Jody Shipka and Multimodality

Jody Shipka’s “A Multimodal Task-Based Framework for Composing” presents a pretty strong argument that teachers of writing have been cutting students off from certain aspects of the writing process.

Her discussion of a typical assignment (p. 285) is particularly telling in this regard:

Choose three of the five essays listed below and compose a four-to-five-page argumentative typewritten essay in response to those essays. Double space your text, use a 12-point standard font and 1-inch margins all around, and make sure your thesis statement is clear, arguable, and underlined; make sure the piece is structured logically and that your work is carefully proofread.

Her argument in the paragraph below seems to be: look at how many writing choices students DON’T have to make.

Here, the scope and purpose of the work are already established for the student [ . . .] The methods, materials, and technologies he or she is expected to employ are also predetermined: reading and critically engaging the assigned texts, using at least three of these as the basis for a logically structured linear argumentative essay, the use of paper plus some device that produces print text, etc. Equally problematic is the way the prompt suggests a logic of composing that proceeds in an orderly, top-down manner [ . . .] More troubling still, nothing about the ways in which, or the specific conditions under which, students’ work will be collected and assessed. In fact, to imagine the assignment reading “Once the paper is finished, you will pass this forward in class, and the instructor will read it, respond to it, and then provide you with a grade,” could seem silly, a way of stating the obvious. After all, what else might one possibly imagine doing?

Her snarky tone, I think, is indicative of her more radical point.  It could make sense to some that removing questions of design from a piece of writing might free up the writer to concentrate more on her words.  However, when framed against the world of rhetorical decisions people make in order to compose things–not just the paper and font choices but considerations about the production, uptake, reception, and potential response to their compositions–it seems imperative that we use the composition course to introduce students to the “complex communicative tasks” they will face the rest of their lives.

Shipka summarizes:

Taken together, these accounts suggest that, when called upon to set their own goals and to structure the production, delivery, and reception of the work they accomplish in the course, students can: (1) demonstrate an enhanced awareness of the affordances provided by the variety of media they employ in service of those goals; (2) successfully engineer ways of contextualizing, structuring, and realizing the production, distribution, delivery, and reception of their work; and (3) become better equipped to negotiate the range of communicative contexts they find themselves encountering both in and outside of school.

So let’s look over the accounts she offered in this article.  In groups, perhaps at your tables, select one of the following “case studies”:

  1. Lindsay Freeberg
  2. Prakas Itarut
  3. Maggie Christiano
  4. Karen Rust
  5. Mike Ragano

And scan for that name in the article.  (Remember that many of these students appear throughout Shipka’s essay–not just where you first found them!)  Then work with your team to answer these questions:

  • What was their composed product, their piece?
  • What kinds of planning did they engage in to get the piece completed?  How did they figure out WHAT they wanted to do and WHY?
  • What evidence did you see of their critical engagement or rhetorical flexibility?
  • How did you think the form of their piece enhanced our understanding of their point, their purpose for writing?

We’ll have brief presentations on each of their compositions.  Then I’d like you all to tackle the same questions in your project groups!  Please discuss your answers to them and make sure you’re all on the same page.

  • the product(s) [you] will formulate in response to a given task—this might take the form of a printed text, a performance, a handmade or repurposed object, or, should students choose to engineer a multipart rhetorical event, any combination thereof
  • the operations, processes, or methodologies that will be (or could be) employed in generating that product—depending on what students aim to achieve, this might involve collecting data from texts, conducting surveys, interviews or experiments, sewing, searching online, woodworking, filming, recording, shopping, staging rehearsals, etc.
  • the resources, materials, and technologies that will be (or could be) employed in the generation of that product—again, depending on what they aim to achieve this could involve, paper, wood, libraries, computers, needle and thread, stores, food, music, glue, tape, etc.
  • the specific conditions in, under, or with which the final product will be experienced—this involves determining or otherwise structuring the delivery, reception, and/or circulation of their final product. (Shipka 287)

I hope that through this process questions will emerge about ways to get started on your final project.  But what Shipka really seems to show us is the engaged and useful but difficult task of realizing a document or text in the “outside world,” where questions of what I’m writing/building, for whom, and why often can’t be answered with “anyone” and “to inform them.”  Perhaps another problem with formulaic school writing is that students aren’t taught to wrestle with these real rhetorical issues more often and more directly as they compose–in fact, as Shipka says, that those choices are denied them?

