April 12th reading: Jody Shipka’s Toward a Composition Made Whole

This one is a wild ride. I’m very excited to not only hear your thoughts, but to actually try some of her assignments in class!

Jody Shipka’s Toward a Composition Made Whole
Deep reader(s): Josh + Miranda

Treats: Rachel


8 thoughts on “April 12th reading: Jody Shipka’s Toward a Composition Made Whole”

  1. I found the first ten-twelve pages of chapter three to be very interesting. I really haven’t read of too many professors or researchers who engage their students in actively thinking about the environments in which they produce their writing. It seems like something that may be irrelevant at first—it’s something that I never really considered, even with the fact that the environment in which I write changes frequently. In the opening paragraph of the chapter, she cites how Trimbur has acknowledged that the process of writing—though obviously researched and written about to a great extent—has never received enough attention in regard to the environment in which students create their works (Shipka 57). The ways in which Shipka highlights her students’ production processes through their own evidence—their drawings of their physical settings—is captivating, and it makes me think that our environments influence what we write and how we write it much more than we may think.

    Shipka’s argument regarding the situated-ness of a text’s production was pretty interesting to consider, as well. She writes, “We argue for the importance of foregrounding the fundamentally blended or multimodal aspects of communicative practice” (65). In using this quote to highlight the first part of the third chapter, it is important to consider how one of her students penned an essay on a shirt (62-64). Because her process was so unorthodox and her location public (relative to the privacy of her dorm room), her process was interrupted and prolonged in a variety of ways (62). There is no doubt that the ways in which she situated her process on her own accord affected the final product, even if the ways in which it was altered may have been someone else’s doing. It is important to consider that Shipka wants us to look at our own habits of production and assess the other media that may be present: background noise from a television, music playing through headphones, or a cell phone that continually lights up with notifications. All of these things affect production.

    All of these things affect not only the “process,” but also whatever it is that one finally turns in or publishes. A simple look up at the television in the middle of a sentence or paragraph might affect word choice or even a sentence’s cadence. With this being the case, it is important to preemptively assess our habits and choice of environment when writing.


  2. Similar to Jordan, Shipka proposes a new concept of composition through a theoretical framework that emphasizes student agency, reconceives the composition process, and the various sociocultural and multimodal factors involved in composing. Instead of operating courses only around written text or around other technological ways of composing, Shipka urges scholars to reconsider the processes, products, and producers involved in composition.

    Shipka’s proposal that demonstrates new ways to conceive and practice communication is nuanced and important. It certainly seems to be more progressive in its incorporation of non-traditional texts that students can employ to communicate. Citing LeCourt, she states that “conscious awareness of anything makes mindful living more possible than it would be otherwise” for the purpose of “facilitating greater metacommunicative awareness” for students (128-29). Through encouraging numberless ways in which students can communicate and through what purposes seems to me to be the ultimate goal of humanistic composition. Specifically, as we are composing our audio pieces for the course, I’m discovering exciting new ways to communicate through a new medium.

    However, I’m left wondering how stakeholders other than instructors and possible students would react to Shipka’s project. Shipka rejects the linear, product-focused, written, largely cliche researched argumentative projects that many composition classrooms use as a way to provide students with an experience and knowledge that will translate into other assignments for other disciplines. She certainly understands and wrestles with the question: “Where’s the (‘Academic’) writing?” in her conclusion by asserting that it is a relevant and perhaps “overly narrow” expectation of student writing (139). Instead, she encourages compositionists to expand their courses from only teaching prescriptive models through specific (written) assignments and selective purposes as a way to develop students’ use of agency and intention through their communication. But still, I wonder how can this prepare students for those prescriptive written assignments that their other courses will require? (Or is that the end goal?). Is it not the freshmen composition course that should do so? Or can the freshman composition course at least take advantage of that expectation from other disciplines and the broader institution while hopefully also expanding the loftier goals of increasing student awareness of language, communication, expression, agency and raising consciousness? Shipka’s work holds exciting and creative possibilities for both the instructor and the student, but will it prepare students for the research and writing “skills-based” expectations that other courses assume the student possesses (and require) after completing a freshman composition course?


  3. When I first encountered the picture of the ballet slippers on the third page I aligned more with the uncomfortable guy who made the bad joke about footnotes. However, as I read through Shipka’s text, I began to question my own teaching methods and think about how I could utilize more flexibility in the classroom in order to allow students to express and create multimodal interactions. One example of flexibility Shipka gives is allowing a student to write a “blog instead of a hand-made, handwritten journal” (122). I assign my own students journal entries, but they must write their responses by hand. I may be limiting students who interact more effectively with their computers than writing by hand. Another limitation I may be setting is assigning certain responses to texts we read in English 103. Instead of having students bring in a written summary or answering one specific question, I could allow them to react to any part of the text they feel compelled to do so in any way (written on paper, typed in a blog, speak it out to the class, etc.).
    For students who have not experienced this flexibility from instructors before, there may be resistance. Shipka writes, “students who have grown accustomed to instructors telling them exactly what they need to do and how they need to do it may find this way of working time-consuming and frustrating” (104). Students who are trained to follow instructions and produce specifically for their teachers may not succeed as well as students who have been more encouraged to think creatively and create their own projects. If other instructors will not allow multimodal expression, will teachers only confuse expectations in the college classroom?

