According to the PEW Internet and American Life
project, adolescents’ Internet use grew from 75% of
adolescents in 2000 to 93% in 2010 (Lenhart, Purcell,
Smith, & Zickuhr, 2010). As a result, the lines between
the physical and the virtual worlds are blurring for many
adolescents (Black & Steinkuehler, 2009). In the middle
grades, educators in all disciplines need to understand
how students are using text in these digital spaces so that
they can best support their students’ learning (O’Brien,
Stewart, & Beach, 2009). Multimodal learning clubs is
a classroom strategy that supports students’ acquisition
of new knowledge by pairing digital tools with requisite
Locating the adolescent in a
The nature of reading and writing continues to change
in response to the mosaic of texts adolescents encounter
and construct on a daily basis. Ninety-three percent of
youth ages 12 to 17 report going online occasionally and
63% report doing so daily (Lenhart et al., 2010), and
what they find online are mixed media, or multimodal
content, that they use to construct meaning about a topic
and to convey their understanding to others. Research
suggests that approximately one in five teens accesses
multimodal content (e.g., pictures, written text, video,
music) and then synthesizes and remixes this content
to create hybrid texts that integrate these forms for
representation (Lenhart et al., 2010).
The ease with which adolescents access technology,
however, is too often confused with their capacity to use
these tools critically for academic purposes (Casey, 2011;
Pahl & Rowsell, 2006; Zawalinski, 2009). Middle grades
educators play an important role in mentoring students
to use these tools appropriately to access and share
information (Duffy, 2009; Hartman, Morsink, & Zheng,
2010; Zhang & Duke, 2008). Gee and Levine (2009)
argued, “It is far more likely that students will learn
complex language and sophisticated problem-solving
skills when the fate of a digital world depends
on it” (p. 48). As adolescents weave through these
digital worlds, they interact with one another through
fixed and moving text, and they use these interactions
to make their own contributions to this digital landscape.
In the classroom, students can learn how to use these
digital communication tools in ways that support
Theories of student engagement in the middle
grades suggest that teachers should offer opportunities
for students to engage in academic decision making,
build relationships with students that connect their social
identities with their academic development, and draw
on relevant assessment results to differentiate learning
activities for the range of learners in the classroom
(Anderman & Anderman, 2010; Connell & Wellborn,
1991; Guthrie, 2004; Wigfield & Eccles, 2002). This
theoretical framework is useful for understanding the
appeal of digital platforms for many adolescent learners
today. Digital platforms (a) provide opportunities for choice, as there are multiple pathways, tools, and media
from which they can select; (b) offer empowering feelings
of success, as feedback is often immediate; and (c) give
the perception of belonging to a larger, often virtual,
community (Gee & Levine, 2009). The intersection of
what we understand about middle level engagement
with these 21st century tools offers potentially powerful
possibilities for classroom instruction and increased
adolescent motivation, engagement, and, subsequently,
Understanding multimodality in
Multimodality, by definition, refers to the use of both
traditional print material and dynamic digital content,
including fixed and moving images, to construct and
comprehend information (Jewitt & Kress, 2003). As
Gee (2003) suggested
Language is not the only important
communicational system. Images, symbols, graphs,
diagrams, artifacts, and many other visual symbols
are significant, more so today than ever. … In such
multimodal texts (texts that mix words and images),
then, the images often communicate different things
from the words. Further, the combination of the
two modes communicates things that neither of the
modes does separately. And, indeed, multimodality
goes far beyond images and words to include sounds,
music, movement, and bodily sensations. (pp. 2–3)
Multimodality—this intersection of both print and
non-print materials to convey a message—has always
been a feature of communication. Reading gestures and
photographs alongside printed text or considering the
emotions evoked by music while viewing a silent film are
just two examples of the multiple modes used to convey
or receive meaning. As our world becomes increasingly
digital, however, so too does our awareness of how
multimodality contributes to learning. Kress, Tsatsarelis,
Jewitt, & Ogborn (2001) described the importance of
multimodality in understanding student learning in the
Learning can no longer be treated as a process [that]
depends on language centrally or even dominating
… meaning is made in all modes separately, and at
the same time, that meaning is an effect of all modes
acting jointly. Learning happens through (or to put it as we see it, learners actively engage in) all modes
as a complex activity in which speech or writing
are involved among a number of modes. (p. 1)
This fascination with ready access to streaming content,
web sources, and immediate written exchanges for
personal and academic purposes at early ages is creating
a generation of readers and writers who develop new
knowledge by mining information from varied types
of texts (Coiro & Dobler, 2007; Hazari & North, 2009;
Lankshear & Knobel, 2008; Rowsell & Casey, 2009).
