Class synthesis: Toward a Composition Made Whole by Jody Shipka

by Miranda M. Ardis & Adam Wilson

Based on our class discussion of Jody Shipka’s Toward a Composition Made Whole, there were several essential components for Shipka’s project:

  • Understanding composition’s historical context and its beginning: changing demographics of students entering into college
  • The argument for process: ignoring process has made us miss the entire project’s possibilities; Shipka asks her students (as part of the process) to reflect on:
    • What is their piece trying to accomplish?
    • What is their methodology/rhetorical approach towards the project?
    • Why did they choose this way of deconstructive composition?
  • The essential question: “what is good writing?” is no longer a question for Shipka
  • The split: The split between composition and communications requires us to consider what would have happened if they did not split? What would the communicative approach be if they were a cohesive discourse/ a dynamic whole?

The overview of Shipka’s project:

Jody Shipka’s project aims to show composition as a continual conversation, one that is open to debate for what the term ‘composition’ means. Shipka would argue it should certainly be multimodal, meaning that composition is no longer solely a written genre. Rather, composition aims to become all encompassing—textual, written, spoken, architectural, performance, etc. Shipka asserts that composition and the term ‘multimodal’ is often limited to the understanding of a digital mode of composing, and that when this happens, it immediately limits the agencies for composing. These agencies of mediational means rely on process, issues of relevancy (in other words, asking the students what matters to them), making meaning, and sociocultural implications in order to remediate the “old” way of thinking about composition.

Critiques of Shipka’s Project:

Several questions and critiques were raised during our class discussion of Toward A Composition Made Whole. The main critique of Shipka’s work was that assessment of student work could be troublesome if students are allowed to compose in any medium.  Shipka argues that tools like a SOGC (statement of goals and choices) cause students to go through the same rhetorical processes as in “normal composition,” and teachers can grade this accordingly.  However, it was argued in class that students might not go through these academic processes but rather just “give the teacher what they want.”  Similarly, the question was raised about whether teachers can successfully grade these projects on a single scale with the wide variety of products that they receive.  Another question raised in our discussion was whether Shipka’s method of teaching composition helps or hinders other academic writing and whether the methods learned through these processes can transfer to other discourses.  While the class agreed that Shipka’s methods are interesting and engaging, several of us questioned the bigger picture implications of what is learned.  A final question that was raised in our discussion was the possibility of a shift towards a more holistic composition being feasible with the “old” form of composition being so ingrained in most university writing programs.

Take-away thoughts:

After discussing critiques and questions about Shipka’s work, we concluded our discussion by talking about the notion and importance of “play” in the book. In composition, if there is play, like in Shipka’s multimodal approach, then it is possible that the monotony of composition can be put aside and that students may actually learn something from and have fun with their composition course.




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