The Mediated Action in the Composition Process

In Chapter 2, Shipka creates a framework to examine the social and individual variables that influence the composition process. She argues that the individual and the sociocultural settings are interacting to influence each other. When we compose a text, these cultural tools or meditational means shape our process and final composition product. Shipka synthesizes Wertsch’s work to create four characteristic of mediated action. They are:

  1. Composers of texts have multiple purposes. Students can compose to please themselves and/or fulfill the class assignment.(44-45)
  2. An action is simultaneously enabled and constrained by the meditational means or cultural tools employed (46).
    • These constraints  are only visible in retrospect. Through innovation, a new tool appears and we see the constraints of the first generation of the tools. As we examine the new tool, we also realize how the older tools may have limited an action. (47).
    • Meditational means also carry with it power and authority. Shipka argues that many academics hold academic writing as sacred in order to maintain power (47-48). 
  3. Tools or agents are developed from the past. There is a link to the past.
  4. Mediated action is transformed by the introduction of new meditational means (49). How does innovation change the composition process? The example of the writing by hand and with computer changes the act of writing. Shipka has an interesting example when she says that the desktop computer limits writing because it confines the writer to the space. Since the publication of her book, we can write on our phones either through typing or even scribbling and have a program transcribe it (50). Even Shipka didn’t anticipate how outdated her commentary could be.

Shipka says that this framework affords us the opportunity to examine both the final product and process. We also see literacy as more nuance. We also give more attention to the tools used and how it affects the composition process and composition product.

I think Shipka has a great point that technology can begin to seep into our everyday practices such that we begin to see it as normal and we fail to examine the complexity of literacy. We can take these technologies for granted,  only reflecting when the technology fails us or when the old technology is eclipsed by the new technology. I love how she says that we need to be more in the moment and reflect about current technology. Maybe it means we slow down and examine our processes for composing a text.

The problem is that instructors must also value the tools used and validated the importance of the process for composing a text. The instructors also need to make it transparent to the student so that they value the tools used. As Shipka says, there is power in maintaining the status quo and I wonder how many instructors would truthfully give the process or the tools used as much credit as the final product. The process is unique for each student and it can be hard to evaluate the myriad of tools used.  In some cases, the students may have greater understanding of the process or the tools and that would mean the student would be in control. Would instructors be comfortable with that?




One comment on “The Mediated Action in the Composition Process

  1. This is well-written synopsis of the chapter proceeded by some insightful commentary. Two things that jump out at me: “Tools or agents are developed from the past. There is a link to the past.” This bit is hugely important, as it carries the cultural and historical context that allows for the “new” to be created. Inventions arise from need and desire, and those needs and desires usually originate from the “past,” without which the present is impossible. This is one of the reasons “tradition” should not be effaced. The other thing I have is that I think your closing question is completely relevant and worth careful discussion. I certainly want my students to have agency in their learning and composing process, but what if they have too much technological control on the assigned platforms or modalities? More control than me. My gut reaction is “wonderful,” but as I sit with the idea, I’m not so sure. My authority and credibility – my ethos – as an effective teacher might come to be questioned or challenged if I don’t have the same dexterous control over the tech than my students do. How would I assess those assignments produced with tools I don’t fully understand? For example, I don’t really understand Twitter and, though I am intrigued by the potential use of the tool in writing instruction, I wouldn’t dare give an assignment on Twitter. I can definitely see the advantage of assigning students to synthesize a text in 144 characters – kind of like a two-sentence summary or paraphrase. The compact space of a tweet also encourages effective and efficient communication. I could be talked into using Twitter as a scaffold or writing exercise, but I cannot see the product of a formal assignment being delivered on Twitter.

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