The ability to synthesize information from these
modes is a sophisticated literacy activity that needs to
be modeled and supported in the classroom. Research
suggests that students who have developed literacy skills
and habits with ready access to these tools are poised
to receive and synthesize information from multiple
modes and are likely to convey information using these
same modes. Learning, as Kress and associates (2001)
offered, is a tapestry of modes of communication that
students are offered and access to build understanding. The mentor texts teachers use today as exemplars still
include traditional bound, printed texts but, for the 21st
century adolescent, these are comprehended alongside
streaming video, social networking sites, and web pages
that blend personal and academic learning (Boling,
2008; Zhang & Duke, 2008). Educators today must not
only use technology as a tool to engage students, they
also have to consider how technology has changed what
it means to be an adolescent reader and writer in the 21st
century and the implications of this shift for developing
students as readers and writers alongside (and sometimes
through) these tools.
Disciplinary literacy in the
Adolescents are the largest demographic to make use
of mixed media for comprehending and constructing
text (Lenhart et al., 2010), and studies show that there is
often a mismatch between the tools students use to access
information outside school and those available for them
to use in school (Alvermann, 2009; Lenhart, Arafeh,
Smith, & Macgill, 2008). That gap is closing, however,
as access to resources and continued professional
development has allowed the digital immigrant
educators—those who have encountered these tools later
in their life—to understand how to support the literacy
development of our digital native students who have
lived their entire lives with these tools (Coiro, Knobel,
Lankshear, & Leu, 2008; O’Brien et al., 2009; Prensky,
Students gain and share information in the digital
world through a mix of individual investigation and
social collaboration. It is not uncommon, for example,
for an adolescent to first independently research an
assigned topic or a topic of personal interest through
Internet searches and then engage with others in online
social communities to collaboratively build further
understanding (Alvermann, 2009; Kuiper, Volman, &
Terwel, 2005). Research suggests that when students use
these tools to read and write for authentic purposes, their
achievement in school is enhanced (Coiro & Dobler,
2007; Gee, 2008), and this has important implications
for learning in all content areas (Casey, 2011, 2012;
Doering, Beach, & O’Brien, 2007). Pairing academic
content with engaging modes of information may invite
students to be more strategic about how they use literacy
tools to support discipline-specific learning (Casey &
Gespass, 2009; Daniels & Steineke, 2011; Rowsell & Casey,
2009). A large body of research suggests that adolescents
engage as readers and writers when they have access to
multiple texts and text types, opportunities to engage
collaboratively with peers, and opportunities to make
decisions throughout the process (Casey, 2009, 2011;
Daniels & Steineke, 2011; Guthrie, 2004). In middle
grades schools that are departmentalized according to
traditional disciplines, engaging students with texts is
often seen as the domain of the English language arts
classes. The multimodal learning clubs project described
in this article evolved in an effort to understand how this
approach can move outside the language arts classroom
to support discipline-specific learning.
