Critical multimodal literacies in world language education

Digital storytelling project

Yuri Kumagai, Smith College, & Keiko Konoeda, University of Massachusetts Amherst


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The purpose of this presentation is to look into a digital storytelling project, which applied the Pedagogy of Multiliteracies (New London Group, 1996) and aimed at fostering students’ critical multimodal literacies in a Japanese as a world language classroom at a college in the US. World language education has long privileged narrow definitions of written and spoken language; however, there is an increased and urgent need to widen what is regarded as “literacy” and to develop students’ understanding of multimodal aspects of communication, in light of the changing landscapes of literacy practices that we engage in (Kress, 2003). The recent advancement of digital communication has necessitated a heightened awareness on how to make meanings with multiple modes such as linguistic, visual, aural, spatial, and gestural modes.

In this presentation, we report on the pedagogical model of the digital storytelling project for critical multimodal literacies, and examine the students’ meta-awareness of multimodality in classroom discussions, post-project survey and interviews, and two focal students’ digital story products. We designed the project based on the essential pedagogical elements the New London Group (1996) advocated—i.e., situated practice, overt instruction, critical framing, and transformed practice (also, Cope and Kalantzis 2008)—starting with critical multimodal reading of digital stories, in order to scaffold raising awareness of multiple modes. Based on the analysis of multiple data sources (e.g., classroom discussions, students’ writing of drafts and final video products, post-project surveys, and individual interviews), we demonstrate how students further developed their meta-awareness of the significant role that multimodality plays in communicating messages and became critical evaluators of multimodal literacy through explicit attention on multimodality in the project.

We argue that the digital storytelling project afforded the opportunity for the language learners to draw on a wider variety of available designs than they would in a single mode activity, and to Design their language use for their own purposes. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of such projects that encourage students to be intentional and purposeful in Designing a text, so that the students can become the designers of their future selves as language users.

Yuri Kumagai

Senior Lecturer
Smith College

Keiko Konoeda

Doctoral Candidate
University of Massachusetts Amherst