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by Margo Gottlieb

Should multimodalities be incorporated into testing and assessment for multilingual learners?

The article Understanding Multiliteracies and Assessing Multimodal Texts challenges the status quo that equates text with print as the de facto mode of communication for comprehending written language. Yet, reliance on print-dependent testing, often presented in the form of multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank items, still tends to prevail. In contrast, the use of multimodalities (the combination of visual, gestural, spatial, oral, and written sources of meaning) is advocated as a means of bolstering student access to content and subsequent achievement. The question then becomes does the presence of multimodalities confound comprehension of text in testing situations, especially for multilingual learners? 

Does the presence of multimodalities confound comprehension of text in testing situations, especially for multilingual learners? 

For some, the addition of multimodalities as an antidote for dependence on print for testing and assessment is equated with having compensatory strategies for multilingual learners. In a similar vein, Universal Design for Learning with its principles of multiple means of engagement, representation, and expression extends this notion to students with intense needs. Counter to that position is the thinking that multimodalities can help offset the inequities of print-driven content testing for multilingual learners and multilingual learners with individualized education programs (IEPs). Let’s explore three of many ways multimodalities can positively impact classroom assessment for multilingual learners.

1) Integrate multimodalities into learning targets and assessment of those targets.

There should always be a variety of pathways for students to pursue learning and attain their individual learning goals on their way to reaching grade-level expectations. Learning targets should combine content, language, and modalities. Here’s an example- ‘Multilingual learners will create a multicultural fairytale, respond to a self-assessment checklist of story elements, and narrate their story in a multimedia presentation or a production in one or more languages’.

2) Invite multilingual learners to produce multimodal projects, products, and performances according to criteria of success as evidence of learning,

When multilingual learners have had input in crafting learning targets along with the descriptors of what constitutes success for their multimodal assessment tasks, their opportunities for meaningful engagement improve. In combining modes in different ways, from authoring bilingual picture books to designing websites, multilingual learners show their imagination. Descriptors inclusive of multiple languages and multimodalities for end-of-unit projects can capture multilingual learners’ deep learning.

3) Acknowledge the use of multiple languages as a viable resource and communication channel in multimodal instruction and assessment.

Students need to engage in increasingly complex and sophisticated spoken, written, and multimodal texts for different purposes, audiences, and purposes. One such communication mode for multilingual learners is interaction in multiple languages. When teachers adopt multimodalities and multiple languages, their literacy toolbox expands immeasurably and multilingual learners benefit.

Coupling print with other modes of communication is a multifaceted undertaking as it involves knowing the concepts of a subject area, conveying text-based meaning, and attaching meaning to additional modalities. Multimodalities should signal a range of choices for multilingual learners that open doors for students to explore their interests during instruction and assessment activities.

As educators of multilingual learners, aren’t we constantly striving to optimize our students’ access and opportunities to learn through as many communication channels as possible? Then why would we abandon that practice for assessment?

Now it’s your turn! Which of the following scenarios would you choose? Click to vote! 

Scenario one relies on the privileged status of print-dependent text for testing and assessment, taking the position that multimodalities detract multilingual learners from making sense of print, thereby negatively impacting their true achievement. 

Scenario two views multimodalities, including multiple language use, as language resources that offer multilingual learners increased access to content to accelerate their attainment of their goals and show evidence of their learning during assessment.

Today’s question comes from a dilemma posed in Gottlieb’s companion books, Classroom Assessment in Multiple Languages: A Handbook for Teachers and Assessment in Multiple Languages: A Handbook for School and District Leaders

Margo Gottlieb has devoted her professional career to improving educational opportunities for multilingual learners. In this limited blog series, Margo delves into “Multilingual Mysteries” around the topic of classroom assessment. Every other week, she poses different scenarios to readers to consider and then choose.