A multimodal perspective on modality in the English language classroom

Howard, Michael John (2015) A multimodal perspective on modality in the English language classroom. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


This thesis is a study of an engage, study, activate (ESA) lesson of teaching modals of present deduction. The lesson has been taken from a published English language teaching course book and is typical of the way modal forms are presented to teach epistemic modality in many commercially produced English language teaching course books. I argue that for cognitive, social, linguistic and procedural reasons the linguistic forms and structures presented in the lesson are not straightforwardly transferred to the activate stage of the lesson.

Using insights from spoken language corpora I carry out a comparative analysis with the modal forms presented in the course book. I then explore the notion of ‘context’ and drawing on systemic functional grammar discuss how modal forms function in discourse to realise interpersonal relations. Moving my research to the English language classroom I collect ethnographic classroom data and using social semiotic multimodality as an analytical framework I explore learner interaction to uncover the communicative resources learners use to express epistemic modality in a discussion activity from the same lesson.

My analysis reveals that the modal structures in the course book differ to some extent from spoken language corpora. It shows that the course book offers no instruction on the interpersonal dimension of modality and thus how speakers use signals of modality to position themselves interpersonally vis-à-vis their interlocutors. The data collected from the English language class reveals that during the lesson learners communicate modality through modes of communication such as eye gaze, gesture and posture in addition to spoken language. Again drawing from systemic functional grammar I explain how these modes have the potential to express interpersonal meaning and thus highlight that meaning is communicated through modal ensembles.

Based on these findings I propose a number of teaching strategies to raise awareness of the interpersonal function of modality in multimodal discourse, and for the use of language corpora to better inform teaching materials on selections of modality.

HowardMichael - Final full thesis_Redacted.pdf - Published Version

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