particular representation or one classroom strategy, thye focused on researcing the general understandings as a key to effective learning. Instead of seeking to identify or produce an exemplary representation as providing the key to effective learning and teaching, they looked at the processes the teachers and students went through in order to produce those pieces of work. Maintaining a positive attitude towards the learning was a huge part of their research, which they maintained through activities and the opportunity for inquiry.



Representations of successful learning in the past have included being able to read a text and answer some questions, or getting 100% on a quiz. The representations of learning now that carry value for teachers and students include acting out learning, PowerPoints, presentations, art and discussion.

I hope that you were able to make some connections to different theories that you may already be implementing in your class without even realizing it, or you may have discovered a new idea that would work well for your current classroom.



Multi-Modal Communication

In the previous blog posts, I have discussed the environment that occurs in the classroom and how learning can occur in a productive way, but how does a teacher extend their multi-modal way of thinking beyond the physical classroom?

Imagine a student in a classroom, you may envision them behind a traditional desk, maybe there are other desks and students around them. Now add windows, natural colours, desk or table groups, vibrant personalities and inspirational examples of work up on the walls. Include a teacher. This teacher circulates the classroom, engages in meaningful conversation, uses teachable moments and manipulatives, maybe writes some instructions or notes on the board accompanied with doodles. This is an example of a multi-modal learning environment. Now what happens when they go home?

Student: Hi I’m home!

Tall Person: Hi! What did you learn today?

Student: Nothing.


This is probably a very familiar conversation that we have said to our Tall People, and heard students participate in. As educators, we should be trying to extend the learning beyond the classroom and the best way to do that is through communication.

Ongoing communication to Parents/Guardians is now required by the Provincial Government and the new BC Curriculum in every “subject” taught in school. Multi-modal education can be extended to this area as well. Below you will find some examples.


Parent/teacher, student/teacher, parent/student/teacher conferences are amazing opportunities to share the learning that occurs in the classroom. There are multiple ways to set them up as well. Parent/teacher conferences usually orient themselves around the logistics of the classroom and composition of it’s students. Many of these meetings end up focusing on what parents can do to assist both student and teacher, during the student’s time at home. These meetings can be helpful to establish what home might be like, as well as learn the parent’s expectations of the teacher and student. Student/teacher interviews can be filmed/recorded and passed along to the people at home. When a student/teacher interview occurs there is usually an element of assessment, either formative or summative. These interviews are usually used as a method of communicating what has already occured in the classroom, according to what the teacher wants the parent to be aware of.  Parent/student/teacher interviews are probably the most effective to communicate to parents, as well as permit the student to show what is relevant to their learning and what they are proud of. It is more time consuming to put together examples and get the room set up and prepare the students, but it is so worth it, when students can demonstrate their learnings and accomplishments.


Many school districts now use a system called FreshGrade, which is a reporting program used as a method of ongoing communication. There are a lot of other programs used as well, this is just the one that I am familiar with. Many parents do not have the time to come into the classroom to have an interview, but they do have time to go through a couple clicks and see what their student is up to. One of the challenges with this system is that sometimes it doesn’t work and a lot of the organization, set-up and reporting has to be completed by the teacher anyways. It is useful for some self-reporting, as long as the students are at the age where they are more self-aware and technologically savvy.


The purpose of sharing these types of communication is to demonstrate that multi-modal learning occurs with parents as well. It is important, as a teacher, to have various methods of communication available to Big People so that it can be accessible. Many of these methods can be prepared ahead of time and planned in coordination, and with the support of, the rest of the school. If teachers use multi-modal teaching and learning strategies in their classroom, they should demonstrate these ideologies to Big People involved in their student’s lives.


Multi-Modal Learning

Hi there,

This section of my blog posts is focusing on Multi-Modal learning; what a teacher might want to focus on while delivering a lesson. When I was in school, everyone was labelled as a visual, auditory or kinesthetic learner, which may have encouraged teachers to differentiate a little bit, but it was still focused on only one way of learning. Below I have outlined the VAK theory.


The visual, auditory, kinesthetic learning styles model was developed by psychologists in the 1920s to help classify how most people learn. According to this model, most of us prefer to learn in one of three ways (visual, auditory or kinesthetic), although we usually mix and match the styles depending on what we are learning.

Visual  – A visual learner retains the majority of the information learned when it is presented visually; using pictures, diagrams and charts for example.

Auditory – An auditory learner prefers to listen to what information is being presented. They respond best to voices they might hear in a lecture or group discussion. The learner repeating information back or delivering presentations themselves is also helpful.

Kinesthetic – A kinesthetic learning uses physical (or hands-on) experiences to learn. They respond well to being able to touch, manipulate and feel an object or learning prop.

An extension of the VAK theory was developed by Neil D. Fleming, who added reading/writing to make the new acronym VARK.

