ForumVol. 16, No. 2 (2016)

Multimodality in the Classroom: An Introduction

Junko Takahashi1,

Di Yu1

1 Teachers College, Columbia University


As a methodological approach that studies naturally occurring social interaction in various settings, conversation analysis (CA) uncovers how social actions are organized in the moment-by-moment details of interaction and how participants as Members make sense of each other in situ (Psathas, 1995; ten Have, 2007). Due to technological limitations, early CA research largely relied on audio recordings of telephone conversations (see Lerner [2004] for a collection of first-generation studies on topics including turn-taking and sequence organization). From the 1970s, as video recordings became a possibility, CA pioneers also started to turn their attention to the interactional details and multimodal resources visibly accessible in face-to-face interaction. Issues addressed in their seminal work include how listenership can be displayed through gaze and other embodied behaviors, and how mutual orientation is established through gestures and other embodied resources (Goodwin, 1981; Heath, 1986). Overall, such work on multimodality views social interaction as Members’ practical actions organized by and accomplished through concerted talk and embodied actions, and investigates interactional resources available through the visual, auditory, and haptic channels as made relevant by participants of an interaction. In recent years, multimodal CA research has gained momentum and produced important analysis on various types of multimodal resources from data collected in diverse contexts. In work meetings, for example, pointing has been found to be a resource to establish speakership (Mondada, 2007). In adult-child interaction, touch is used in conjunction with verbal directives to resolve the child’s non-compliance or manage the child’s attention (Cekaite, 2015, 2016). In dance instruction, corrections can be done through bodily quoting and turns can be constructed through syntactic initiations and embodied demonstrations (Keevallik, 2010, 2013).

While embodied practices have been studied in various contexts, we are interested in exploring how they manifest in instructional settings. Considering the “asymmetric nature” of teacher-student relationships (Markee & Kasper, 2004), what roles might these practices play in student comprehension and learning? Consider gestures in the classroom, for example. They can promote simultaneous shared knowledge (Chui, 2014) and exhibit trouble in understanding and engender repair (Seo & Koshik, 2010). Tellier (2010) investigates how gestures were employed to promote memorization in the second language (L2) classroom with young children. Matching gestures can display co-engagement in interaction and create a teaching and learning opportunity (Majlesi, 2015). Kupetz (2011) demonstrates how hand gestures, gaze, and posture/body orientations were effectively utilized by students while doing explanations in pedagogical activities. Cho and Larke (2010) show that certain head movements were employed as part of repair strategies by students in an English as a Second Language (ESL) classroom.