Well, with this project, your teams won’t be!

I also hope that with teams as big as these, each member of the group has a good idea of their role in the entire project and that as a group, you can establish a timeline so that work gets done efficiently.

And check these out, just for fun:

Drawings that students from a few years ago did of their writing process.  What kind of multimodal artifact could you make of all of these drawings?

Final Project Choices

Hey everyone, short post today.  Today we turn in Deep Dive papers and turn attention to our final project(s), your portfolio and a more “front-facing” and public text about tutoring and mentoring.

First, please share your paper with me, if you haven’t done so already, and update the author’s note that you left at the top.  The three questions you answer (now written to me) are:

  1. What do you think is going well in your paper so far?  What do you like?
  2. What is not going so well, or where did the paper run off track?
  3. What kinds of questions do you have at this point about the paper or your argument?

As before, I’ll read these in the next week and get them back to you with comments you can use to revise.

Now on to a continued conversation about our work ahead.  We have a little over a month to:

  • Build a portfolio of your work in which you reflect on the development of your understanding about tutoring and mentoring writing, presenting your work as evidence of that development
  • Collaborate (or not) on a public, “front-facing” document or text of any kind in which you present an idea about writing to an audience who could learn from you

Let’s talk about the second one first.

Our conversations so far have resulted in some options.  As you can see from the picture above, we’ve begun to talk about options for taking our work to date into a new form, a process lots of people call “remix” or “remediate.”  As with all writing, the choice you make should be based on your communicative purpose, your incipient expertise, and your knowledge of (or willingness to explore) a genre in which to communicate and a particular audience to communicate to.

Soooo . . .

Many ideas have come forward.

Let’s start then by writing for five minutes about your tentative ideas.  What interests you most in our discussions so far?  What kinds of things might you enjoy working on?


If I set the end of class as a deadline, can you organize yourselves into teams and write a brief proposal to me that would cover these elements:

  1. What genre or kind of text you want to build
  2. For what purpose, to communicate what knowledge or perspective about (mentoring/tutoring) writing in college
  3. To what audience, and why
  4. Who’s on your team, and what’s your plan for work equity

Could we do that?  Turn into me by email and I will respond by Monday.


Peer Critiques for Deep Dive Papers

Today we’ll do some peer critique.  People have often said that they come to understand their work most deeply when they talk and write to each other about texts and ideas.  They also say that writing responses to other people’s writing helps them to reflect on their own approach to an assignment by seeing how other students handled a similar task.  So written peer feedback offers an immediate audience that should be very useful at all stages of your inquiry.

Peer critique workshops can be incredibly helpful if people take them seriously, as an opportunity to give and receive feedback on writing-in-process.  We should start by reviewing the assignment itself.

To make this day run smoothly, please do these things:


First, share your work via Google Docs/Drive with at least two people sitting near you. Best to share in Google Docs now.  Uploading your paper now to GDocs will make sharing it with me easier, and also allow me to see how people are responding to your work:

  • Go to the Chico State website
  • Click on Email–>Wildcat Email
  • Click on Google Drive Login
  • Login with your Chico State email and PW
  • Upload your paper by clicking the blue NEW button–>File Upload
  • Double-click on the paper when it appears in your drive
  • Click on the blue Share button
  • Enter the email addresses of the two people who’ll respond to your paper.  Make sure they CAN EDIT, not just CAN COMMENT
  • Class GDocs experts, help the less-expert among you!


Now open your paper in Google Docs and freewrite some answers to these three questions.  10 minutes.  Leave your answers right at the top of your paper!

  1. What do you think is going well in your paper so far?  What do you like?
  2. What is not going so well, or where did the paper run off track?
  3. What kinds of questions do you have at this point about the paper or your argument?

Your answers to these questions will also help me as I read and respond to your papers.  I’ll read them first to orient ourselves to your writing process.

Then, as you begin talking with people in your workshop group, tell your readers what you’ve done so far, where you stopped writing, and what questions you have about your writing that they can help answer.  They should do the same for you.


