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I think I’ve been doing multimodality wrong—or at least, I’ve been doing it the same way that I’ve always done it since I began teaching years ago. When creating opportunities for multimodality in the classroom, I have focused primarily on the outcome and how students can fulfill an assignment objective by incorporating multiple or alternate media in their final product. It only recently occurred to me, during a conversation with a student about her writing process and the challenges of stagnation, that multimodality might also be effectively integrated as part of the writing process, even if the final product looks like a traditional academic essay.
If creating multimodal texts helps communicate ideas in rhetorical ways tailored for particular audiences, then multimodal prewriting and revision activities may also help tailor the writing process for a writer’s individual needs, challenges, and strengths. The goal of the follow suggested multimodal writing activities is to encourage students to embrace the constructive value of multimodality during the drafting and revision processes, instead of just in its expressive value in an end product.
- Chapter 3: Exploring, Planning, and Drafting
- Chapter 4: Reviewing, Revising, Editing, and Reflecting
- Chapter 8: Reflecting
- Chapter 22: Making Design Decisions
- Chapter 6: Learning from Low-Stakes Writing
- Chapter 11: Creating Presentations
The following activities are merely suggestions to get you and your students thinking about how to incorporate multimodal writing into the writing process. There are countless options out there to which students may respond, and those options may also depend on your classroom, your schedule, and your assignments. I recommend that you follow up on these activities with a post-writing reflection component to encourage students to evaluate the effects of multimodal drafting and revision on their work.
- Free vlogging
For a multimodal twist on free writing, challenge students to set a ten minute timer and record themselves talking through their early ideas, questions, and/or issues related to their writing topic. As in written free writing, they should try to continue talking for the entire ten minutes—even if they run out of things to say or veer off topic. Not every minute of the video will be useful once they review the footage; however, by first verbalizing their ideas and subsequently evaluating them, students will gain a better perspective on where they’re at in the writing process, where the roadblocks and questions remain, and what they need to do to forge ahead.
In the reflection component, you might ask students to compare their experiences with traditional free writing and free vlogging: In what ways are each effective for you? Ineffective or challenging? How might you incorporate this activity in future writing projects?
- Interactive outlining
Many students are tied, for better or for worse, to traditional outlining because it was required in high school or middle school composition courses. Fans of the traditional outline might consider using Prezi to create an interactive outline that highlights the relationships between ideas through movement and visual connections.
For reflection, consider asking students to comment on the idea of “flow,” a buzzword often used in relation to writing and revision, but rarely defined. Interactive outlining may help students more clearly conceptualize what they mean by “flow” and how they might revise and reorganize their work to more effectively incorporate it into their final essay.
One of my greatest challenges as an instructor is not knowing what students do with or think about my written comments on their work. Part of the issue, I think, is that sometimes students don’t know what the comments mean or don’t take the time to adequately engage with the feedback before revising their work and submitting it.
Ask students to use a free, online text message conversation generator like https://ifaketextmessage.com/ to create a conversation between your written comments and their reactions, questions, and plans for revision, all texted from their phones. Encourage them to embrace the genre by using emojis, gifs, and discourse-specific language rules to create their responses. Doing so will force students to engage with each and every comment, better equipping them to create a plan for revision. In the post-writing reflection, ask students to think about the degree to which they incorporated your comments compared to previous feedback experiences.
The activities suggested here and the countless other opportunities out there for incorporating multimodality into the drafting and revision processes are easy to fit into your existing course structure because they can complement nearly any scheduled writing assignment. Instead of just giving students time to draft, encouraging (okay—requiring) them to try something new and different might help them adopt practices that actually work, rather than those which are merely familiar. Perhaps most importantly, utilizing multimodal composing in this way allows both you and your students to expand preexisting definitions of pre”writing” and create essays with more depth and creativity.
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