I promised Part 2, and my thoughts have shifted somewhat as our readings changed from Tuesday to Wednesday. In addition to Yancey’s “Made Not Only in Words” and Shipka’s “Rethinking Composition/Rethinking Process” from her book Towards a Composition Made Whole, we are also reading Cynthia Selfe’s “The Movement of Air, the Breath of Meaning: Aurality and Multimodal Composing” from 2009, as well as a response from Douglas Hesse and Selfe’s response to him. All of these writings share a common call for a reconsideration (Hesse says Selfe would call it a “reclamation”) of what composition is. Wysocki’s book that I included in my last post introduces new media to the argument, and Selfe’s article focuses on the relationship between aurality and print, as well as other modes, framing composition within rhetoric and rhetorical choices rather than writing as the one way to communicate effectively, despite academia’s stronghold on writing as the privileged mode of delivering and circulating information. My first thought was, what happens to the “students can’t write” debate when composing is framed as the more “capacious” (I had to look this word up) rhetoric, which would look something like this:
“Instead, they’ll learn how to go through a set of basic rhetorical processes: analyzing the rhetorical context and purposes for communication tasks, thinking about audiences and their needs, conducting research on related communications and how others have addressed similar tasks; deploying rhetorical strategies of invention, organization, arrangement, and delivery; composing drafts that address particular rhetorical contexts by combining modes of expression, responding to critically informed feedback on their own rhetorical communications, and offering feedback to other communicators on their own drafts. For me, these rhetorically informed activities are the proper content for composition classes” (“Response to Doug Hesse,” 607).
What Shipka gets at in her book is a reconsideration of the materials valued in composing, and she includes images both in the book and on her website of student work, including the essay written on ballet shoes, or a portfolio-as-treasure-chest. I shared some of this work with my ENGL 120 class last semester, and my students really liked Shipka’s OED assignment. This is outlined in the Appendix of her book, with extensive instructions. What I think is especially interesting about this assignment is its description: “an exercise in selective contextualization, amplification and accounting for goals and choices,” and it’s end form: a 4-5 page “component” that describes how the student contextualized their data that they gathered about an OED entry, and then a 6-7 page statement of their goals and choices in recontextualizing the data. Here’s an example of a recontexutalization: WATCH THIS.
I think sometimes it is difficult to understand what, exactly, this reconsideration/reclamation/reframing/whatever you want to call it looks like, especially if you aren’t embedded already in the world of teaching composition.
This is an assignment that I would love, love, love to use in my class this semester, though I’m not quite sure how. Where does it fit in? How might it be modified to fit the resources we have available? I’m especially interested in how she uses her class time to support assignments like these, ie: what is taught about in order to produce the kind of work that all of these scholars are advocating for? How do we emphasize, in class, what it means to make rhetorical choices? How do we model what that looks like? Some have suggested social media as a way into the conversation. I find, however, that when I introduce social media to a room full of students, they think I’m trying to be cool, trying to be relevant, and in the end the connection doesn’t happen. I did have success using YouTube last semester; Instagram and Twitter, not so much. Maybe I’m not framing it well enough.
The class I’m teaching now is a research writing class; we’re doing an inquiry-based project that we will start next week, and it culminates in a 4-5 page print-paper with another 2-3 pages of visual text. From there, we plan for the Celebration of Student Writing, which is a space/place for students in ENGL 121 to present their research in multigenre pieces to an audience of their peers and the public. What happens if we take one word from our research proposals and trace it throughout the conversation on our topic(s)? What if our topics are selected and then the research, rather than being about uncovering a story or writing to learn about something, it took the shape of inquiry into the story of the word/subject itself?
Example: I choose…mommy blogs. This is a topic I’ve written about before. I write my proposal, and begin exploring the conversations taking place on this topic. I address the who/what/when/where/why/how framework that my teacher assigns (this maps out the conversation). I write up an annotated bibliography with my research proposal attached (I want to research x because, and here’s what I’ve found). From there, rather than writing the paper itself, what if the 4-5 pages of print-based text was about contextualizing the topic, or a keyword found in the research – because entering the conversation/contributing to the public discourse isn’t always about addressing the topic from a wide, “complete” angle; sometimes the way in is through a small window – and the 2-3 pages of visual/non-print text (it could be anything) becomes maybe the foundation from which a recontextualization is created.