Wednesday, November 15, 2017


You guys, I've neglected this poor little blog of mine so terribly, but it's not for lack of interest. I have so much I want to say and write and post here, but the issue is time, like always. Still, I needed to give myself a break from all the crazy term paper writing and grading I'm in the middle of this month, so I'm popping by to write a few of those swirling thoughts down.

Also, I've got a little treat of a guest post in the pipeline for you, which you really ought to be excited about (I know I am).

Anyway, what I wanted to talk about today was composition. I teach a course that is sometimes referred to as "Freshman Composition," and in my practicum course we do a lot of talking and reading and theorizing about what "composition" means. The biggest thing we talk about is how composition isn't just about words or writing. Composition happens in many modes: visual/picture, sound/speech/music, body/gestural, and spatial/design. This means there is a move in composition courses to emphasize not just writing, but projects that involve all of these modes.

In fact, my students right now are in the middle of creating multi-modal projects. For this assignment, they were required to make an argument in a way that involves two or more "modes" of composition. Many of them are choosing to make videos, but I'm getting a lot of PowerPoint presentations, some picture books, photo essays, and one student is even making a blog.

This has kind of been a shift in thinking for me about what a freshman writing course should be. I mean, I get teaching writing. I'm comfortable teaching writing. I kind of thought that's what I signed up to do.

But video editing?

Photo composition?

Heck, even PowerPoint?

I'm totally out of my depth.

There's this old school, born-before-the-internet, averse-to-change side of me that's like "This is not what writing is!!! Can't we teaching writing in a writing class and leave all this technology/visual/mode stuff to tech people? Artists? Graphic designers? That's not me!"

But there's another side of me, this side that blogs and writes on the internet, that totally understands and is actually excited by this move. See, here's how the argument goes: Composition happens in all of these modes, but they've only been taught to the masses insofar as technology has allowed the masses access to these modes. The technology for writing just happened first. We got pencils and papers in such a cheap place that the masses could all be taught how to write (and technically, to draw too. It actually used to be much more common for people, especially women, to learn how to draw well.). But now technology has developed to such a point that every one of us is walking around with these devices in our pockets that can compose in all these other modes. It can take pictures. It can record video. It can edit. It can record sound. You can even do certain kinds of graphic design.

And now that this technology has become so ubiquitous, it kind of only makes sense that we begin teaching how to compose in all of these modes. I see this with my students. I can write an essay without blinking an eye, but edit a video? Haha. But the vast majority of my students are far more comfortable putting together these highly sophisticated videos than they are with any of the written assignments I've given them so far. It's put me in a bit of an awkward position, where my students are the experts on how to do the assignment, and I'm the amateur (worse than amateur). It's humbling.

But all this discussion about composing in different modes has made me see my five-year-old's play in a new light too. He is a composer. It was his drive to write stories that inspired his interest in learning to read (totally backwards of most children, who are interested in reading first and then learn how to write.) He still writes quite a bit, but his recent passion has been making movies. His imaginative play is all about practicing for his "movies" that he's going to make. He's constantly using my phone to take pictures and record videos (I never have space for the photos I want to take because of his creations). Luckily he has a wonderful father who's far less of a neophyte than I am, and who makes movies with him on Saturday mornings. They started out with stop motion photography on an app, but have since progressed to green-screens and special effects (see below, one of their first attempts, which is by no means professional, but pretty impressive to me). Friday night movie night is now less about the story of the movie, and more about how the movie was made (he was fascinated when we pulled out Honey I Shrunk the Kids a few months ago, and still talks about the sets and the "movie magic" that made that film possible).

I don't know if this means he's going to grow up to be a film producer or movie director. Maybe, maybe not. But I do know he's going to grow up completely understanding that stories and information can be communicated in many different modes, and he will be able to compose in any of them because of technology.

Also, he's definitely getting his own digital camera from Santa this year. Because I want my phone back.

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