This is a post that should have happened a few weeks ago, but time and sickness found a way to keep me from drafting my thoughts until now. My last post on my students’ argumentative letters presented the narrative of an approach to teaching argument that I had never used before. Predicated on having a real audience, my initial goals were to have students draft letters to editors of magazines that addressed a position they took on an article in that magazine. Those letters were then stuffed in envelopes, addressed, and mailed. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram (@theprofjones), you saw that a few of my students even received letters back already. (More on this later.) Beyond the letters, I wanted to stretch my students creatively and critically. Thanks to some inspiration acquired during one of my doc classes this past summer (thanks Dr. Rish) and a current fall course (thanks Dr. Dail), I designed my argument unit to include multimodal remixes of student arguments followed by a written reflection essay.
The result of my design was met with mixed results. Mostly, the remixes and reflections did what I hoped they would–stretch my students perception of modern-day argument, but more importantly, reveal the potential impact writing the letter and producing the remix had on them and their audience.
Where I stubbed my toe was timing. Isn’t that always the case? My best laid plans were disrupted by both personal sickness and my inability to predict how long students would need to produce everything I asked of them (i.e. a polished, MLA business letter, a remix, and a reflection essay.) I discovered as well that I have much work to do scaffolding my students perception of and ability to reflect deeply. The act of reflection is not innate; I know this; I am just now at a point in my life where I feel I can regularly reflect beyond a surface nod to success or failure; how would my students know any better? Still, the reflection process was powerful and revealing. I would have liked to time the reflection essay after they turned in their remixes, but alas, time was not on my side. I want to believe their reflections would have been even stronger if I had been able to wait.
Alright, let me back up a moment. What do I mean by remix–especially by multimodal remix? The objective I set before my students was to look at their formal, letter-formatted arguments and consider how they could reshape and recontextualize that argument in a different medium. Explaining what I just said to a fifteen year old is hard. While the objective was certainly clear to me, my students were unapprenticed to the process of remixing anything in the context of a classroom assignment. For that matter, to believe all my students are familiar with remixing content digitally outside of a school context is foolish. While I have plenty of students who use social media and are voyeurs of world of Tumblr, they are often times not familiar how they are creating or even remixing content. To help make my intent clear to my students, I offered avenues of generating a remix including a Twitter handle paired with a pervasive hashtag, comics, blogs, board game, etc. The downside? This immediately puts these ideas in my students’ minds, disallowing many of them to generate truly original ideas. Still, I believe asking them to remix their arguments was valuable and worth our time. While I may have implanted the medium they chose, my students still had to produce an original approach to that medium.
The results were pretty cool. Take a look for yourself:
Below is fictional discussion board; while a bit crass, I love that the student tried to reproduce just how crass an online argument can be:
There are many, many more that are great including some videos that if they didn’t have so many identifiers, I would have included them as well.
The unit ended with an in-class reflection essay. As I mentioned earlier, the objective here is to observe my students’ perceived impact of completing the letter to an editor and possibly receiving a response. A few trends appeared. First, students reported they had difficulty finding an article they felt the could argue. Usually, students didn’t expand on this point, which I found disappointing but understandable. The few students that did mentioned feeling they needed to find an article they already felt familiar with the subject. I find this interesting. Students may not feel capable or bold enough to take on an unfamiliar topic. Students didn’t want to be uncomfortable during the task. Another trend showed students worried that they wouldn’t come across smart enough or mature enough to an editor. They felt the pressure of having a professional audience. Honestly, while I wish no stress on my students, I loved reading this over and over again. These type of comments provided me a reason to reinforce the importance considering audience in their writing. Yet another trend that emerged. Some students felt they had increased their understanding of writing an arguments; some students felt they learned nothing knew about writing an arguments; some students claimed they understood writing an argument better but could not correctly identify what they learned; some students felt their writing really mattered for the first time. Quite the bag of treats. The takeaway here may simply be to recognize there is no uniform way students will take up the tasks I put before them. However, I’m interested to see as I refine the objectives for this unit and refine my scaffolding for my students if the reflections become more refined as well. The win in all of this might simply be the few letters that have trickled in from magazines. While few, to see my students eyes light up the moment I hand them a response letter is awesome.
I loved the unit, but it is still quite flawed and needs attention. My Achilles’ heel was not collaborating as much on the unit as I could have. I kept my approach to myself, and I tend to believe that I could have formed a more refined approach with help of my colleagues.
Live and learn. Cheers.