From September 2010 to January 2011, Ms. K (the
author), a reading specialist, collaborated with a
classroom health teacher, Mr. James (all names used are
pseudonyms), to develop multimodal learning clubs to
support content area learning. Ms. K was a participantobserver
in the classroom and her involvement included
weekly on-site visits as well as daily communication via
e-mail or phone. Mr. James and Ms. K were interested in
In what literacy practices do sixth graders engage?
What motivates sixth graders to investigate a content
What literacy practices do sixth graders need to use to
learn the content?
What influence does technology have on the students’
meeting the course goals?
Participants and goals
Mr. James was a well respected middle grades health and
physical education teacher who cared about his students’
learning. In reflecting on his work with health education,
he felt that many of his students were challenged by the
textbook and only engaged in the content when wholeclass
videos were played. “I’m just not sure they are
getting this, you know, how the body systems help. It’s
important, but they really just rewrite what is in the book
to answer the questions.” Mr. James was experiencing
a common phenomenon in content area classrooms
Studying human body systems is a curricular
requirement for all sixth graders in River School District.
Mr. James teaches health in Mountain School, a grades
5 and 6 school in an upper class suburb in the Northeast.
Mr. James, like many of his content area colleagues,
does not believe he is equipped to teach the requisite
literacy skills his sixth grade students need to access the
complex scientific information offered in the text. This
situation supports the belief that literacy educators need
to partner with content area colleagues to help students
develop the genre-specific literacy skills needed within
the respective content areas (Draper, 2010).
Data collection and analysis
The data included approximately 30 hours of video
documentation of teacher and student work, surveys that
identified the literacy habits of the sixth graders who
engaged in the work, the student-generated physical
and virtual artifacts (e.g., wikispaces, photographs,
journals, and three-dimensional models), as well as a
series of student focus groups at the conclusion of the
study to better understand how these tools supported
the students’ learning. In addition, assessment data
from the teacher was used to describe the utility of this
approach in the classroom. Data were initially coded by
source, then these codes were compared across sources,
and four themes emerged. The themes were: (1) the
value of blending modes for learning, (2) the importance
of individual and collective engagement, (3) the need
to expand conceptions of mentor texts, and (4) the
importance of managing technology.
Putting multimodal learning clubs
The multimodal learning clubs project draws on
previous research conducted with adolescents that
shows evidence of increased engagement and improved
student learning when students have the opportunity to
work collaboratively, are empowered to make individual
strategic choices about resources, and have flexibility
in the methods and modes they use to convey meaning
(Casey, 2009, 2011; Connell & Wellborn, 1991; Wigfield
& Eccles, 2002).
Mr. James’ mandated curriculum requires all
students to have a basic understanding of human
body systems at the conclusion of sixth grade health.
Previously, Mr. James had met this goal by having
students use the assigned text and the video clips
he shared to write a report that described each
system. Mr. James found that this method was not
unsuccessful. Surveys of students’ written work suggested
that, in general, his students had developed a basic
understanding of each of the systems, but Mr. James was
concerned, based on his observations of students as well
as direct student feedback, that the process of learning
this information was somewhat artificial. Many students
had difficulty comprehending some of the material
Mr. James offered them, and the students did not seem
excited about their learning. Mr. James thought the multimodal learning clubs approach would motivate
students to engage with material more authentically.
Mr. James began the revised unit by describing each
of the body systems to the 24 students in his class. The
systems studied were the nervous, digestive, immune,
muscular, circulatory, and skeletal systems. Students
selected the systems in which they were most interested,
and Mr. James organized groups accordingly, with three
to four students per group. Once groups were formed,
Mr. James introduced the goals of the project, which,
as the curriculum stipulated, included being able to
describe each of the systems’ functions. This time,
instead of merely surveying each of the systems, students
would spend the time becoming an expert in one system
with the expectation that they would develop a learning
tool for helping their peers understand the topic.
The groups met approximately once per week
for 40 minutes to learn more about their topics. Each
meeting included a mini-lesson Mr. James developed
collaboratively with Ms. K, the reading specialist, to help
students use literacy strategies to access the content.
