“The Movement of Air, the Breath of Meaning: Aurality and Multimodal” By Cynthia L. Selfe


This text explores the history of the aural mode and how they’re used in English and composition classes. She argues that the priority we give to the lexical mode in the classroom limits students who think in multimodal terms. Communication has expanded past traditional limits, and composition is an increasingly multimodal field.

Writing and speaking share many essential characteristics, making both modes equally important. In fact, students need the opportunity to realize their skills in different compositional modes and that each mode carries different possibilities and drawbacks. In a world full of persuasion, those well versed in multimodal forms of communication will stand a better chance of being heard.

My reaction

Selfe mentions the power of persuasion multimodal texts possess. I never thought about it that way. It’s easy to look at simple means of communication, but persuasion is a huge aspect of communication that benefits greatly from multimodality. Just think about commercials. Hearing the crunch of that Dorito or the Snap of a Kit-Kit persuades the witness further than the delicious orange-powdered chip and creamy chocolate. Commercials use every mode not only to communicate but to persuade us.

Another point Selfe makes is that classrooms treat text as if it’s the only mode. I have a personal story that speaks on this. In my advanced composition class, each class member had the opportunity to create and argue for what they wanted to learn. About half the students argued for traditional composition lessons, learning how to edit and write persuasively. The other half vouched for a more practical approach that acknowledges that we need to be able to compose visuals and write computer code. Universally, the importance of being able to write well was agreed upon, but many students felt limited by such a traditional approach to advanced composition. This proves Selfe’s point that text is prioritized to the point that other modes are stigmatized within the context of “advanced composition.”

Why does this matter?

The world is already a multimodal playground, and it’s time for education to acknowledge the advantage of teaching multiple modes of communication along with the lexical mode. This article was quite dense, and I realize it didn’t summarize it as fully as I should, but it had so much good information, a full summary would take longer than anyone would care to read on a blog. This article matters because it emphasizes that modes need to work in tandem. It doesn’t argue for other modes to be given higher priority over the linguistic mode, but rather than they’re all deserving of attention.


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