Multimodal Mondays: Radically Revising the Composition Classroom

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This blog was originally posted on March 2nd, 2015.

Today’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn.

I have been thinking quite a bit about my amazing colleague, mentor, teacher, friend – Wendy Bishop.  Although Wendy is no longer with us, her voice still ripples  through composition studies and whispers in my head as I carry on the many lessons she taught me (and a slew of others) in her short, prolific life.   Wendy’s impact on composition studies is vast and she authored many books and articles, but she is well known for the ways she blended and blurred the boundaries between creative and critical writing.

Way back in 1995 she introduced me to the term, Radical Revision, which she defined as an act of revision in which writers re-see their ideas through new perspectives.  The idea of radical revision encouraged students to use ideas generated in an essay or writing project and recast them in a different format, genre or perspective.  She asked students to produce a second version of their writing that was different while clearly growing out of their first version. They were not instructed to produce an entirely different text that is only tangentially related to the first—which is not a revision at all—but a recognizable version of the first paper that has been “radically” changed (Alternate Style).

I modified (or radically revised) this assignment and had students move even further as they reshaped more traditional essays into visual representations that combined multimodal elements to re-see their ideas in new ways.   I wrote an article on these experiences in 1997 as part of Bishop’s edited collection, Elements of Alternate Style:  Essays on Writing and Revision*.   In my essay, “Distorting the Mirror: Radical Revision and Writers’ Shifting Perspectives,”  I discussed revision as invention and the relationship between form and content as rhetorical impact.

At the time we wrote these texts, the title Alternate Style called up assignments that stood outside the “normal” framework for teaching and needed their own book and place.  Today, the concept of alternate style and radical revision are reframed through multimodal lenses as new digital forms and audiences are central to the concept of multimodal composition.  These ideas are no longer lurking behind the curtain and considered “radical” but are essential to current composition pedagogy.   This is an exciting time for those of us who teach writing and ask students to regularly blend creative and critical expression as they explore the relationships and rhetorical connections between the textual, visual, and other digital content and forms.

Today, as I talk about radical revision, I am called back to re-see many things in my own teaching history.  I realize and have always considered the act of teaching and writing themselves as continuous acts of revision.  I would like to suggest that the term Radical Revision is important for teachers of writing today looking to bring multimodal composition into their writing classes.  We radically revise our writing classrooms and assignments in new ways and through new perspectives on digital culture and through the integration of digital writing projects.  As some teachers fear, this does not necessarily mean throwing out tried and true assignments and classroom activities in favor of new replacements.  Instead it involves going back to these assignments and seeing the ways we can radically revise them and still maintain the important composition theories and practices that make for strong, rhetorically appropriate communication in new contexts.

Once I realized that I was radically revising my teaching and writing assignments through these digital lenses, I was able to productively extend assignments that I have successfully used over the years.  An example of one of these assignments was detailed in an earlier Multimodal Mondays post in which I took the assignment of the Literacy Autobiography and had students recast it through the creation of a digital, visual, interactive timeline.  The assignment also asked them not only to return to traditional definitions of literacy but to radically revise their notions of literacy within digital contexts and to recast their ideas in a new, multimodal form.

I have many colleagues who are radically revising their writing classrooms through this multimodal lens. I am interested in seeing how other teachers have taken on this challenge and have come to see traditional assignments in new ways.  In another one of my Multimodal Monday posts, I wrote about the concept of Lifehacking.   As I explain in that post, lifehacking is a phrase that “describes any advice, resource, tip or trick that will help you get things done more efficiently, effectively” or in a way that addresses everyday problems or issues in an “inspired or ingenious manner.”   Like the concept of radical revision, teachers have had to find hacks that help students re-see their ideas through the lenses of multimodal composition.  Although some teachers are hesitant to make these shifts because they feel they are hard pressed to let go of the tried and true, I have talked to many teachers who have revised their writing classrooms through teaching hacks in which they radically revise their assignments through simple digital extensions and multimodal projects.

Call for Perspectives

Over the next couple of weeks I plan to venture out and get some “comp-on-the-street perspectives” and talk to my colleagues and collect their best teaching hacks for enriching their curriculum through multimodal assignments and digital literacies.  I encourage others reading this post to send me your best teaching hacks @ as well.  In my next post, I will share some what I learn through these multimodal teaching hacks.

Although some of these assignments involve multiple steps and processes, for this project I am looking for quick, radical revisions that can help teachers shift their perspectives and easily integrate digital forms and thinking into their composition classrooms.  Each description should be no longer than one or two paragraphs (remember – the lifehack format calls for short, efficient methods).  Include a short reference to the original assignment and the way you “hacked” it for the multimodal composition classroom. I am going to look for assignments that productively blend the creative and the critical through simple shifts that demonstrate the kind of radical revision in its truest sense.  Stay tuned for what I turn up through this exploration.

*Bishop, Wendy. Elements of Alternate Style: Essays on writing and revision. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Guest blogger Kim Haimes-Korn is a Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Kennesaw State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning, critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy and think deeply about way too many things.  She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity.  You can reach Kim at or visit her website:

Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to for possible inclusion in a future post.

About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.