These mini-lessons included
Using printed reference materials.
Using the Internet strategically to mine information.
Understanding the goals of different text types as
readers and writers (i.e., how to read and construct a
diagram, interpret video, etc.).
Creating web spaces to share content.
Synthesizing information from multiple modes.
Constructing text to share information.
Creating materials with audience and goals in mind.
The students had access to the Internet, articles, and
textbooks during each session. Students were provided
with web sources to support their research, and they
were encouraged to locate additional resources. Each
session followed a similar format, beginning with 10 to
15 minutes for a whole-group mini-lesson, followed by
20 minutes of structured investigation and individual
conferencing. During that time, each group made
decisions about how to structure their time, with some
working collaboratively on their goal for the day and
others dividing tasks among individuals in the group.
Mr. James and Ms. K used that time to facilitate each
group’s progress and to pull small groups of students
and individuals aside for conferences based on need.
For example, early in their work together, the digestive system group was trying to uncover resources that both
explained their topic and would be useful to others.
During that session, they organized their work according
to text type, with some using the laptops to uncover
relevant websites and others using the bound reference
materials. The session ended with the groups sharing
with one another and recording (initially on a paper
learning log and, as the sessions went on, electronically)
their learning for the day as well as their goal for the next
session. This structured goal setting proved important
for the group’s ability to stay on task and make effective
use of their resources. Throughout the project, Ms. K
recorded the content students were learning as well as
the literacy processes they enacted through student
interviews, observational notes, and video.
The project culminated with all groups sharing
their sources. Groups developed wikispaces about their
body systems that were carefully designed to teach their
peers. Generally, students authored a multimodal mix
of compositions, bulleted descriptions, PowerPoint
slideshows, video links, and photographs that were
constructed on or imported to their wikispaces. These
student-generated texts were modeled after the text
types they used to access the information during their
research. Students were not required to use their web
space as a vehicle for sharing. While all of the groups
developed a wiki and were taught how to use the
technology to share information, one group opted to
create a three-dimensional model of the lungs that
viewers could manipulate to demonstrate the properties
of the respiratory system. Their demonstration was
recorded, and the video was uploaded to their wikispace.
Mr. James and Ms. K assessed student learning
through a survey. At the beginning of the project, they
asked students to describe each of the body systems.
At the conclusion of the project, students responded
to the same questions and showed growth in all areas.
Mr. James and Ms. K read each survey to determine
whether students demonstrated a basic understanding
of each body system. They defined “basic” as the
ability to identify the organs of the system as well as
the main functions. At the beginning of the project,
no student had a basic understanding of all systems.
At the conclusion of the project, approximately 75%
had a basic understanding of all systems, with 50%
showing advanced understanding (defined as the ability
to synthesize and apply information). Approximately
85% demonstrated a basic understanding of five of the systems, and approximately 90% had a basic
understanding of four of the systems. Ten percent failed
to show a basic understanding of three or more of the
systems. All the students had a basic understanding of at
least their individual group’s system.
Ms. K surveyed students about their literacy habits
and interviewed them in focus groups at the end of the
project. The survey data was very much in line with what
was reported by the PEW project, though on a smaller
scale. All but one of the students reported accessing the
Internet at home for personal and academic purposes,
though about one-third of the class indicated they
needed the help of a parent or older sibling to do so
effectively. In the focus groups, students said they valued
the ability to access and author multiple types of text and
use digital sources to support their learning.
The value of multimodal learning
clubs in the middle grades
The opportunity for students to choose a topic of study
motivated them to be interested in the curricular
content. This motivation was sustained by the multiple
modes students could use to gain information and
demonstrate comprehension. In reviewing each of the data sources (i.e., surveys, focus groups, video data, and
reflective observation notes) four themes emerged that
describe the project. These were (1) blending modes
for learning, (2) the value of individual and collective
engagement, (3) the expansion of mentor texts, and
(4) the importance of managing technology.
