University of Illinois at Chicago
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Multimodality and Learning: Exploring Concept Development and Student Engagement in a Physics Classroom

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posted on 2014-06-20, 00:00 authored by David C. Bonner
This teacher research study examined multimodality in relation to teaching and learning of waves in a high school physics class from a sociocultural perspective. Qualitative analysis of classroom multimodal discourse, using ethnographic and grounded theory techniques, was used to explore and document the co-construction of concepts and the grammatical aspects of the modalities in which these concepts were developed. The findings centered on the evolution of form and function of two prevalent modes that emerged–gesturing and diagramming, –and on the evolution of two major thematic patterns across various modes–understanding and measuring wave characteristics, as well as learning about relationships between various wave characteristics from experimental data. The study revealed that students developed conceptual understandings using different modalities that shaped their meaning making and articulation of ideas. Students’ conceptions of the grammar (form and function) of a particular mode co-developed with both the concepts and the grammars of other modes. Each mode’s meaning was not developed in isolation from each other; instead, the intertwining, transduction, combination, and hybridization of modes offered powerful opportunities for meaning making. As students transduced among modalities, each mode afforded unique meaning-making opportunities that contributed to the class’s collective meaning and development of ideas. However, the sequence of students’ transduction represented a learned practice developed discursively throughout the unit. Students’ engagement in one mode influenced the ways in which students called upon and utilized other modes, and in some cases, modes were combined while retaining their individual grammars (combination), or blended together into new modes with their own grammar (hybridization). The findings of this study suggest several implications for practice. Availability of, and access to, multimodality, modeling the grammars of various modalities, and a teacher’s careful planning and consideration of the sequence of transduction among modes are especially important to physics teaching and learning. Students’ multimodal engagement with science ideas and the role that grammars of modes play in constructing meaning represent potentially fruitful areas for future science education research.



Varelas, Maria


Curriculum & Instruction

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Doctoral

Committee Member

Mitchener, Carole Kelly, Gregory Radinsky, Joshua Pappas, Christine

Submitted date



  • en

Issue date


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