These assertions and definitions invite us to interrogate more deeply why and how we use multiple modes (or media) in the classroom and our world. The easy accessibility of these “new technologies of information and communication” means that, as others have stated, authorship is more egalitarian. It also means we (all) have options and choice in not only what we choose to say, but how we choose to say it—not just when it comes to language, but also when it comes to modality.
This requires us to think—and teach—carefully about the strengths, shortcomings, and over-all impact of using different modes to share a variety of ideas. Many of these considerations are extensions of the traditional considerations of structure, tone, and audience. For whom are we producing—née writing? What idea (or thesis) are we attempting to express? Which mode (similar to tone) will both honestly convey our meaning and effectively appeal to our audience?
What I appreciate about Kress’s definition of mode is that he acknowledges the cultural and social impacts on the creation of any text, and by extension the impact on its reception from an audience. We have talked in this course frequently about the traditional privileging of the written word in the English classroom. It is given priority, both in the texts we consume (as an audience) and the texts we produce (as authors). It is what we teach our students to read and value, and what we teach them to effectively produce. Here we see the cultural and social aspects coming into play. In many cultures and communities, within and beyond the United States, the written word may not hold so much sway. Other types of text—other modes—may be given greater priority. Children may grow up as audience members of oral or visual texts, for example, and may become experts in conveying complex thoughts, ideas, and identities using spoken words, storytelling, song, painting, photograph, sculpture, or a variety of other audio or visual modes.
Thus, conveying meaning across cultures (or learning styles) may involve a sort of modal multi-lingualism. We may need to translate our idea between modes to get it out of our modal language and into the modal language of our audience. Sometimes this may come close to necessity. Other times, though, it is more a matter of preference. Most of us can synthesize information given to us in a variety of forms—we have learned how to make meaning out of words read, sounds heard, images viewed… But that is not to say that one might not be optimal for communicating a certain idea to a certain audience, and others less-optimal. (To tell a single friend about my day, a thorough and engaged one-on-one conversation or phone call may be best. To tell a small group of friends and family spread out around the country about my day, a short series of videos shared over SnapChat throughout might do the trick. To tell an audience of hundreds about my day, a single Instagram photo that captures my place and mood would probably be enough.)
One of the topics that came up a few years ago in my teaching was the idea of microaggressions. The concept itself—at least the term, if not the idea—was foreign to many students, though it was a daily reality for some others. We were in an academic setting, which to me meant that the students (and potentially other faculty or parents who might later hear of this lesson) would expect some sort of intellectual discussion and analysis of this phenomenon. Enter this article from The Atlantic. But while this seemed like a really solid addition to the conversation, perhaps paired with a different (and similarly “qualified”) point of view, it didn’t seem like the most accessible entry point.
Some students, I knew, would be ready to immediately jump into a heavy and dynamic discussion of microaggressions. Others, I also knew, would be reluctant, uncomfortable, and might feel blamed or targeted or attacked, either by the authors or by other students.
Was there a way I could introduce the topic that would get people sympathizing and talking (and maybe even laughing) with each other? Was there a text we could look at first that would get the ball rolling, that would demonstrate why microaggressions can be damaging but also not point a finger at anyone in the room or on our campus? A YouTube video from earlier that year seemed to strike the right tone.
Many of our students are probably at least familiar with, if not well versed in, a variety of culturally and socially valued modes for sharing themselves with an audience. What they may not have analyzed as deeply or consciously, though, is why they use certain modes for certain ideas, and certain modes for certain audiences. By teaching our students to be more thoughtful about this process, we can encourage them to not only to produce more effective texts and analyze others’ texts more deeply, but also to better understand the process of composing thoughtfully, as well as the even larger understanding of their own culture and social norms.