Blending modes for learning
Throughout the project, the students had access to
multiple modes of information for learning, including
textbooks, articles, websites, diagrams, threedimensional
models of the body, and video clips. It was
not uncommon to observe students inspecting a threedimensional
model then moving to printed texts and
video images for further study. For example, during
one session, Ms. K observed students in the muscular
system group moving between the textbook and the
Internet to locate information, while other members
of the group developed paper charts and electronic
files for composing and note taking. The conversation
shifted as students moved from one mode to another,
using whatever means necessary to achieve their goal of
understanding the function of the system:
Mark: You look up how the muscles work
on that site, and I’ll find it here.
Sam: Okay, but I can’t find the information.
Mr. James, can you help?
Mr. James: One moment … (working
with another group)
(The group is still at work as they wait for
two minutes for Mr. James to join them.)
Jen: I’m putting the chart together,
can’t you find it Sam?
(A fourth group member is working with
the three-dimensional skeleton the class
affectionately calls “Bones” to demonstrate
what she is reading about in the textbook.)
Sam: Oh, here it is, it was under “how things
work.” Got it. I think our first heading should be
“Principles of Action”—that’s how this website has it.
Mr. James: (joining them) Okay, Sam, but be sure
to give credit. What do you think that means?
As the student groups worked with different modes
of information, their conversations wove the various
modes together. While each member was responsible
for a different task during their investigation, all
shared the common purpose of understanding how
the system worked. Using multiple modes, they began
to arrive at various layers of meaning. The printed text
prompted one student to demonstrate the motions while
others considered how the type of text containing the
information could be used as a model to develop their
own method of sharing what they learned.
Students did not naturally access these modes,
however. Their capacity to effectively use multiple modes
of information to foster comprehension was linked
to their opportunities to learn more about them in
whole-group mini-lessons or small-group and individual
conferences. This was not surprising, as student
comprehension of content area texts typically improves
when focused instruction is offered to help them locate
information via various modes (Casey, 2012). However,
there is a common assumption that it is enough to simply
offer the computer to support learning when, like any
other text, students need careful, direct instruction in
both the architecture of the tool (how to access the text)
and the strategies they can use to comprehend
Early in the project, it was clear that students did not
have the tools to discern how to mine useful information
from the Internet, which offered a much larger landscape
of information to consider than the carefully mediated
textbook. In response, Mr. James and Ms. K developed a
mini-lesson on navigating web-based texts. The students
were taught to use the “WWW” strategy (What do I
want to know? Where did I find it? Where else can I find
it?), which is based on research in online, self-regulated
reading (Coiro & Dobler, 2007). The following is an
excerpt from the transcript of that mini-lesson and the
whole-class discussion that ensued:
Ms. K: When you are reading information you find
online, it is helpful to think of this when you type
in that www: What do I want to know? Where did I
find it? Where else can I find it? When we are using
the Internet to learn information, we need to find
the same fact in at least two places before we can
believe that it is credible. Why do you think that is?
Jon: Because you want us to read more.
Mr. James: True, we do want you to read more, but
it is more than that. One thing you need to know
about using the Internet for information is that
anyone can make a web page—even us, right? In
fact, that’s something we are learning more about
next week. So, you need to be really careful about
what you believe, and one of the ways to help you
with that is to confirm what you find. Make sense?
To further highlight the necessity of this we shared
with the students a series of popular web hoaxes to
demonstrate how important it is to read carefully.
The students then continued to develop their
understanding of the body systems using these multiple
sources. After this mini-lesson, students were observed
blending text types as they used multiple sources to both
investigate their topic as well as confirm what was being
learned. During a typical class session, students’ desks
were riddled with papers and pens, laptops were opened
to web pages or video clips, and students were searching
through the textbook and articles. This required a good
deal of collaboration, as some students would act as “fact
checkers” to be sure that what other group members were
finding was accurate.