    How does this “composition made whole” transfer to other college classrooms and spaces outside of the university? What if students who have not had to write specific genres in a writing course, like an argumentative paper, are not able to understand how to write this paper for another instructor?

    How does it affect students negatively and/or positively to have both instructors who give meticulous instructions and instructors who encourage creative possibilities? How do students negotiate between the two?

    What does response look like for multimodal projects? How does it vary for each individual project?


  4. Shipka’s thoughts on multi-modality attempt to expand what multi-modality means beyond the traditional technology based connotations. The major issue that Shipka seems to face when having others understand multi-modality is that little has been said about the decision making processes that go into creating any text, including ones that expand beyond “traditional” writing. This leads to questions like the one she poses after a student made a snarky comment about the ballet shoes in the introduction: “‘How is that college-level academic writing?”’ (2). When looking at a project such as the ballet shoes, it is understandable for someone to have trouble immediately seeing the academic value, as the important choices made during the creation of such a project are rarely explored and shown in an academic-decision-making light. While the importance of multi-modal processes are beginning to be explored when discussing student-use of screen based technologies, Skipka wonders how this trend could, “position whether rhetorically, materially, or technologically, texts that explore how print speech, still images, video, sounds, scents, live performance, textures (for example, glass, cloth, paper affixed to plastic), and other three dimensional objects come together, intersect, or overlap in innovative and compelling ways?” (8). However, as Shipka points out, there is no true mono-modal text, as all writing production involves interactions with multiple media at numerous stages in the process.

    In chapter three, Shipka portrays several maps of these processes in order to show these multiple stages of interaction, media development, and decision-making. For example, “Shannon focused on the production of an essay about conformity that she composed in Microsoft Word and then painstakingly transcribed by hand on a long-sleeved Abercrombie & Finch shirt” (62). Shipka mainly focuses on how every decision, sometimes even a seemingly simple one, plays into the overall writing process and how the composer creates any given project. However, Shipka also brings to mind the rhetorical decisions made during the composing process, decisions that, if explored further, could help many see the benefit for many multi-modal writing projects. For example, why did Shannon choose a shirt? An Abercrombie & Finch shirt? Why long sleeves? Why ballet shoes? Why position the text in this manner? Why this size? All of these are questions these composers had to ask themselves in order to make competent rhetorical decisions. All of the choices, from the medium to the placement, have some rhetorical effect that the composers are tackling. If the value of these rhetorical choices were made more explicit, other may see the importance of more seemingly strange multi-modal projects, such as the ballet shoes in the introduction. Possibly, along with having students draw their writing processes, they could frame their processes as a series of questions and answers, allowing others to explore the complex rhetorically based decisions students had to make to create the work they desired. This would also allow them to become more aware of the rhetorically based decisions they were making during their composing process.

    In what ways do you see what is traditionally considered mono-modal writing as multi-modal? How is your own “mono-modal” writing actually more multi-modal?

    Having students more aware of how seemingly ordinary choices (such as where they decide to write) and interactions in their environment can affect their writing can make them more conscious of how they continue to see and make these decisions. In what other ways can drawing attention to these interactions and being conscious of these decisions help students as they compose in the future?


  5. Shipka’s view of technology in the classroom raises many questions about the future of this “new composition” in response to Kathleen Yancey’s 2004 CCCC address. In one quotation from the address, Yancey considers students’ responses to “screen-mediated” activities against traditional assignments saying, “‘don’t you wish… that the energy and motivation that students bring to some of these other genres they would bring to our assignments’” (6). Some of the examples, such as blogs, are certainly becoming more common in the college setting; however, the ballerina shoes example at the start of the text emphasizes how some composition instructors view more creative assignments, such as screen mediated activities, and define “writing.” How can one define writing in a composition classroom? Teachers have various approaches and expectations that should support new interpretations of students’ writing. Should they not?

    In Chapter 5, Shipka addresses ways of evaluating multimodal assignments and understanding unfamiliar materials and technologies. The use of the statement of goals and choices (SOGC) assignment helps to provide more context about the student’s understanding and unfamiliar materials; however, I am not quite convinced that such methods help to mediate when the instructor has no background knowledge of the technology. How can teachers that have never received training in technology be able to understand and critique students’ writing? With technology growing and evolving, are there ways for teachers to allow students to experiment without having a tech background? How do instructors grade or give feedback for such creative assignments utilizing new forms of technology? Do assignments such as SOGC help young teachers or those who are not familiar with new forms of technology?