Here are some suggestions about responding (commenting, questioning, suggesting revisions):

  • When you read drafts, focus your comments on the ideas and arguments in the drafts, then perhaps the organization, and generally not on grammar.  Note any typos or grammatical errors on the drafts if you want to, but please do not comment on grammar in the written response you write or spend much time on correcting it.
  • Make lots of comments on their drafts!  But say more than “good” or “fix this”–nothing is less helpful than a reader who doesn’t provide a rationale for their suggestions or questions.
  • Instead, ask the writer questions, provide ideas about sources, and comment on ideas, organization, and so on.  If using Google Docs, use the commenting function in  to leave your suggestions in bubbles outside the paper itself.

A few things I hope you’ll keep in mind as we read each other’s papers:

  • In Google Docs the easiest way to make a comment bubble appear is to highlight a section of text you want to comment on and then comment with a comment “bubble”:

Crtl+Alt+M on Windows computers

  • There’s also a handy “add comment” button in the righthand margin.
  • If papers are shared with other people, you may find yourself responding to your readers’ comments as well. That’s fine! Agree with the responder but push it further; or disagree and say why.


After finishing these steps, write up two peer critiques of at least 2 paragraphs in which you flesh out the concerns, questions, and suggestions you made in the draft.  Expand on your earlier comments!  That is, use your marginal comments as ideas for your longer peer critique.

In it make sure to do a few things:

  • Walk the author through how you read the draft.  Offer a “movie of your mind.”
  • Highlight what you think works well in the paper right now
  • Ask questions you think the author should consider
  • List at least 2-3 specific things the author should do in revision
  • Tell the author why you made these suggestions

So what’s due is a 2-paragraph peer critique of each of the two papers you read, using the questions above.

Save them in Google Docs or upload them to your WordPress site; either way, they will be helpful additions to your final portfolio.  Share with the writers of those papers by emailing them your comments or sharing electronically some other way.


Finding and Synthesizing Research for your “Deep Dives”

Today I pledged that we’d spend time talking about finding and reading research that might be valuable for your Deep Dive assignment.  (More detail about the assignment is at the Assignments page, of course.)

When I think about your task, gathering research on a subject related to mentoring or tutoring academic writing, the job starts to break into discrete questions.  Where should I look?  What databases have links to those sources?  What search terms could I use?

You’re entering the scholarship of the field of rhetoric, composition, and literacy studies, which you’ve gotten only a taste of so far in this course.  I don’t expect it will be easy to track down sources that you can use.  But these ideas and links should make your work more focused and efficient.

Where should I look? 

For people who want to see what other writing issues tutors deal with, and how to theorize/research them, tutoring-specific journals have a lot of great insights!  Try:

For more informal and voiced responses to tutoring writing, there are also some good sites on peer tutoring, which cover issues and questions of tutoring a bit more directly:

For people who want to scan for specific keywords or ideas in titles of published articles, the Writing Centers/Learning Centers Bibliography at the WAC Clearinghouse is good too.  (n.b.: WAC, or “writing across the curriculum,” is always a writing center concern because students come to writing centers from all majors and departments, not just English)

For people who want to see what “policy” is (or should be) across writing centers, and why, the International Writing Centers Association has a good collection of position statements:

What databases have links to writing center journals?

What keywords and search terms should I use?

Play with different ones.  Use the sources we’ve covered in jigsaw teaching/learning: Bad Ideas and Naming What We Know.  Check out titles and terms in the “for further information” sections that end each section or sub-chapter.  Scan the chapters for other terms you might use!

Please also ask me what terms might be useful for a specific topic or question.

For people who are working with mentoring and mentorship, it might be more difficult to find sources or ideas you feel are relevant to your job here.  What Kim’s created in the Jumbo and she and I have run for years in ENGL 30 workshops are unique in more than a few ways.  Still, you might find ideas if you look for terms like:

And so on.

Do you have some models of this assignment that I can look at, to get a better sense of what you’re looking for?

Yes!  Here are two from last semester:

  1. Keyword Paper: Deliberate Practice
  2. Keyword: Plagiarism

These papers differ from your assignment in that they were focused solely on keywords, not ideas or questions; and didn’t explicitly push toward deliverables and takeaways at the end (“So what can we do to help student writers re: this issue?” or “What would we want teachers to know?”).  Yours does.

Still, the models will offer you a good sense of the tone, format, and argumentative purpose that a paper like this can accomplish, as well as the ways writers incorporate different sources into a cohesive whole.

Let’s take the period today and work to refine our ideas and resources for the Deep Dive. I’ll be milling around: let me know if you want to talk!

What if I’m still stuck?

