Rethinking Composition in a Multimodal World
It started with a quandary. As a veteran writing teacher, I was struggling, feeling caught in the middle between my responsibility to prepare my high school students for the traditional academic demands of college and the prevalence of compelling technology in their lives. Although, I recognized the need for computer literacy, I was not willing to trade rigorous academic work time for frivolous computer projects. So, my quandary led to my inquiry: Is it possible to teach academic writing as digital composition? What happens to writing instruction and student learning when we go digital?
The NWP Tech Initiative gave me the opportunity to pursue my inquiry. During the intense weeklong Summer Institute I learned how to make my own digital story, a big technological leap for me. Later in the school year I would do a residency with the Pearson Foundation who would bring computers equipped with Adobe Premier to our school for my students to use in the classroom and would teach them how to make their digital stories. My task would be to prepare the students for the residency, making sure that everything was finished—voiceover narrative written, assets collected, storyboard complete—ready for an intensive week of making digital stories.
I decided it would be beneficial for my inquiry to do the same assignment for my digital story that I would later give to my ninth grade students for their digital stories. I chose a tested analytical essay assignment designed with specific academic goals. (Characterizing a Neighborhood Essay Assignment.pdf) Could this essay work effectively as the voiceover for the digital story, a digital composition? Could we achieve the same academic goals when the tech component was added as we had when it was a traditional essay assignment?
I planned to follow my usual instructional practice—teaching writing as a process, but along the way I would try to tweak my instructional components to fit the new digital elements. I was interested in seeing how instruction would have to change as well as seeing how student writing would change as other elements were incorporated into the text. When I introduced the digital story project, I told the students about my Summer Institute experience and my inquiry and encouraged them to be part of the inquiry, too. Like me, reflecting on my practice, they would be reflecting on their experience. Their reflections could help me with my inquiry and help them to become metacognitive writers and critical thinkers. We would all be researchers together—recording and analyzing our data. At first they weren’t sure what all this would mean, but they were delighted with the computers and making digital stories. So game on.