Multiple Means of Action and Expression

Strategic Networks and Multiple Means of Action & Expression

Strategic Networks and Multiple Means of Action & Expression via

Following up on last week’s focus on Principle I, this week’s readings addressed Principle II: Multiple Means of Action and Expression. Like the first principle, Principle II has three separate guidelines: 4) Provide options for physical action; 5) Provide options for expression and communication; and 6) Provide options for executive functions. Whereas Principle I coincides with recognition networks, or the “what” of learning, Principle II matches up with our brain’s strategic networks and the “how” of learning. (CAST)

Though Guidelines 4 and 6 make important points about optimizing physical access and helping students make choices that support their long-term goals, Guideline 5 seemed to receive the most emphasis, and it is the one that resonates most strongly for me within the context of writing classes. Providing students with options for communicating is broken down in different components: composing in multiple media, using social media and interactive web tools, and using multiple tools for composition (CAST). I think about these suggestions often while trying to implement a multimodal pedagogy.

In her book, Pippa Stein argues that “multimodal pedagogies acknowledge learners as agentive, resourceful and creative meaning-makers” (122). In this regard, multimodal pedagogies stand in opposition to the “standard” teacher conception that Bain discusses—the idea that “teaching is something that instructors do to students, usually by delivering truths about the discipline” (48). By promoting the use of different modes to create texts, multimodal pedagogies encourage students to take learning into their own hands. In writing classrooms, this could mean having students choose their own inquiries, delving into multiple media to do research, and encouraging the use of multiple modes—essays, videos, photographs, websites, blogs, music—to find the best mode of expression for a particular student (and context).

David Rose and Anne Meyer, while also working within UDL’s major principles, frame strategic networks slightly differently. They claim that in order to support diverse strategic networks, we must provide students with 1) flexible models of skills performance; 2) opportunities to practice with supports; 3) ongoing, relevant feedback; and 4) flexible opportunities for demonstrating skill. I found these ideas really useful for thinking about how I teach, too.

First, it’s important when assigning multimodal projects (or any project, really) that students have a variety of models to gain knowledge about what their options are and how different media affect their arguments. If students are used to writing traditional term papers, assigning a multimedia essay would be overwhelming without strong models. Second, if we expect them to learn to communicate with new media, students need to know that they can experiment without failing. Many comp courses (and others, I’m sure) require a reflection accompanying any major projects so that students have the opportunity to explain their learning. Third, students need feedback at multiple stages of the composing process. Particularly with peer review, I like to try out different forms of feedback—sometimes students handwrite feedback; sometimes they type out comments through Word’s track changes/comment functions; sometimes they provide oral feedback and the writer jots down what the reviewer is saying; sometimes I join the peer review etc. Finally, it’s important for students to have multiple opportunities to showcase their work! If they spend six weeks working on an exciting, audience-based, multimodal project, and I’m the only one that sees it, I’m not creating the natural and critical environment that Bain promotes. Final presentations (in whatever mode students choose) are a must in my classrooms, and these are often preceded by informal research updates, online class discussions, or blog posts.

This is an example of a comp student’s multimodal presentation that I found on YouTube. How does this video use multiple media to create an argument that is different that a written, text-bound argument? What do students gain from this mode of expression?


Bain, Ken. What the Best College Teachers Do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2004. Print.

CAST. “UDL Guidelines – Version 2.0: Principle II. Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression.” National Center on Universal Design for Learning. CAST. 2011.Web.

Rose, David H., and Anne Meyer. “Chapter 6: Using UDL to Support Every Student’s Learning.” Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning.  Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. 2002. Web.

Stein, Pippa. Multimodal Pedagogies in Diverse Classrooms: Representation, Rights, and Resources. New York, NY: Routledge, 2008. Print.

5 responses to “Multiple Means of Action and Expression

  1. Allison,

    I really like how your Blog is organized. I’ve never “blogged” before, but am surely hooked and keep looking at yours, wanting to incorporate some of the awesome elements that you use….like pictures to explain the point you’re talking about, the Blogroll where you list your fellow bloggers, the tags, and recent post section. Maybe we can chat in class and you can show me some tricks!

    As I read your post, it was a quick refresher on everything we read this week. It was nice to see a “summary” and accompanied by your analysis. One point in your reflection that stuck for me was finding opportunities for students to share their work–not just with the teacher but with a larger audience. This authentic sharing of learning makes learning so meaningful. One idea I had was even to create a class website/blog that allowed students to post their work so family members and school members could view students hard work and leave comments and constructive feedback (the type of critical environment that Bain calls for). What other ways could students authentically share their work?

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I look forward to following your Blog!!


  2. Thank you; I’d be happy to chat about blogs some time 🙂

    The importance of audience is one of the most difficult things for me to convey to students because they see me, the grader, as their only audience. I agree about the usefulness of class websites/blogs, and I think service-learning projects are also super useful for thinking about audience. I’ve had classes where we’ve linked up with state organizations who would like some writing projects (designing brochures, creating informational packets, writing newsletters). I know some teachers who link up with campus or community organizations to create collaborative writing projects that benefit both the students and the organizations. Similarly, I taught a business writing class where students had to put together these proposals for issues that they wanted to help in their local communities, and I really wanted them to think about how they would write those proposals if they were *actually* sending them to the organizations. They produced some really amazing projects that semester. Having a tangible audience is definitely more motivating to do thoughtful, well developed work.

  3. I think you make good points about multiple types of student expression. I have 2 thoughts. First, technology is a huge piece of that. Many teachers, especially experienced ones, don’t have the tech knowledge or ability to even understand what some of the students want to do. Also, many school districts don’t have the technology systems in place to do this type of work and many student’s don’t have it at home. My second thought is regarding students sharing their work with a larger audience and my concern is the privacy piece of it. I think as a parent of a teenager I don’t always understand what he’s posting where and what the possible implications may be for his privacy.

  4. Luna Says:
    In fact using multiple modes in teaching is rewarding concerning gaining knowledge, experimenting , feedback and demonstration skills in which students experience all these modes and practice them , but I do believe that educators and teachers have to pave the roads for students by equipping themselves first then they can apply these techniques.As a matter of fact some students are even better than their teachers and also adopting these methods require higher budgets , more time and training. From my understanding and from my experience I think that some schools in some places have shortage in school basic needs so in order not to widen the gap between these schools we have to be fair and support them with their minimal needs then talk about this advanced technology, in the same time I don’t mean to stop working on these great ideas meanwhile we have to look behind and try to give these schools a hand to merge them in these strategies.

  5. Allison and all –
    While widening the audience is an important part of what individuals such as Bain talk about, it is also critical, in order for that to work, that these communities feel empowered. What are some ways and/or examples of how this might work?

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