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Multimodal identity texts : pictures of engagement for adult immigrant language learners Bonham, Susan

Abstract

Studies with K-12 learners have identified benefits for language and content learning when students engage in multimodal pedagogical tasks that access students’ resources for learning, but few studies have examined how a multimodal pedagogical approach might benefit adult learners in non-academic contexts. This action research study was undertaken in a government-funded English language class for adult immigrants. It investigated, from student and teacher/researcher perspectives, the opportunities and challenges of a multimodal pedagogical approach for integrated content and language learning, as well as the level of students’ investment in the unit of learning. Theoretical frameworks that informed this research project included Norton and colleagues’ concepts of identity and investment, imagined communities (Anderson, 1991) and imagined identities, new literacies theory, Kress’s theory of multimodality, and the New London Group’s theoretical overview of a pedagogy of multiliteracies. Data were collected during a unit of study on the education system in Canada and consist of observations, focus group interviews, teacher and student reflection journals, and students’ projects. Data were coded using ATLAS.ti and analyzed iteratively to identify emergent themes. Both student and teacher perspectives were that the multimodal pedagogical approach enabled students’ meaning making in ways that supported longer-term learning and development of language beyond expectations for the officially designated level of the class. Participants were very invested in the topic, and the affordances of the multimodal project supported this investment by allowing them to make meaning in multiple modes, including but not limited to linguistic modes. Themes identified in the data include: exploration of identity issues, opportunities to design with their children, importance of authentic communicative experiences, accessing prior knowledge to learn, unique characteristics and needs of adult learners, and importance of the student-teacher relationship. Tentative implications are drawn for policy, practice, and further research.

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