Today's guest blogger is Amanda Gaddam (see end of post for bio).
At CCCC 2016, I had the privilege of attending a session titled “New Thoughts on Writing and First-Language Teaching,” in which Dr. Deborah Holdstein raised questions about the politics of privileging digital rhetorics over sustained reading and writing. In her presentation, she made me think about whether or not we’re living in a post-composition-class world and whether the move toward multimodality in writing assignments means that we’re leaving other important things behind.
As I reflect on this talk and consider the ways in which I incorporate multimodal assignments into my first-year writing classroom, the question of whether I’m taking care to properly ground each task in pedagogical theory and asking students to engage in genuine rhetorical inquiries keeps popping up. The in-class assignment that I created to accompany my varied multimodal assignments reassures me that no matter the prompt, I always try to get students to think about the choices that they’re making and the effects these choices have on their audience and the meaning of their texts.
The following worksheet and in-class activity can be used as accompaniment to a large variety of multimodal assignments that you’re already using in your classroom. This works well with any project where students are asked to consider how their arguments can be most effectively communicated visually to a specific audience.
1. Introduce and complete the Visual Rhetoric Reflection Worksheet. In the planning or revision stages of a multimodal project, ask students to fill out the Visual Rhetoric Reflection Worksheet, which can be downloaded at the link provided and edited to replace or revise questions in order to fit your specific needs and assignments. This worksheet asks students to detail their choices for visual elements in their multimodal project and articulate a strategy for communicating arguments to an outside audience. Students can complete this at home or in the classroom, but I find it useful to have students fill this out on a computer and have access to an electronic version during class so that they can add examples of their selected colors, images, video, and audio directly into the document.
2. Break class up into groups of 2-3 students for peer review. Ask one student in each group to read everything on their Visual Rhetoric Reflection Worksheet aloud to their small group except their argument and purpose. The listener(s) should take notes on the information read aloud; after the reader is finished, the listener(s) should review their notes and try to identify what the speaker’s argument and purpose are based on the details given. In many cases, listeners are able to identify the general topic of a speaker’s project, but they may have trouble discerning how the colors or images or typefaces help to complement or communicate the nuances of the speaker’s argument. Upon revealing the intended argument and purpose of the multimodal text, the speaker and listener(s) should discuss how the visual choices might be revised to more effectively express an argument to the intended audience. It’s the speaker’s turn to take notes; he or she should write down concrete steps for revising their visual elements before submitting their project.
3. Reflect on the process. In writing or in a class discussion, ask students to talk about the changes they plan to make, the challenges of articulating their visual strategies, and how their classmates’ feedback influenced their writing and revision process. The discussion underscores the value of getting outside feedback on writing, whether it’s traditional written text or visual or digital rhetoric.
I use some version of this worksheet with nearly every multimodal assignment that I introduce because I want students to take time to consider the effectiveness of their non-textual choices and how those choices read to an outside audience. It works particularly well with end-of-the-term ePortfolios because instead of treating the assignment like a receptacle where they stuff all of their writing from the course, students reshape their conception of the ePortfolio assignment when they have to articulate an argument and purpose for the project. The final products have cohesive themes, the final reflections are more focused, and students engage in authentic visual rhetorical analysis and collaboration in order to create these texts. Most importantly, they can see how the work that they’re doing is connected to the course goals—they’re not just “decorating” their writing.
Guest blogger Amanda Gaddam is an adjunct instructor in the First-Year Writing Program and the School for New Learning at DePaul University. She holds a B.A. in English with a concentration in Literary Studies and a M.A. in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse with a concentration in Teaching Writing and Language from DePaul, and her research interests include first-year composition, adult and non-traditional students, and writing center pedagogies.