In Towards a Composition Made Whole, Jody Shipka argues that we should reconsider college composition. In Chapter 1, she begins her argument by summarizing the traditional approach to teaching writing in college. Shipka argues that multimodal assignments should be a part of composition classrooms to make the learning relevant to students. She says that tools like social network and editing software can promote a multimodal learning experience. At the same time, she wants to avoid defining multimodal as strictly the technological tools that we use. Instead she argues that students can have a true multimodal learning experience “negotiat[ing]– an interplay of words, images, sounds, scents and movement (21). She supports this definition because it reflects students’ out of class literacy practices, one that is dynamic and reflective of their unique discourse communities.
In addition, Shipka notes the traditional practice of teaching college composition often alienates students and she says instructors can overcome this perception by transforming writing as a process for creating authentic communication. She argues that the traditional way of teaching freshman composition creates an artificial corridor around the skills developed in a classroom, hard to acquire and just as difficult to employ outsides the classroom. Instead, Shipka encourages instructors to equip students with an “experimental attitude” so that they see that literacy is context dependent and part of a social practice. To accomplish this lofty goal, instructors should be mindful of helping students develop transferable skills, by weaving students’ out of school writing practices into their teaching while shepherding students through a process to tailor their writing to fit their audience, purpose and genre.
I am glad that Shipka clarified what multimodal assignments should be. I initially thought that it should be about the use of technology or the use of visual images. I think my initial definition of multimodality was underdeveloped. I agree with her that we should help our students negotiate and mold different texts and have them interact with one another. We do live in a dynamic world with technology disrupting our very conception of writing. I think it would be useful to incorporate multimodal texts into the classroom so that students see that composition can include a lot of different mediums.
At the same time, I am also mindful that many of us operate in an academic setting where there are certain conventions that give students power and access. In that case, I believe that it is still important to teach students how to write for an academic audience. Shipka says instructors can be comprehensive by incorporating multimodality into their instruction and teach academic composition. Shipka says there is enough time to do it all but I question her stance. There are Student Learning Outcomes to follow and I will be evaluated based on my ability to meet these standards. I am afraid that privileging multimodal assignments leaves me little time to meet my SLOs. I see multimodality as text to introduce to the class but I would not assign the production of a multimodal assignment because I don’t know how valuable it is for their academic experience. I can have my students write a visual essay but what happens when they go to their history class and they are asked to write a research paper? Have I failed my students if I don’t teach them how to write a type of paper that is privileged in academia?