More Thoughts on Shipka

I echo some of the thoughts on the previous post on Shipka.  I think it deserves further discussion.

I appreciated today’s discussion on Shipka because I had mixed feelings about her argument, although I still have some concerns: exactly what kind of “changes” is she proposing be made to the composition curriculum? I understand that she urges us to think about assigning multimodal assignments instead of more traditional essay tasks. She claims that the same SLOs can still be met by assigning multimodal assignments. It sounds great to me, and I liked some of her own examples of such exercises, but why must the field of composition become obsessed with multimodality? What is wrong with a healthy, diverse curriculum that may include some multimodal and some traditional assignments, depending on who is teaching it? While Shipka is definitely an accomplished writer, and she expertly positions her part of the conversation among so many other voices, I’m not sure I get the urgency of her argument. I think what she has to say has considerable value; I just don’t see if the “reform” or “revolution” she’s calling for be beneficial, if even possible. I mean this earnestly, please, somebody tell me what it is that I’m missing. Maybe I don’t get it because I only read one chapter (plus the intro and the conclusion).

Here’s an example of what I mean from Chapter Five. These are the SOGC Questions she proposes:

  1. What, specifically, is this piece trying to accomplish— above and beyond satisfying the basic requirements outlined in the task description? In other words, what work does, or might, this piece do? For whom? In what contexts?
  2. What specific rhetorical, material, methodological, and technological choices did you make in service of accomplishing the goal( s) articulated above? Catalog, as well, choices that you might not have consciously made, those that were made for you when you opted to work with certain genres, materials, and technologies.
  3. Why did you end up pursuing this plan as opposed to the others you came up with? How did the various choices listed above allow you to accomplish things that other sets or combinations of choices would not have?

 Shipka, Jody (2011-04-30). Toward a Composition Made Whole (Pitt Comp Literacy Culture) (Kindle Locations 2059-2066). University of Pittsburgh Press.

These sound really good to me.

Now, these are the questions that she’s compiled from more “expressivist” scholars about self-reflection:

  • What did you try to improve, or experiment with, on this paper? How successful were you? What are the strengths of your paper? Place a squiggly line beside those passages you feel are very good. What are the weaknesses, if any, of your paper? Place an X beside passages you would like your teacher to correct or revise. What one thing will you do to improve your next piece of writing? What grade would you give yourself on this composition? Justify it (Beaven 1977).
  • Have you written a paper like this one before? Have your ideas about the topic changed since you started writing the paper? How? Have you made changes in your paper during or after writing a draft of it? What are the three most important changes you have made? In the process of writing this paper, did you do anything that was different from what you have done when writing papers in the past? What was it? (Faigley et al. 1985).
  • What do you see as your main point( s)? How did this process differ from your usual writing? Did you write things that surprised you, things that you did not know you were thinking and feeling? Which parts went well or badly for you? (Elbow 1999).
  • • Where were you challenged? What did you risk in writing the text in this way? What did you learn about yourself as a writer and/ or writing in general while drafting this piece? If you had three more weeks, what would you work on? Estimate your success with this text (Bishop 1997).
  • You’ve given this text to a friend and he or she gives you four ideas for making it stronger and/ or more accessible to a general audience. What would those four things be, and how would you feel about doing them? How would each change improve your paper or ruin what you have been attempting? (Bishop 1997).

Shipka, Jody (2011-04-30). Toward a Composition Made Whole (Pitt Comp Literacy Culture) (Kindle Locations 2118-2133). University of Pittsburgh Press.

These sound really good to me too!

I do understand that her SOGCs are more analytical in nature and the other ones are more process oriented. But I don’t see why we can’t just use them all, depending on the needs of the assignment, the philosophy and personality of the teacher and the relationship that teacher has with her students?

