Gunther Kress: New Literacies Scholar

Introducing Gunther Kress

“Because everything is now new: somebody or other is ‘re-thinking’, ‘re-making’ blah…but multimodality opens a door to considering again, all range of issues like the one I mentioned this morning, recognition of passages or….the normal, the everyday normal actions of humans in their interactions, for instance, about assessment…it really opens it….So that seems, to me, important: it opens a different perspective on writing because writing will now have to have a say. I’ll be happy with whatever linguistics has given us of various forms as a description of the resource that we’ve dealing with. And also the place of writing; I mean, I take Kristie’s point this morning—of course, there’s always been multimodal representation but the dominant ideologies have been that writing is central. Eco said in one of his more recent books that it’s capable of expressing everything that is human and rational and I think it ain’t” ~Gunther Kress Interview Transcript, February 16, 2011

gkGunther Kress, a Professor of Semiotics and Education at the University College of London’s Institute of Education has a wide range of foci related to new literacies including media literacy, visual literacy, semiotic research, and the use of multimodalities for learning (University College London., n.d.).  Kress’ research is in communication and meaning-making in contemporary environments and his goals include the development of learning theory that demonstrates how communication, learning, identity are entirely interconnected. (University College London., n.d.).

Kress’ work on the multimodality of communications and language emphasizes the role of the sociocultural aspects of literacy and learning.  His work uses the Theory of Social Semiotics which focuses on the design and meaning making from the study of how systems are shaped by social interests, social change, and social ideologies (Hodge and Kress, 1988).  While Kress initially started his career working on ideas surrounding linguistics, he shifted his research to focus on how, in the visual communication age of multimedia, language is no longer the carrier of all meaning and that we must consider other modes of communication.


In one of his seminal works, Multimodal Discourse, Kress and Leeuwen (2001) present the multimodality approach, which offer considerations on how we make meaning, on our own and socially as we try to make sense and configure the world.   Kress and Leeuwen noted how a variety of texts including video games, textbooks, drawings, graphics, and sounds can convey messages and ideas.

  • A multimodal text can be paper-based creations like books, comics, posters, newspapers.
  • A multimodal text can be digital like slide presentations, ebooks, blogs, websites, social media, animation, film and video games.
  • A multimodal text can be live in the form of a performance or an event.

Want more detail? Listen to this interview with Kress on What is Multimodality?


As more investigation ensued, the multimodal theory, Kress and Jewitt (2003) identified materiality, framing, design, and production ascertain factors for representation of meaning.  The following provides more insights into the meaning of these factors (Sanders & Albers, 2010).

  •  Materiality — The materials and resources used to represent meaning and/or that has the potential to communicate messages (i.e. images, music, transitions, fabric, as well as
  • Framing — the way in which elements of a visual operate together, connect with color or movement.
  • Design — The conceptual side of expression that references the process of how the creator makes use of the materials to construct.
  • Production — The creation and organization of the representation; the actual product be it a website, movie, podcast, visual text, dance, poem, game.

Multimodality of texts and understanding how to read, use, manipulate and create with it and around it will support learners in new ways and with new literacies.  When considering these factors in the literacy classroom we can understand how learners “often learn best when engaged in complex, socially constructed, personally relevant, creative composition and interpretation of texts that incorporate a variety of meaningful communicative modes or symbol systems” (Sanders & Albers, 2010, p. 4).

Interested in more insights about visual literacy and multimodalities? Check out Kress’ presentation on The Visual and the Contemporary Environment: Epistemological and Social Issues.

Multimodality, Kress, and Learning in Our Educational System

Kress’ current work focuses on students working in online environments and how they make meaning with the different modes they come across.  His work also inspires others to consider how elements of multimodality learning and creation, along with visual literacy and media literacy, are found across the curriculum and standards for our K-12 students.  The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) notes the importance of students abilities to integrate visual information with other information in print and digital texts, evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words, and  participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers [NGA & CCSSO], 2010).

Supporting Teachers with Visual Literacy

Visual Literacy

Media Literacy and BrainPop

Ten Tools for Reading Film

Examining Learning in an Interactive Multimodal Learning Environment

Why adopt a multimodal approach?


Why is this Important to Me?

My research focus at this time is on how teachers can use eTextbooks and Open Educational Resources (OERs) to support their students learning and comprehension.  Because of the Internet, hyperlinks will lead students to an abundance of information in an abundance of formats and teachers will need to address how to support their learners with reading and comprehending these multimodal resources.  I feel it is imperative that teachers strive to go steps further than basic inclusion of these resources and truly integrate the sociocultural learning aspects of making meaning with multimodal resources via understanding visual and media literacy elements, as well as communicating those with others in socially structured, classroom environments.


Literacy has changed and continues to change.  One thing I hope to leave, as food for thought, for my blog readers is Kress’ thoughts on literacy:

“We can no longer treat literacy (or ‘language’) as the sole, the main, let alone the major means for representation and communication. Other modes are there as well, and in many environments where writing occurs these other modes may be more prominent and more significant. Language and literacy now have to be seen as partial bearers of meaning only. There is a consequence for notions of meaning: if the meaning of a message is realised, ‘spread across’, several modes, we need to know on what basis this spreading happens, what principles are at work. Equally, in reading, we need now to gather meaning from all the modes which are co-present in a text, and new principles of reading will be at work. Making meaning in writing and making meaning in reading both have to be newly thought about.” (Kress, 2003)


Davis, M. Mehler, J., & Ricks, T. (2011).  Gunther Kress interview: February 16, 2011. Retrieved from

Hodge, R. & Kress, G. (1998). Social Semiotics. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Kress, G. & Leeuwvn, T.V. (2001). Multimodal discourse: The modes and media of contemporary communication. London: Arnold.

Kress, G.R. (2003). Literacy in the new media age. London: Routledge/Falmer.

Sanders, J. & Albers, P. (2010). Multimodal literacies: An introduction. In P. Albers & J. Sanders (Eds.), Literacies, the Arts, and multimodality. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

University College London. (n.d.) Prof Gunther Kress. Retrieved from


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