  6. In her book Toward a Composition Made Whole, Jody Shipka moves beyond what is known and familiar and shows how embracing multimodality can provide new productive experiences for students. The author calls for broadening and redefining the meaning of composition and composing processes. Chapter I not only continues to expand on the idea of multimodality of learning but also calls to question some of the terms used in the composition such as writing, authoring, literacy, composing, and, finally, composition. The author argues that these terms have failed to illustrate the changes in communication. While these terms have remained oriented to the past, the term technology has evolved since its inception. We use this term to mean only the newest computer technologies often overlooking technologies that are typically present in the classroom: books, light switches, lightbulbs, floor and ceiling tiles, clocks, watches, and so on. Each of these aspects adds to the visuals, scents, sounds, and movements that provide students with information they, possibly subconsciously, need to negotiate. Shipka argues that a composition made whole recognizes a streaming interplay of these aspects in the classroom.
    Shipka’s arguments about the term technology and various aspects of writing classroom prompts readers to pay attention to the smallest details of the writing instruction and their possible effects. From instructor’s body language to their tone of voice, these aspects, whether consciously or subconsciously, influence students’ classroom experiences.
    So, my question is: how significant these aspects of the writing classroom? And to what degree, we, as instructors, can control them?


  7. In short, Shipka is making a case for a more holistic approach to composition, one that takes into account the variations in student, text, and audience, and how these facets interact and influence the writing process. Shipka describes the shortcomings of modern education in the wake of our rapidly evolving technology, which she believes has influenced these facets and the overall nature of composition in ways we take for granted. To accommodate these shifts, Shipka encourages classrooms to acknowledge the growing role of technology in the classroom, to recognize the freedom this provides in the composition process as opposed to “traditional” assignments and “traditional” writing, and to take advantage of this newfound flexibility by increasing student agency – and thus willing involvement – in the classroom.

    An important point for this approach is how technology has already, counter intuitively increased student interest in composition: platforms like social media and blogging have taught students to meaningfully interact through writing in a way that was previously limited to assigned academic writing; which has been a necessary, extensive part of education, and unfortunately is typically unappealing to students of non-English disciplines. Platforms like social media and blogging, on the other hand, lead students to write in their own time, on terms that suit them, and Shipka desires to bring this “energy and motivation” to the classroom. While previous methods of engaging students have involved targeting the students’ negative perceptions of composition, or providing extrinsic rewards for their involvement, Shipka argues for a flexible, holistic approach in the classroom that changes teaching methods and assignments instead of attempting to change students. Her rationale is that, as students have naturally become more affiliated with writing due to technological and cultural developments, educators must focus on creating an environment that appeals to these intrinsically motivated students, generally by providing more student agency and more freedom in the composition process.

    1) How will technology change our perceptions of authorship and audience?
    2) How can we create learning environments that draw intrinsically motivated students?


  8. Writing Process and Shoes

    I find the ballet shoes that one of Shipka’s students used as a canvas for a research paper quite intriguing. Equal parts creative and risky, this example of student composition helps spotlight the following question: Is writing (and the subsequent teaching of writing) about the process or final product? Shipka discusses this issue throughout the book, but I cannot help but feel skeptical. Not personally skeptical of using means other than a formal paper to conduct, draft, and revise a research essay, but skeptical that others in the world of academia will be inviting and accepting of such non-traditional practices. What will hinder most critics and skeptics is they will not be aware of all the work (research, drafting, etc.) that has led to the final draft/product. So my question is, if a student does all the necessary research, proofreading, and revisions, and happens to produce something other than a ten page paper, what is the goal of writing and composition?

    To paraphrase Donald M. Murray, writing should be about learning what it is you want to say about a certain subject. In essence, you write to learn what it is you have to say. Of course, there is a process involved, and you must do the required research and write a draft(s). But what if the final did not have to be a standard-length essay? That is what I enjoy most about Shipka’s Toward a Composition Made Whole. It breaks the conventions of composition – or at least the finished product.

    Over the seven years of my stay in higher-education, I have had but a handful of opportunities to complete an alternative assignment for the so-called Final for the course. However, I believe I completed only one alternative assessment because I just felt more comfortable writing another eight to ten page essay. When it comes down to the nitty-gritty of the semester, it was just better to play it safe and do what I know what to do: write a research paper. Perhaps there are others that feel the same if they are presented with such an opportunity. Besides, it is good practice if we were to ever submit an article to a conference or journal. Other modes of composition may not be as easily accepted or understood.

    I have been thinking about the audio essays for this class and how effective they were when played in class last week. Yes, they may have been less formal, but it seemed like many of us enjoyed crafting a new (to us) kind of composition. These alternatives to standard essays are but a new way to compose.


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