I do appreciate all the care she takes in explaining the importance of multimodality, new media, etc. Yes, this is something that the field of Composition must include in its curriculum.   But why is it important that we only teach toward multimodality? Why can’t some of us sometimes still teach using some “more traditional” kinds of assignments? As far as I am concerned, we should teach it all, but not all the time. The personality and individuality of a teacher are key qualities that students latch onto – this is how students connect with their favorite teachers. Maybe I am ignorant, but it seems that teaching a multimodal-only class would be a forced and foreign proposition for me, and I fear that my personality and individuality would be sacrificed in service of a compulsory multimodal composition world. I like to use a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I like a little Elbow to balance out my Bartholomae. I feel the need to rein in my Donald Murray with a loose lasso of Stanley Fish. And, certainly, Shipka is invited too.



10 comments on “More Thoughts on Shipka

  1. Hi Renato!

    Great post, by the way. I wanted to address your last point. My guess is that Shipka does not necessarily expect multimodality to be the only way to Composition. She may believe this, for herself, but I’m thinking that she is cognitive of the fact that almost no teacher will completely abandon comfortable (and still effective) practice. Instead, I like to believe she is making an informed rhetorical move; I’m not sure that this writing would be as prominent, or discussed as ardently, if she hedged a lot more. That’s just my supposition – and perhaps Jody Shipka is a raging multimodal advocate – but I’m thinking that some of her strong diction is used to get us to really think and reconsider our positions.

    I will say that for me, personally, multimodal assignments are something worth striving for. I think Shipka’s are perhaps a bit extreme, but we keep getting reminded that New Media =/= technology that helps me reconsider multimodality as well. I think there are ways to keep assignments multimodal in their process, even if we expect a traditional product. When I think of it this way, it helps me warp my essay-trained mind around Shipka more. Maybe I won’t expect students to write on a pair of Air Jordan’s, but I can envision a reflection assignment about an educational documentary where students reflect not just on what they learned and the effect of video versus print, but can also discuss the actual viewing process they went through (laptop screen vs big tv, lots of distractions, etc). To me, the value in this is that students begin to recognize learning as more than just reading and writing, and start to see the entire process of gathering, digesting, and composing new knowledge as something beneficial. It’s possible Shipka would tell me I’m not doing it right, but like you said, I think there is still a lot to be gained from “traditional” assignments in Composition. This may be one way to find a balance of sorts, or I may be crazy…haha

  2. I appreciate your thoughts, Zach! You’ve put my mind at ease about Shipka, and now I can say that I truly see what she’s trying to do. Yes, she may be extreme, but I imagine that much of her target audience might not be you and me per se, but all those instructors still stuck in traditional ways of teaching. COme to think about it, a lot of my assignments are already multimodal – analyze a visual, compare a sound clip narrated by an author to your own static reading of it, do a rhetorical analysis of a music video, etc, etc…

    All I had to do was consider the audience for this book, and it all clicked for me. I suppose you were doing more “active reading” on Shipka than I did, because I really let this text upset me for naught.

  3. Renato,

    As usual, your posts are well-written, thought-provoking, and relate back to the material exceptionally well. I read all of Shipka’s book, and I think much of what she says is intriguing, but as you say, I wonder if she isn’t a little too extreme. Multimodality is great, and no duh, it’s the way we orient ourselves in the “real world,” so we should talk about it in our classrooms and perhaps a quarter, a third, maybe even half of our assignments should borrow a little more of the derring-do of the communications field. Should we throw the baby out with the bathwater, though? Can’t we implement these multimodal activities and ideas without scrapping traditional, text-based composition? And, let’s face it, as new teachers, I don’t think we have the experimental leeway that someone like Shipka is allotted.

    “As far as I am concerned, we should teach it all, but not all the time. The personality and individuality of a teacher are key qualities that students latch onto – this is how students connect with their favorite teachers.” — random aside, but this is one of the reasons why I’m not “for” online classes. Hybrid classes might not be so bad, but something is lost in translation with 100% online coursework. One of my students is extremely shy — she has not said a word in class all semester, but we have a great email relationship. However, it wouldn’t be possible if she didn’t attend class every single morning! Of course, others could make the opposite argument — personalities work for and against us.

    The questions you listed (Shipka’s SOGCs), I actually flagged in my copy of the book. I might work those into future cover memos in order to generate more productive responses, and I was going to pick and choose the ones I thought reflected my pedagogy and priorities best. As you say, what’s wrong with using them all to make sure all your bases are covered?

