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Bus riding leitmotifs: making multimodal meaning with elementary youth on a public school bus

Antero Garcia (Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA)
Stephanie M. Robillard (Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA)
Miroslav Suzara (Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA)
Jorge E. Garcia (Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA)

English Teaching: Practice & Critique

ISSN: 1175-8708

Article publication date: 16 August 2021

Issue publication date: 2 September 2021




This study explores student sensemaking based on the creation and interpretation of sound on a public school bus, operating as a result of a desegregation settlement. To understand these multimodal literacy practices, the authors examined students’ journeys, sonically as passengers in mobile and adult-constructed space.


As a qualitative study, the authors used ethnographic methods for data collection. Additionally, the authors used a design-based research approach to work alongside students to capture and interpret sound levels on the bus.


Findings from this study illustrate how students used sounds as a means to create community, engage in agentic choices and make meaning of their surroundings. Moreover, students used sound as a way around the pervasive drone of the bus itself.

Research limitations/implications

Research implications from this study speak to the need for research approaches that extend beyond visual observation. Sonic interpretation can offer researchers greater understanding into student learning as they spend time in interstitial spaces.

Practical implications

This manuscript illustrates possibilities that emerge if educators attune to the sounds that shape a learner’s day and the ways in which attention to sonic design can create more equitable spaces that are conducive to students’ learning and literacy needs.


This study demonstrates the use of sound as a means of sensemaking, calling attention to new ways of understanding student experiences in adult-governed spaces.



The authors gratefully acknowledge that funding for this study was provided by the Stanford TELOS Initiative and the Stanford-Sequoia K-12 Research Collaborative.


Garcia, A., Robillard, S.M., Suzara, M. and Garcia, J.E. (2021), "Bus riding leitmotifs: making multimodal meaning with elementary youth on a public school bus", English Teaching: Practice & Critique, Vol. 20 No. 3, pp. 398-412.



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