Students who have been impacted by trauma may struggle with literacy learning, especially when constraints and rigid expectations won't budge. Providing options for composing in multiple modes ensures flexibility, student choice, voice, and passion, and can help avoid retraumatizing students.
Multimodal composition and consumption (aka “writing” and “reading” allow for flexibility in what counts for literacy learning. Not sure why this is so beneficial for students who’ve experienced trauma? Keep reading to find out!
Students who typically do not perform well within academically defined literacy constraints often have powerful cultural, social, and identity-driven literacy lives outside of school (Hughes, 2017). Their lives are richly and dynamically literate, yet many of today’s students, especially those for whom the matter is of greatest concern, do not feel that their out-of-school multimodal literacy practices have any place within the school building (Bickerstaff, 2012). This includes students who have been impacted by trauma.
Providing the option for students to compose and consume in multiple modes may remove the pressure to perform in a very specific way- language. Students affected by trauma may have not developed age-appropriate executive functioning. This, in turn, can make it difficult for them to be flexible in their own thinking. In addition, “because trauma involves a loss of control, inflexible teaching methods can trigger some students into survival mode” (Newhouse, 2020). When in survival mode, the ability to reason and problem solve is diminished. Also, signaling a student’s stress response can be embarrassing and cause unneeded loss of instructional time. Keep students engaged and learning by being flexible in what counts as composition and consumption.
Choice, Voice, & Passion
Anderson et al. (2017), looked at how marginalized adolescent students re-authored their identities as learners through multimodal composition. Taking authoritative stances in persuasive multimodal projects, these students renegotiated their status as students, from one of being marginalized, to a status as uniquely literate and competent individuals (Anderson et al., 2017). By offering students the chance to make decisions about how they evidence their learning and take advantage of the affordances of the different modalities, teachers may help trauma-affected youth redefine who they are as learners.
Trauma-affected youth may benefit from the inclusion of multimodalities because they are given flexibility to choose what they say, how they say it, and who they are. Incorporate multimodalities in your classroom today to get away from rigid expectations and embrace students’ expertise.
Anderson, K. T., Stewart, O. G., & Kachorsky, D. (2017). Seeing academically marginalized
students’ multimodal designs from a position of strength. Written Communication, 34(2),
Bickerstaff, S. (2012). “I am the rock goddess of lyrics”: Writerly identities of adolescents
returning to school. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 56(1), 56–66.
Hughes, J. M. (2017). Digital making with “at-risk” youth. International Journal of Information
and Learning Technology, 34(2), 102–113.
My name is Erin E. Silcox. I'm working on my Ph.D. in Literacy Education, focusing on the intersection of trauma and literacy. I want to deepen our base of knowledge about trauma-informed practices in schools and help teachers apply findings right now.