Let’s talk in my office sometime soon!  You might also think about how this assignment involves synthesis, or the practice of showing how your sources overlap or conflict.  That’s the major purpose of this piece: to show what research you find in a cogent way and tell us what you think it means.

What would it mean to synthesize the sources you find?  On Wednesday I’ll refer you all to these two documents, Synthesizing Sources in your Deep Dive and Language of Synthesis.

“Mutt Genres” and Mentoring/Tutoring

First thing we’ll do today is sit in our internship groups.  With the help of special guests Allie Clark (ESLRC) and Kim Jaxon (Jumbo workshops), we’ll have a quick discussion about ways you can be useful to students in the last five weeks of the semester.  I’ll lead one of the two remaining groups.

With Wardle’s “Mutt Genres” there are SO MANY interesting things to discuss.  The first is Russell’s original “ball-using” metaphor to describe the goals of FYC (first year composition, called “Academic Writing” here at Chico State).  Russell starts off by saying that courses like ENGL 130 are often focused around what he calls “general writing skills instruction”: courses in general academic writing whose stated goal is to prepare students to write in other college courses.

The problem with that, to Russell, is

The object(ive) of GWSI is most often described as teaching students “to write” or to “improve their writing.” If writing were an autonomous skill, generalizable to all activity systems that use writing, improving writing in general would be a clear object(ive) of an activity system. But writing does not exist apart from its uses, for it is a tool for accomplishing object(ive)s beyond itself. The tool is continually transformed by its use into myriad and always-changing genres. Every text is some genre, to paraphrase Bakhtin (1986), part of some activity system(s). Learning to write means learning to write in the ways (genres) those in an activity system write (though one must remember that this is complicated by the fact that activity systems and their tools—including genres—are always in dialectical change). From this theoretical perspective, the object(ive) of GWSI courses is extremely ambiguous because those involved in it are teaching and learning the use of a tool (writing) for no particular activity system. And the tool can be used for any number of object(ive)s (in myriad activity systems) and transformed into any number of forms (genres).

He continues:

To try to teach students to improve their writing by taking a GWSI course is something like trying to teach people to improve their ping-pong, jacks, volleyball, basketball, field hockey, and so on by attending a course in general ball-using. Such a course would of necessity have a problem of content. What kinds of games (and therefore ball-use skills) should one teach? And how can one teach ball-using skills unless one also teaches students the games, since the skills have their motive and meaning only in terms of a particular game or games that use them? Such a course would have a problem of rigor since those who truly know how to play a particular game would look askance at the instruction such a course could provide (particularly if the instructor did not herself play all the games with some facility). And it would also have a problem of unrealistic expectations, since it would be impossible to teach all—or even a few—ball games in one course. Finally, it would be extremely difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of a course in general ball-using since one always evaluates the effectiveness of ball-using within a particular game, not in general. And ways of using a ball that work well in one game (volleyball, for example) would bring disaster in another (such as soccer).

How about that?  Before we continue with Wardle, let’s take on this central analogy, which sets up a number of the claims Wardle makes later on.

Then we will:

  • List some of our reactions to what we read
  • In internship teams, discuss moments we had questions about the article.  What moments or claims left you wondering, or where were the spots you wanted more information?  Write them as questions!
  • I will list your Q’s on the board.
  • Can we answer some of these questions?  Perhaps each group takes another’s question?  Or do we go through them together?

One of the things we can do to get at the notion of “mutt genres” is to think about how and when we work with them in our internships:

  1. What genres (kinds) of writing are appearing in ENGL 130, the Jumbo, the Writing Center, or the ESL Resource Center?  What would you call them?
  2. Are they “mutt genres,” in Liz Wardle’s terms?  Why?
  3. What do students understand about the purpose of these genres, or the role they play in advancing knowledge in a community of practice?  Or is the central point of doing that writing unclear, or merely to HAVE DONE that writing, to get a good grade for it?
  4. Could it ever be different?  That is, if we accept Wardle’s claims, how could writing at the freshman level be more meaningful or authentic, more tied to an actual community of practice?
  5. We know students write better and more fluidly if they find meaning in their writing or connection to their topic.  What could we do as tutors and mentors to help students find meaningful connections?

I’d also like us to acknowledge that this article has seen a lot of discussion and debate online, as you might infer from even a quick Googling of the term “mutt genres.”  What can we learn from others’ responses to the article?