    • I appreciate your thoughts, Ileana. You are absolutely right that neophyte teachers at the bottom of the ladder would probably NOT get away with Shipka’s propositions! In that sense, they are not at all practical or even realistic. But I don’t see why cannot conflate the traditional with the multimodal, as you suggest at the end of your first paragraph. The idea of “Scrapping tradition” sounds to me dangerously close to “scrapping culture.”

      Hybrid/only courses?! Hell, I’m petrified of that idea. But I wouldn’t discard those options either, because they give us flexibility and breadth and the ability to reach more students. I would have to do some serious thinking about this… In the end, I believe this might be another “genre” of instruction altogether.

  4. Multimodal texts are important and they hold value in classrooms. They are assignments that help students reach specific learning goals and SLO’s in more rhetorically creative and complex ways than the traditional essays. However, not teaching and expecting traditional essays is putting our students at a disadvantage.

    Students need to be able to produce a wide range of assignments and tasks. There is a beneficial aspect involved with students writing traditional academic essays because in a least one of their courses they are going to have professors that expect students to know how to write and produce the academic essay genre, conventions, formatting.

    Just because certain classes are moving into a more “relevant pedagogy” or a different type of teaching approach then the let’s say more traditional classroom, this does not mean that this shift is going to be happening throughout and in all classrooms. Students need to be able to address and write in all environments and become academically capable and flexible with the demands of a variety of expectations, teachers, contexts, and pedagogy.

    • Rachel, I totally loved what you said; I couldn’t agree more! the wide range of learning situations that we need provide for our students can only be enriched by adding tricks to the pedagogical pool. I say, let’s allow the choices to be made by capable teachers!

  5. I am a bit conflicted with her urgency also, but at this point I feel that urgency is similar to many other authors that I have read in the field. Similarly to her end note about why she positioned her text in this way maybe also her firm stance is a rhetorical effect needed to make a “splash” so to say in the field of composition. I think your attitude to pluck here and there from the authors and text that we read is probably the only choice we have with such urgent and sometimes very conflicted opinions of the English classroom. If we stick to only one style, then what do we end up sacrificing? I think your point on personality is quite accurate, but also potential to find the best fit for the population of students that you find yourself working with and the utilization of the knowledge that you have. I might be ignorant here, but i cannot imagine one style fitting all classrooms all the time.

    • Scott, You are not “ignorant” at all — it is impossible for one style to fit all; if it were, I’d be borrowing from your wardrobe — har, har. No, really, I mean it: one style for all is as impossible as exhausting all the SLOs in one little semester. We have to craftily design our courses with just the right balance of stuff to meet standards and our own pedagogical philosophies. Also, you are very right that there are many debates in the field of composition as to what is “best,” so let us “pluck here and there…”

  6. Hi Renato,

    I hope you are good. I love your comments. Shipka seems to be arguing for a pivot towards more multimodal experiences in the classroom, one where students have to engage with demands that are different than the traditional academic assignments. I love your honesty and your acknowledgement that multimodal assignments do not exactly fit your profile. As an instructor, you make decisions that suit your strengths. However, as a composition instructor, I would argue that we should also strive to make the skills we develop with our students transferable so they can can apply them in other disciplines and other discourse communities, including environments outside the classroom. I recognize that multimodal assignments may reduce an instructor’s authority and expose gaps in expertise but I don’t know if that makes us bad instructors. If we constantly tell our students that learning is a process where we will meet challenges, where setback are merely teachable moments, and where difficulty is a sign of critical reflection, should we not also heed our own advice?

  7. J,
    I think you are correct – we should heed our own advice. I am all for transfer of skills and knowledge! The literature is quite conflicted on what can and cannot be transferred from FYC to other classes. But, as you say, “learning is a process,” and I believe that it is in “process,” especially process met with metagognition, that transfer is most likely to occur. By the way, I am not against multimodal assignments; I actually have quite a few of them in my curriculum’s repertoire (nothing quite as advanced and fancy as Shipka, granted). My argument was that I don’t think that we need scrap traditional assignments and replace them with ONLY multimodal ones.

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