When we get in the car to drive somewhere unknown, one of the first things that we do is turn on our navigation system to guide us. When we make meaning of texts, whether it be musical, artistic, or literary, we also need navigation to assist with the meaning-making processes. A navigational system serves as a symbolic representation for the ways we move through texts to consider the medium, modes, genre, perspective, point of view, structure, and composer's purpose.
What started as GPSP (genre, point of view/perspective, structure, and purpose) has now evolved into a much deeper practice, one that acknowledges the social, cultural, and psychological facets of meaning making and communicating. It recognizes that "text" cannot be perceived as a single entity. Text is "an articulation of a discourse" (Pahl & Roswell, 2012). Texts can be constructed in many forms that utilize a wide range of modes, genres, purposes, and structures.
When we analyze a text, it is important to start with the composer. Who is she or he? From where? With what life experiences? What cultural identities? What social identities? What mediums does this musician, author, or artist typically communicate through? What modes does this composer utilize? Learning about the person who composed the text assists us in recognizing biases, understanding the perspective through which information is being shared, and considering why the text was composed. All of this matters in order to draw conclusions about the purpose or message of a text.
Medium is the method in which we choose to communicate or express our ideas, thoughts, and beliefs. Medium refers to the final dissemination, or output of modes that have been coordinated and arranged to communicate a message. For example, paintings, sketches, collages, digital movies, digital presentations, essays, and speeches are all mediums. Each medium utilizes diverse modes, in order to communicate a larger message. The medium a composer chooses to communicate through impacts the modes we can expect to make meaning of. We can get children anticipating what modes we can expect based on the medium. Below are a few of the many mediums that our children interact with:
Taken from the work of Kress (2010), mode refers to the channel of communication for a single unit of meaning. Each mode is a channel of communication and/or meaning making and is valued differently across social and cultural contexts. Examples of modes include color, font, positioning, sizing, and gestures, to name a few. Composers make deliberate decisions when they send messages, tell stories, or share information. The medium in which a composer is channeling the text through impacts the selected modes. This is important because children can make predictions about the modes we can expect within particular mediums. For example, if you are examining a photograph, we know we will want to pay close attention to spacing, sizing, and maybe gaze. If we are making meaning of a poem, we will want to pay attention to line breaks, the use of or lack of rhyme, and visual shape. It is important for our children to consider all of this and build semiotic awareness, or an awareness of the signs and symbols used to make meaning and communicate.
Thinking about Modes
Artistic, musical, and literary genres are composed of elements and characteristics that shape the genre. We can flip through radio stations, notice the musical patterns, and determine the genre privileged on a specific station. Making these characteristics explicit for children is imperative. In the classroom, it is important to consider the characteristics present in the texts explored in class. This provides children a frame of reference to organize details from a particular text. Further, children can use their understanding of genre to make meaning of texts and to compose texts. "The most powerful way to teach any genre is to adopt a reading-writing approach, as both students and teachers must read the genre to write the genre and the skills just described will be developed much more effectively if a dual approach to poetry is adopted” (Concannon-Gibney, 2018, p. 431).
In class, we utilized a genre wall. After every literary text that we read, we decided what genre it was based on the characteristics that were present. An example of this wall is below.
The use of "narrative nonfiction" can be substituted for literary nonfiction, biographical texts, or any other phrase you may choose. Additionally, some ay choose to use "Argumentative Texts" in place of "Persuasive." The point is that genre is something we can and should be talking about every day with every text we touch.
When a text is composed, the author, artist, or musician makes structural decisions. The structure is the way the text is organized. In order to completely understand a text, we have to think about the macrostructure and microstructures. Macrostructure refers to the larger structure of the text. We zoom out and think about how the entire piece is organized. The microstructures are the smaller structures within a text. This could be a paragraph, section, or any other small portion of the text. Considering text structure at the macro and micro level assists with the consideration of the author's purpose.
The purpose is the main reason or intent for composing a text. It is the why. In literary texts, an author’s purpose is reflected in the way an author writes about a topic or story. It is reflected in the choice of genre, point of view, structure, and language used. It is reflected in the way the author crafts the text. We use our knowledge of genre, point of view, perspective, and structure to draw conclusions about the purpose.
In a literacy-rich classroom, children are making meaning of a range of texts every day. Each time opens an opportunity to explore and discuss the crafting of the text. Not only does this take children through crucial meaning-making processes, but it also allows them to transfer such processes and crafting techniques to their own compositions.
The children in our school system will be required to make meaning and communicate in a variety of modes, in both local and global contexts (Kress, 2010; Serafini, 2014). If we as literacy educators acknowledge that meaning making and communicating are more than psychological tasks that take place within a fixed system of signs, then we are left with the question of how to provide children with the thinking patterns to engage in these meaning-making and communicative practices.
Here's a file folder version to support children in thinking about author's craft every time they touch a text.
Concannon-Gibney, T. (2018). Immersing first graders in poetry: A genre study approach. The Reading Teacher, 72, 431-443.
Kress, G. (2010). Multimodality: A social semiotic approach to contemporary communication. London, UK: Routledge.
Pahl, K. and Rowsell, J. (2012). Literacy and education (2nd ed.). London: Sage.
Serafini, F. (2014). Reading the visual: An introduction to teaching multimodal literacy. New York: Teachers College Press.