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 some navigating to assist with the meaning-making processes. A navigational system is as a symbolic representation for the ways we move through texts to consider the genre, perspective, point of view, structure, and composer's purpose.
What started as GPPS (genre, point of view/perspective, purpose, and structure) 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 is many forms that utilize a wide range of modes, genres, purposes, and structures.
Let's start with the composer. Who is she or he? From where? With what life experiences? What cultural identities? What social identities? What forms does this composer construct? What modes does this composer turn to? All of this matters if we truly want to consider the composer's purpose, main idea, or message. Investigating the composer assist us in recognizing biases, understanding where the composer is coming from, and why the text was composed.
Form is the method in which we choose to communicate or express our ideas, thoughts, and beliefs. Form 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, and standards-based writing are all forms. Each form utilizes diverse modes that are common to that form, in order to communicate a larger message. The form a composer chooses to utilize to communicate contributes the message being sent. Most important, the form a composer utilizes impacts the modes we can expect to make meaning of. Below are a few of the many forms that our children interact with:
Once the children have recognized the form, we discuss the modes we can expect to see. 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 are colors, fonts, positioning, sizing, gestures, etc. The color, positioning, and font a composer chooses impacts the meaning. It is important for our children to consider all of this and build a semiotic awareness, or an awareness of the signs and symbols used to make meaning and communicate.
Illustration by Whitney Lawrence 2015
Artistic, musical, and literary genres a composed of elements and characteristics that assist in identifying the genre. We can flip through the radio stations, notice the musical patterns, and decide the genre privileged on a specific station. Making these characteristics explicit for children is imperative. In the classroom, it is important to document the texts you all make meaning of as a class. This provides children a frame of reference to go back to. To document this in our classroom, we utilize a literary navigational wall. Under each genre, we post the books. This assists children in noticing and naming elements and characteristics across literary texts.
The use of "narrative nonfiction" can easily be substituted or literary nonfiction, biographical texts, or any other phrase you may choose. To further assist children in noticing genre patterns and understanding their influences on the texts, we engage in a Genre Challenge that builds on the genre work of Fountas and Pinnell (2012). The Genre Challenge is attached below.
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.