The value of individual and collective
The opportunity to select a topic was important because,
from the start, students felt a degree of independence
and control over their learning as well as a responsibility
for their peers. This is consistent with research on
motivation and engagement that suggests adolescents are
motivated to participate in the learning process when
they have opportunities to make choices about their work
and opportunities to collaborate with others (Casey,
2008/2009, 2009; Guthrie, 2004). In groups that worked
effectively together, the opportunity to collaborate with
peers fostered continued interest and supported the
learning process. This was evident as students directed
one another through and to relevant texts and looked to
each other for help.
While Ms. K and Mr. James saw such collaboration
throughout the project, it was especially evident in the
work of the skeletal system. In the following transcript
excerpt from the midpoint of the project, the students
were attempting to create a product to share with the
class while simultaneously building their understanding.
The students were getting ready to start for the day,
making decisions about how to use their time.
Michelle: Do you think we need a visual
too? (Points to the bulleted description
she has created on the screen.)
Mort: I think we should have one. I played
around with the wiki at home, and I found
a way to connect that cool video we found.
I think that might be good too.
Jana: Did you finish watching it, though? I
watched it ‘til the end last night, and it was
actually made by a fifth grade class and put on
their blog. I think we need to check some of that
info out—they put their sources at the end.
Mark: Okay, I’ll do that. So, today, Michelle do you
want to finish the outline while Jana and I factcheck?
Mort, do you get the wiki? Do you think you
can start putting some stuff up—I’m still not sure.
Mort: Yeah, I’ll start, but you guys need to
start signing on from home too. That’s when
I really started to figure things out.
There was a lot going on in this excerpt. In addition to
the organization of group roles and the implementation
of the shared mini-lessons, the dialogue reveals that
some students embraced technology and others resisted
it. The collaborative nature of the project offered
the informal peer support systems that have been
documented as being important when using these tools
(Coiro et al., 2008; Pahl & Rowsell, 2006; Rowsell &
The use of technology and digital modes of texts
offered further opportunities for engagement, in part,
because students found these tools inviting, but also
because they had more opportunities to work with
materials that were specific to their individual needs. For
example, there were several instances in which students
dismissed a website because the language was too
difficult to comprehend, so they simply navigated to one
that was easier to access. When working with a single text
or type of text, opportunities to abandon difficult texts
are limited. This may result in increased frustration for
many struggling readers and interfere with the content
learning goals for the unit of study. Mr. James reflected
on this in one of our post-session conversations: “It’s nice
to see them in charge of what they are doing. Usually, I
am called over to define a word or explain a sentence,
and I don’t seem to be doing as much of that this time.”
While the technology may have played a part in this, Mr. James’s collaboration with a reading specialist
allowed for a more focused discussion of literacy
strategies students might need (Draper, 2010).
The opportunity to work in groups was generally
a positive aspect of the multimodal learning clubs, as
documented in the literature, but teachers must carefully
develop collaborative groups (Casey, 2012; Johnson &
Johnson, 1999; Nevgi, Virtanen, & Niemi, 2006). Groups
often fail when students are not held accountable
individually. Creating a sense of community within each
group was important, and this was achieved by holding
students individually accountable for the material and
collectively responsible for their peers’ learning (Casey,
2012; Daniels & Steineke, 2011; Nevgi et al., 2006).
Expansion of mentor texts
The use of mentor texts, which are exemplars of literacy
products, has been documented as an important strategy
to support literacy development (Robb, 2010). The
use of mentor texts was expanded in the multimodal
learning club project to include still and moving images
as well as dynamic, interactive text conversations (Hicks,
2009). Multiple mini-lessons and student conferences
taught students how to approach these texts as strategic
readers as well as how to make decisions about selecting
from different modes of text when preparing to share
information with others. For example, after viewing
an interactive video on the respiratory system, one
group created their own three-dimensional model
using PVC piping for their peers to use to support their
understanding of the pulmonary system.
