Bridging Semiotic Domains

Okay, I’m going to get a little academic for a minute. See, earlier this week I was reading James Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, and as I was reading, I asked this question:

And today, my professor (the one for EDLT 581) sends me this response:

Instead of replying to her tweet directly, I thought I’d write a little about what I’m thinking (and then probably turn it into a podcast).

First, a definition. A semiotic domain is essentially “an area of set of activities where people think, act, and value in certain ways” (Gee, 2007, p. 19). So let’s call video gaming one semiotic domain and school another.  Within broad semiotic domains like those, there are sub domains (i.e. role playing games, first person shooters; chemistry, British literature… you get the idea) with discourse, thought processes and values all their own.

By Lars Lentz (Photo by Lars Lentz, source) [CC-BY-SA-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Lars Lentz (Photo by Lars Lentz, source) [CC-BY-SA-1.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
What happens in schools sometimes is teachers are so focused on content that they forget to situate the learning in a context familiar to the learner.  Or we (and I say we now because I’m putting myself in this category as well) fail to build effective bridges from their schema to the new material.

One of the ways I’ve recently been building bridges for some of my students is through gaming language. I use the terminology as a way in. As a way to say, “Hey! We belong to the same affinity group and as such we can communicate about your learning in these terms! How awesome is that?” And I’ve noticed an increase in engagement.

But this is really about bridging semiotic domains.

This is really about metacognition and reading. I teach my students the things readers think about as they read. I get them with the gaming language, use that to bridge into the reading strategies, and then run with the reading strategies.

But I’m always left wondering how much they internalize and transfer into their reading for their other coursework and ultimately into their day-to-day lives. Because the language of their other courses is different, and because those teachers don’t use the language of the students’ affinity groups (for some teachers, that includes using literacy terminology explicitly), how much difficulty do students have transferring the concepts from one domain to another?

So I guess the question is: do students use the reading strategies they’re taught in my class when they read/see/hear texts in their other classes, and when they engage with texts in their everyday lives?

I think part of this conversation, too, has to be the challenges of teaching within the junior high model of schooling, but that’s a conversation for another day.


Gee, J. P. (2007). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York, NY: Macmillan.

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