Second Day of NWWK

Today we’ll be getting back into the swing of things, with our second day of jigsaw teaching (jigsaw learning?) NWWK: Naming What We Know.

As a reminder, here’s what I said last time.  Our process for this book was:

  1. First get into groups with the people who also read your chapter
  2. Take 15 minutes and craft a document of some kind (list, paragraphs, drawing, concept-map, ??) that summarizes what you two think are the most important or relevant parts of the chapter.
  3. Share the doc with the class!  Or send to me and I will.  Seriously!
  4. Then we’ll re-form in four groups of five, with one each of the original pairs, so that each chapter is represented in the new group.

Let’s start there!

That is, quickly reform into groups based on the chapters you read.  Review the document or text you built with an eye to how you’d talk to others about it:

  • What sections or claims seemed particularly compelling?
  • What evidence or proof did authors bring forward?
  • What moments in this chapter did you stop and wonder, or ask questions?  What were your questions?
  • What would you want people to know about this chapter overall?  What are the takeaway messages for you?

Make sure to refer to these questions in your new groups.

Here are the documents each group built:

If you run out of things to say, lead conversation!  Ask questions.  For example:

For starters, I’d want us to wonder what examples you have of seeing these ideas play out in your own writing; ways of working with students to highlight these ideas or practices for them; and what’s keeping people from embracing the claims in this book.

As a followup, I’d wonder what you think about these two methods (“bad ideas” vs. “good ideas”) for persuading people to think differently about writing.  While accepting that the best way to change our beliefs about writing would be to write regularly, share our writing with other people, and reflect on our processes and products, we can also imagine that learning the research on writing could play a role.  In that role, is it better to read about what’s wrong and why (in the form of Bad Ideas) or to read what we the research says and how (in Naming What We Know)?

Finally (or first?), I’d like everyone to list the topic, question, or idea you’re researching for your Deep Dive assignment.  Follow this link and tell me in one or two sentences!

Jigsaw Teaching What We Know

If the last few classes were focused on Bad Ideas in teaching writing, this week is on . . . good ideas?

Naming What We Know seems like another necessary counterpoint to culturally very commonly-held beliefs and values surrounding writing and learning to write.  It’s only a few years old, and once again written by experts for non-experts to understand the depth of research available in the field of composition and rhetoric on a variety of issues.  So like you working in a writing center or embedded in a classroom, its goal is to help teachers and students think differently about what writing entails.  These are the five “concepts”–chapters that structure the book:

  • Concept 1: Writing Is a Social and Rhetorical Activity
  • Concept 2: Writing Speaks to Situations through Recognizable Forms
  • Concept 3: Writing Enacts and Creates Identities and Ideologies
  • Concept 4: All Writers Have More to Learn
  • Concept 5: Writing Is (Also Always) a Cognitive Activity

We’ll do things a bit differently this time, more in the spirit of the original “jigsaw method” I discussed last time.  I wrote:

While the strategies we use aren’t super close to those in the original model, our intentions are the same: to work together to construct a “picture” of the book by sharing perspectives on the individual “puzzle pieces.” To do this we’ll get in groups and talk about what we read and then rotate into different groups at least once–maybe twice.

In practice that means the following.  We’ll:

  1. First get into groups with the people who also read your chapter
  2. Take 15 minutes and craft a document of some kind (list, paragraphs, drawing, concept-map, ??) that summarizes what you two think are the most important or relevant parts of the chapter.
  3. Share the doc with the class!  Or send to me and I will.  Seriously!
  4. Then we’ll re-form in four groups of five, with one each of the original pairs, so that each chapter is represented in the new group.

This will take all period.  Wish it didn’t, because I thinkwe’ll have lots to talk about as a result of this.

For starters, I’d want us to wonder what examples you have of seeing these ideas play out in your own writing; ways of working with students to highlight these ideas or practices for them; and what’s keeping people from embracing the claims in this book.

As a followup, I’d wonder what you think about these two methods (“bad ideas” vs. “good ideas”) for persuading people to think differently about writing.  While accepting that the best way to change our beliefs about writing would be to write regularly, share our writing with other people, and reflect on our processes and products, we can also imagine that learning the research on writing could play a role.  In that role, is it better to read about what’s wrong and why (in the form of Bad Ideas) or to read what we the research says and how (in Naming What We Know)?

We’ll do that Wednesday!