Miles: You see, this is where the
air comes. (Points to pipe.)
Jake: And we made the lungs out of plastic
bags at the end here, because they can
contract and expand, like the lungs.
In this brief exchange, the students discussed the
pulmonary system, using their construction of the model
as a way to illustrate the process. While some of the
science behind the model needed some revision, the
students were clearly able to use it as a mentor text, and
other groups had similar experiences creating various
text types. In addition, almost all the groups created
some type of PowerPoint to include on their wiki, in part,
because a large portion of the mini-lessons relied on this
platform to convey information.
Importance of Managing Technology
Working with technology adds a layer of complexity to
classroom management, and middle grades teachers
often cite management challenges as a reason to disband
an idea (Garrett & Casey, 2010). There were times, for
example, when the portable laptops would suddenly
freeze or power down. This resulted in frustrating down
time for students and inefficient learning opportunities.
While the physical layout of the health room with laptops
appeared ideal, the frequent technological interruptions
made learning difficult, so midway through the project,
the students elected to change rooms.
Mr. James: Okay, so we are at a point here where
we can continue to meet in our room at these
tables and deal with the computer difficulties
or move to the computer lab, where it will be
tight and you can’t move around as easily, but
we know they work. What’s your choice?
Student response (all): Lab!
When Marge, one of the students, was asked during
a focus group discussion about the decision to change
rooms, she said:
I think if it was the beginning, we wouldn’t
have voted to move, but since we already had
figured out the group thing, we really needed
to know that the computers would work. It
didn’t matter as much anymore if we were
sitting near each other, we figured things out
enough so [that] we could work it out.
When teachers abandon technology because of glitches,
they deny students the very necessary opportunity to
work with a mode of learning that will be standard
when they enter the workplace as adults. There is value
in helping students understand how to weather these
distractions and disappointments in an effort to achieve
the larger learning goal.
The possibilities for content area
While multimodal learning clubs began as a project for
one unit, it will be important to continue this approach
for additional units of study because multimodality
becomes natural when it is threaded throughout
all learning. While the findings are limited in their
generalizability because the study focused on one
classroom, this glimpse at multimodal learning clubs inside one health classroom provides an idea of what
this strategy might look like in other content areas.
Multimodal learning clubs are consistent with
the Association for Middle Level Education’s (formerly
National Middle School Association [NMSA]) positions
regarding how students learn and how schools should
support meaningful, engaging instruction and the use
of digital tools (NMSA, 2010). At the conclusion of
the project, the students made the following comments,
suggesting the multimodal learning clubs met
“I liked working with the wikis because we were writing
for someone real. I mean, even our parents could go
on and see what we did. That was cool.”
“It was good that we got to choose. I wasn’t that
interested in some of the other systems, but then once
I learned about mine and how it connected to some of
the others, it was good. The other groups did a lot of
charts and writing to help us understand, and that
“I didn’t realize how much reading and writing I would
have to do to understand this until Mr. James and Ms. K
kept talking about it at the beginning of each class. At
first I was like, come on, let’s just get to the websites;
but then when I started having trouble with some of
them, I was sort of glad they taught us how to figure
things out on our own. But I think I still need some
help in understanding some of the topics.”
Middle level educators need to expand their
understanding of what counts as “texts” in school and
how students access and convey information from them.
Future studies of content area classrooms linked to
high-stakes assessments would offer an opportunity to
understand how this learning clubs tool supports student
achievement on multiple types of assessments across
content areas. Content specialists can work with literacy colleagues to help students uncover the disciplinespecific
literacy tools needed to mine content using
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clubs to motivate struggling adolescent readers and writers.
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Previously published in
Middle School Journal, November 2012
Heather Casey is an associate professor at Rider University in Lawrenceville, NJ. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org