Reading/Writing – A reading or writing learner uses repetition of words and writing. There is clearly overlap with visual and auditory learning, but a learner who prefers to learn this way retains information best by going through the process of writing it down in order to read it later.

So What To Do?

While many learners can connect most of their learning to one of these methods of learning and retaining information, most learners are a combination of two or more. In education today, teachers are required to consider differentiation in their classrooms in order to reach the whole population rather than just the “end pins” (Shelley Moore on Differentiation).

Learners today are so stimulated by their environments, technology, emotions and events, that there is no clear distinction of different kinds of learners. Every student needs to have experienced each “type” of learning in order to realize how they learn best. Often it will be a combination of various skills.

If teachers get rid of the VA(R)K theory, then they are just teaching the student. Isn’t that we are supposed to be doing anyways? Shouldn’t teachers be catering and developing their own learning and teaching to fit the need of the classroom and it’s students?

Multi-Modal Learning answers these questions. By incorporating different methods of learning into the classroom and the teaching, every student has the opportunity to develop their learning skills and achieve a deeper understanding of the subject being taught. The point of this blog post was to show how many teachers still teach according to the VA(R)K theory. They stick students in a box where they tend to stay until the rare opportunity for self-discovery comes along. Students who get stuck in their box end up adapting the way their brains really work (in a variety of complex processes) to sticking with one method that “works” according to what their teacher, and the teachers before that, have decided “works best.

Multi-modal learning is so effective because it provides a basis for real-world situations, but where should this type of learning stop? That will be answered in the next post, based around Multi-modal communication.


Multi-Modal Classrooms

Hi Learners,

So the topic I picked for my inquiry assignment is Multi-Modal learning. I know it’s huge and I’m biting off way more than  I can chew, but already I am learning so much. Multi-modal learning means that information is being taught, absorbed and observed in a variety of ways, some of the more useful ones I am hoping to touch on throughout my own learning.

As I work on some readings tonight, one particular section popped up to me titled “Space and Time: What Might an Inquiry-Based Classroom Look Like?” (Natural Curiosity 2nd Edition, pg 26) and it hit me. Classrooms are probably one of the best visual ways to demonstrate to your class, and others, what your learning looks like on a regular basis. Educators spend hours laying out their classroom, figuring out the message they want to focus on for their year, what their personal goal is, and how they want their classroom community to interact. Each teacher will have their own opinions on how a classroom should look. Some will say that primary colours are a must because it represents the foundations of knowledge, others might say muted tones are best if you have a busy classroom so that the students are not overstimulated, still others will say they never use a “classroom” and prefer to do their teaching in an outdoor environment. Natural Curiosity 2nd Edition: A Resource for Educators provides some questions educators may want to consider while setting up their classrooms:

  1. Is this classroom conducive to learning in which students’ ideas and thinking are at the centre?
  2. How can I provide long periods of time for students to delve deeply into a topic?
  3. What values about learning does the physical classroom convey? For example. does the displayed work show  range of skills and levels of thinking, including errors and beginning ideas?
  4. Can all students find themselves represented in the materials and learning tools of this classroom?
  5. Have I ensured that each student’s thinking is visible in some way?
  6. Does the classroom set-up encourage students to connect their ideas with those that have gone before (e.g.. through archived discussions or the choice of books)?
  7. Are the materials presented in an undistracting, inviting, and aesthetically pleasing way that awakens curiosity?
  8. How can we bring “the outdoors in”, maintaining strong connections between classroom practices and the natural environment that is our focus?

Keep in mind that each educator has a variety of equipment and ‘stuff’ available at any given time. All of these questions are important to consider, but #1 and #5 particularly stand out in the case of multi-modal learning and the classroom. This is because #1 focuses not on the learner’s ability in a particular subject, but fosters the idea of developing a curiosity in the given subject, specific to that students’ thinking. #5 ensures the development of a classroom community, as well as equal and fair representation of each student’s work, even if it isn’t perfect. I would suggest that the teacher throw up a couple of his/her examples once students  have theirs up, to demonstrate that they too are in the process of learning.

A multi-modal classroom doesn’t have to focus on what ‘stuff’ you have available to the learners. It’s key to success is being able to recognize that there are different kinds of learners every year, and in every classroom, and figuring out how to represent that to your class in a variety of ways, whether that is visually, academically, or physically. If educators can keep the above listed points in their thoughts as they set up their classroom, the multi-modal classroom layout part is done, and the construction of multi-modal instruction begins next.

– Anna

First Post

Hi my name is Anna Rithaler, and I’m a little nervous about making a blog page, but let’s see how this goes. I am hoping that I will be able to share some ideas and thoughts with the members of my cohort as well as the public.

A little bit about me is that I was born and raised on Saltspring Island in beautiful British Columbia, and much of my life has been spent on or near the water. The theme I have focused on for this site is centered around the ocean because it has had such significance in my life and is one of my favourite subjects to teach.

This site will be a work in progress for a while, but I’m looking forward to trying new things!