Saturday, July 28, 2012

Multimodal: Been There, Done That

D.J. Scratching a Record
In my final text for my independent study, Jason Palmeri explores how  "[l]ong before the contemporary multimodal turn, compositionists have been articulating the deep interconnections between seeing and writing -- experimenting with ways that visual composing can help students both generate ideas for and consider revisions of alphabetic texts" (9-10). I wanted to read this book because I was drawn to his idea that today's composing, while there are different tools, is not the first time alphabetic texts have had competition for composing. I (along with many other educators) am leery of the advent of "brand new" theories, and Palmeri shows so well where we have been and how these old paths can and should inform our work today with digital technologies.

Before I move into the specifics of Palmeri's historical overview, I have to give a shout out to Dr. Louise Wetherbee Phelps and her Productive Theory class. Palmeri seems to have learned at her feet when he writes, "In this book, then, I seek to move beyond the standpoint of the critic: to resee our fields' history from the perspective of the remix artist" (13).  He wants to stop focusing on how a theory dismantles another one and start using a productive approach that looks for where theories cross and open common ground to stand on. LWP would be thrilled!

It turns out I have been a multimodal teacher and writer all along.  I first started teaching in 1993, so the very theorists Palmeri looks back to in the 1970s and 1980s were the big names in my education program.  His book was an unexpected and empowering walk down memory lane. I now have a much broader perspective on multimodal composition in the field of English Studies and even moreso on my own pedagogy.  Palmeri's book has been my mirror.

Just as Palmeri structures his book around remixing, let's splice Palmeri's ideas with my own practices.

"[I]t is important that we help students gain a global understanding of creative processes that is not tied to any specific modality -- an understanding that they can use to help guide their composing with diverse alphabetic, audio, and visual material" (28). This is how I have talked about the writing process since my very first classroom.  I use analogies to song writing, recording, and painting to help students see why I was asking them to rewrite.  To see writing as "just another art" helps my students elevate their understanding of writing to an art.

"In particular, Emig argues that experience in composing across modalities (alphabetic, aural, visual, or spatial) can help teachers understand invention (planning) and revision (reformulating)" (28). This is why I went to DMAC - to compose in the modalities my students are already using.  Getting my hands dirty is important to me because of the very old writing theory I have always tried to live by: you cannot teach writing without being a writer yourself.

"If writing about a remembered place, a writer might perceive sensory (auditory, visual, olfactory) images of that place" (32). I have a beloved poetry introductory lesson where we explore words that come to mind when we imagine sensing an Ansel Adams image. What does the scene smell like? Sound like? Taste like? At the end, their word bank is so expansive they can hardly believe it, and they see clearly how they would write about this place very differently now.

 "Sommers suggests that visual-spatial thinking (conceiving writing as a shape or structure) can be a useful way of moving beyond rewording to considering more global changes of organization and argument ... we could ask students to translate their text into a spatial image ..." (35). One of my favorite activities from when I was in the Capital Writing Project was when we literally cut up our first paragraphs sentence by sentence. This turned our sentences into a physical puzzle, and I love puzzles! To see how someone else put my sentences back together by how they interested her was incredibly powerful to me, and I have done this activity with my students ever since. We also cut up pieces of writing to make poetry puzzles - one of my students favorite days of the year.

"Winchester opens The Sound of Your Voice by establishing that listening closely to spoken words is one of the fist steps in developing voice in writing ..." (57). When my AP students and I discuss the intersections between academic writing and personal voice, this is where we begin: with remembering that voice is a sound.  We listen to different voices, then we listen to different words to tease out their connotations for voice.

"Hearing your words out loud gives you the vicarious experience of being someone else" (Elbow as quoted on 55). I have my students read aloud all the time and record their recitations periodically through the year.  Some of their read-alouds are for revisions purposes while other times they are simply to hear their words shared with others.

"Rather than seeing translation as a reductive process of moving from multimodal mind to alphabetic page, we can instead reimagine translation as a dynamic process of moving between internal multimodal representations of knowledge (in the mind) and external multimodal representations (on the computer or the page)" (33-34). Thank you, Mr. Palmeri, for showing me my place in the deep history of multimodal composition by reminding me of my own multimodal mind and in turn the multimodal minds of my students. 

Image source: "D.J. Scratching a Record"
Palmeri, Jason. Remixing Composition: A History of Multimodal Writing Composition. Studies in Writing and Rhetoric. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2012. Print.

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