Preparing Students for Composing in a Technological Society
Teaching writing revolves around the development of critical thinking and literacy skills through composing multimodal texts with the aim of preparing students for composing in a technological society. In light of this, one of my favorite parts about teaching is working with students from a variety of backgrounds and life experiences, whether it be disciplinary, professionally, or culturally. How each student encounters and understands literacy and writing, especially given how much is mediated through technology, is uniquely reflected in their experiences. Working with such a range of writers with a variety of life experiences has greatly influenced my perception of teaching writing to be one that is applicable to all students.
Multimodality plays a key part in my pedagogy, and I’ve found that the development of a student’s writing and critical thinking skills through the use of technology is particularly important for making student learning in writing courses applicable to other disciplines and literate practices. Both in the upper-level undergraduate and first-year composition courses I’ve taught, I craft assignments that ask students to take critical approaches to writing and, in many cases technology as well. One such assignment in my upper level Literacy and Technology course is a digital literacy narrative where students are asked to not only explore their digital literacies but analyze their digital literacies as well by considering how their life experiences and backgrounds have influenced or shaped their digital literacies in some way. This assignment helps bridge academic and nonacademic literate practices and challenges students to take more critical approaches to the ways writing takes shape in both my students’ lives but other people’s lives as well.
My goal of developing critical literacy through the creation of multimodal texts (Hawisher & Selfe, 2007; Shipka, 2011) is the foundation of my teaching pedagogy, which I’ve incorporated into my courses in various ways. The overarching goals of these courses are to expose students, who might not have access to technology at home, to technology and begin to ask them to think critically about those technologies in addition to developing their own research and writing skills. One example of this is my Literacy Technology Exhibit assignment that asks students to consider the role a particular technology plays in shaping literacy practices, and then to present that through a multimodal form of their choosing. Additionally, this focus on multimodal composition and critical literacy coincides with the Writing about Writing (WAW) curriculum used in first-year composition at the University of Central Florida by working towards helping students make rhetorically sound decisions when composing. While students are studying some core concepts of composition studies through the WAW curriculum (e.g. genre, intertextuality, rhetorical situation), my multimodal approach tasks students with identifying and relating these concepts to their own communities, and then crafting multimodal webtexts to make an argument for writing within that community. Composing multimodal texts further highlights the importance of composition concepts students learn through WAW, like the rhetorical situation and genre, by heightening awareness of other rhetorical choices that may otherwise be invisible, like the importance of font style, size, and color. Similarly, composing multimodal texts also gives students practice with various types of texts and rhetorical choices they may come across in the workplace, thus making it important for all students to engage with, regardless of their backgrounds.
In working with the WAW curriculum and multimodal composing, many students are working with material that they likely are not accustomed to. To help students with navigating new material, I adopt a writing-to-learn approach and foster a collaborative classroom environment. At the beginning of each class period, I assign writing journals to begin engaging students with the concepts for the day’s work. To deepen students’ understanding of the material, students work in groups to share ideas and work towards a deeper knowledge of the material. Group learning allows the students to build relationships, and also to verbalize their own understandings of the concepts. Additionally, they frequently have the opportunity to talk to each other about their multimodal compositions to provide and receive peer feedback. In producing multimodal projects, I frequently integrate workshop days where I ask students to start off by playing around with multimodal composing using stock materials (e.g., audio, video, pictures, crayons, and construction paper) to get students to experiment with multimodality. As the assignment sequence progresses, the workshop days become more attuned to student projects through the use of low-tech and high-tech mock-ups of assignments. These activities in my classroom are crucial for cultivating a comfortable space for students to share and learn from one another.
Another part of my multimodal pedagogy is regularly reflecting on the readings, activities, and discussions in my classes to help students better understand composition studies, particularly by considering how I can further implement and showcase multimodality through these class components. Having students from various backgrounds with differing experiences with technology and learning about these experiences over the duration of the course has also been instrumental for reflecting on how to make my courses more accessible and successful for all who enroll.