Author Archives: Jessie Sholl

Multimodal Composition – I Say Embrace It

In the 1121 class I’m teaching right now the students are working on the “Documenting Your Life: Multimodal” assignment (unit #3). I have to say that I’ve enjoyed the process of helping them choose the modality for the assignment. We spent part of a class brainstorming the types of modalities they could choose, then I had them type up a brief proposal which included the reason that modality was the right fit for their story. Since the assignment is a personal one, no one would know better than them the best way to tell their own stories.

During the pre-post chat, the students were definitely participating more than usual. It was nice to see them enthused. And the students seemed eager to help each other as well; one person, for example, asked if she could do a TikTok (For the record, I don’t know TikTok at all – I’m not even sure if the correct terminology is a “TikTok” or a “TikTok video”). I asked the class what they thought about the student’s idea. After a bit one of them suggested that the student make a series of TikToks to tell her story. I thought that was a great idea.

In this instance, I feel like I’m learning from the students, and maybe it’s selfish of me, but I like learning from them. They seem happy to do it as well. So when I read this statement in the Takayoshi and Selfe article, “Students often bring to the classroom a great deal of implicit, perhaps previously unarticulated, knowledge about what is involved in composing multimodal texts, and they commonly respond to multimodal assignments with excitement,” (pg 4)—I found myself nodding along in agreement.

I could imagine some composition instructors, faced with the challenge of teaching multimodal assignments digging in their heels in a sort of “get off my lawn” way … but why? Things change. This is the world now. And have to admit that I love the almost scolding Takayoshi and Selfe give hesitant teachers when they write, “Teachers less than willing to make such a leap might be encouraged to remember that the rhetorical principles currently used to teach written composition are, themselves, principles translated from the study of oral communication.” Like I said: Things change. This is the world now.

One last thing from the article: I liked what the authors said about multimodal composition possibly bringing the “often neglected third appeal—pathos—back into composition classes” and I look forward to seeing how my students do it next week.

The second article, “Teaching Multimodal Composition” from the University of Michigan website, was helpful in affirming that I’m not going about teaching multimodal composition in the completely wrong way. (This is most likely thanks to Carrie’s excellent model classes!). I’ve had my students following this basic scaffolding of analyzing, finding models/mentor texts, proposing the projects, drafting their own versions and then workshopping, finalizing, and finally reflecting. I’ve always had scaffolded assignments, but this is more thorough, with more chances for feedback—which seems more important than ever for catching students from falling through the cracks now that we’re online.

One other thing I like about the multimodal composition assignments is that they naturally lend themselves toward examining a student’s purpose and audience. I think it’s built into the question of why this modality for this project?

I’m really happy with the changes to composition this year (okay, aside from the online aspect, which to be honest, I truly don’t mind much). I feel like the past years I was doing the same thing each semester, never quite sure if my students were learning anything. Now I feel like they are. And I know I am!

The Dreaded G Word … Grammar

Though the word “grammar” conjures images of kids gripping #2 pencils as they diagram sentences in sullen and silent classrooms, I actually like thinking about grammar in terms of my own writing. I enjoy deciding between a semicolon or an em-dash; I like reading things out loud to see if I’ve used too many commas (which I almost always have). This, though, is about my own writing and not about teaching.

Teaching grammar is another animal, and one that I don’t like. When I first began teaching at City Tech in 2015, comp classes had an additional 45-minute lab each week and somehow I had the impression that that’s when we were supposed to teach grammar … I can’t remember if the English Department Chair at that time told me that, or if I just guessed. I’d already been teaching creative writing for a decade at that point, but hadn’t taught first year writing, and had never taught grammar. Occasionally I’d come across run-on sentences in the short stories my students turned in, and sometimes I’d point them out, but that was as far as I’d gone grammar-wise.

What I tried to do in the lab portion of the comp classes at City Tech – and I’m so glad those lab portions are gone – was use examples from either student texts or things I found online to gently point out problems and have the students work together to fix them. For example, one exercise I did was project (onto a screen at the front of the class) a paragraph where I’d taken out all the punctuation. Then the students would work in groups of four (my in-person students LOVED doing group work, so I tried to incorporate them into classwork as often as possible) to revise the paragraph with punctuation included; they were also free to change word order or revise the sentences completely if they wished. Then one person from each group would go up to the board and write one of their sentences and the class would discuss the choices they’d made and why.

Honestly, the students seemed to enjoy this. There was usually a bit of good-spirited laughter. It was a team effort, and no one was ever singled out. I didn’t hand out worksheets or define grammatical terms, but rather had them practice them. I made a point to tell them that they know more about grammar than they think they do, simply by reading.

So when I read about the term COIK in Muriel Harris’ piece, I felt a bit relieved. Perhaps I haven’t been as terrible to my students with regard to grammar as I’ve feared these last few weeks. (Also, I love the example of defining physics that Harris uses.)

I think the Dunn article relates a lot to what we’ve been talking about in terms of genre, and I like the point Dunn makes when she says “Every writing project is constrained by previous iterations of that type of writing.” This reminds me of another exercise I’d have students do in-person: Have them write a text to a friend asking what they’re doing that weekend, an email to me asking for an extension for a paper, and a cover letter for a job. Then I’d have them share them with the class – it was just a way to illustrate the different ways we use language in different situations.

All of this is making me think about how much I miss in-person classes! Looking forward to seeing you all later today.






Response to “Navigating Genres” by Kerry Dirk

I found this essay really interesting and I’m glad that I read it. Some of it I’d already considered – as I noted in the text, one activity I often do in class is to have students write a letter to a professor, a text to a friend, and the opening of a cover letter for a job—just to get them thinking about how they naturally write in different ways according to whatever context they’re in. It’s a fun assignment and the students (and I) usually end up laughing when they read some of the texts to their friends. I honestly hadn’t thought of those situations as “genres” though I completely understand that they are.

To be honest, until very recently I’d thought of genre as “horror, sci-fi, romance…” ugh. I’m almost embarrassed to admit it—but I must. I’m excited about the idea of teaching genre awareness in ENG 1101 because I think it’ll be really helpful for my students. As I said, I think I was doing it in some ways without realizing it. But naming it—so that they can name it themselves and be even more aware of it—can only be helpful to them, and to their writing.

I wrote this at the end of the essay, and it’s actually how I feel about the article as a whole: “These suggestions are all excellent – they’re all things that I’m sure we as instructors do instinctively, but spelling them out like this will be great for students who may not do them automatically.”