On Writing: Changes in Practice

writing

So, much like I revised my philosophy on reading in my classroom, my doctoral studies have also affected my philosophy on writing in my classroom. The history of research in writing is deep! There is no hyperbole here. Much like I had posted early this past summer, reading up on writing research is like drinking from a fire hose. (Except without all the pain and trip to the emergency room.) The point is that the research is ripe with tradition has taken various detours in the last several decades. I promise not to give anyone a history lesson (not that I could at this point), but, if you’d like, read on to see how I changed some of my writing instruction and activities in my classroom this year.

You’ve seen me recently post twice about my Banksy project. Check out my students work here and here. This project arose for my students for several reasons, but one being my new found affinity for what is labeled “multimodality.” You see, I’d become convinced over the summer that writing was far more than the construction of essays, writing formulas, organization, and the regurgitation of facts. (Really, I already felt this way to a large degree, but my studies took me further down that rabbit hole!) Multimodality demonstrated that writing takes various forms, works within various domains, purposes, and modes. I had never full considered the literacy associated with images, film, texting, and social media, but my time in my research in writing course forced me to reconsider my beliefs. I’ve been a team player always, and I still am really; I towed the line and taught my students how to construct an argument or how to write a particular short response or personal narrative, but I had yet to consider the power of writing and literacy that takes place in the natural world. Let’s be honest–how we write in high school is not how we write at any other point in our lives, including college. That does not mean that students shouldn’t write argumentative essays or research essays or prepare for writing AP (Advanced Placement) essay responses; rather, what I’m getting at is that I felt I needed to make room for real writing modes in my classroom as well. Including elements of multimodality has allowed me to do that.

Wikipedia (dun, dun, duuuun!) paraphrases from Murray (2013) that multimodality ” is the mixture of textual, audio, and visual modes in combination with media and materiality to create meaning.” Think about it! This is the real world of everyday literacy of not only our students, but of many of us as well. Texting, Instagram, Vine, Twitter, SnapChat, Pintrest–the list goes on and on of media tools that help us tell stories everyday. When I was conceiving the Banksy project with my media specialist, I had multimodality in mind. I had been pushing my students hard to consider the power of diction via the connotation of words. To me, Banky, or any artist using images to evoke thought and reaction, is a perfect representation of when real world literacy meets the potential growth of a student in an English language arts (ELA) classroom. By having my students tie reworked images with well-thought out word choice, they are thinking on a level that is rarely seen when regurgitating information for a research project/essay.

My zine project also became a big part of my mission to bring new modes of literacy to my classroom–to empower my students that their writing and modes of communicating are valuable. Besides empowerment though, I aimed to have my students truly think critically of the messages they are sending with their zine construction. The metacognition taking place during these moments is often times unheard of when, again, the ELA classroom simply tries to formulate essays to meet a requirement that gives a student a grade. If you’re interested in learning more about my zine project/research, check it out here.

Finally, I will change up my whole perspective on research writing this year. My students will become each others initial authority, which I hope will allow for them to again be empowered that they know more than they believe they know. I tout often about Sheridan Blau, and today is no different. Blau is the inspiration for changing up my paradigm for research writing and having my students help co-construct thoughts on their research. This doesn’t mean my students won’t do research outside of each other–they certainly will; however, they’ll also be allowed to use one another’s voices to bring meaning to their research. I’ll let you know how this goes as we’re experiencing it right now.

There you have it. This is where I am right now with writing. It isn’t about eliminating what we’ve tried to instruct in the past, but it is about opening up students to understanding the influence of real literacy on their identity as writers. I may be wrong, but I think this attempt on my part to unfetter my students from formulaic writing may in fact help them find their genuine voice. Isn’t that the hardest principle of writing instruction? Showing students that good writing has a voice–their voice.

References
Murray, J (2013). “Composing multimodality”. In Lutkewitte, Claire. Multimodal composition: A critical sourcebook. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
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3 thoughts on “On Writing: Changes in Practice

  1. I like that you’re working with this idea of multi modality. It seems like your idea of ‘communication’ is expanding to a lot more than just writing. I definitely agree that formal writing is important, but introducing these other ‘real’ modes of communication in the classroom is great, because the students are using them already, but hopefully now they’ll have language to deal with them, not only to create but also to be critical. The idea of ‘media literacy’ is one that has been growing more and more important to me recently. I try and make it known to my students that I want them to be critical of the messages they receive and the ones they create. There was also a very interesting class offered at Georgia State called Visual Rhetoric (that I didn’t get to take, but speaking with some of the students that did gave me a new perspective). I also really like that behind a lot of your ideas is the empowerment of the students. I think that’s really important as well, because it builds self-confidence and self-awareness. They don’t realize how powerful their words can be. Good work. Keep it up.

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