In “Can Teaching, of all Things, Prove to be our Salvation?” Kurt Spellmeyer makes the interesting assertion that there exists a disconnect between the world which students live in and the world that is preserved and transfered through institutionalized knowledge. Students need a cultural literacy – an understanding of the contemporary society and world – in order to address problems and possible solutions. However, especially at research institutions, most faculty are less likely to focus on the multidisciplinary specializations and teaching qualifications it takes for an instructor to be able to educate students in these types of cultural literacies. The one area in the university that might be best suited for teaching students cultural literacies, and preparing them to analyze the world around them and present solutions to problems, is the composition classroom.

Spellmeyer recounts that after years of work, a program at Rutgers was finally designed which allowed students in introductory composition classes to be able to learn about such contemporary matters as gender, human rights, genetic engineering, environmental issues, global trade, and other issues. Importantly, these classes both taught students how to write and also taught them how to gain a cultural literacy for making sense of the world around them and preparing them for the type of global and local problems they might face in the future. Thus, the composition classroom emerges as a space where the limits of traditional knowledge in academia can be transcended in order to provide students with the literacy they will need in world they live in.


In “Portfolio Standards for English 101” Douglas D. Hesse discusses the criteria which distinguishes the different grades on portfolios. Since a portfolio is a collection of drafts, revisions, and reflections, not only the final product is evaluated, but the process is also examined. The following review of A-F level portfolios represents only a selection of the elements on which a portfolio is evaluated:

An “A” level portfolio – This portfolio will represent a student’s ability to handle any type of rhetorical situation an undergraduate might encounter. The writing is ambitious, fresh, and demonstrates a well-read understanding of situations. Interpretations are in-depth and explained in such a way that the gap between writer and reader is bridged. Both local and global revisions are effectively enacted.

A “B” level portfolio – This portfolio suggests that that student will be able to perform many of the rhetorical situation that an undergraduate would encounter. These writings are less ambitions than “A” level writings, but still demonstrate an ability of the writer to express mature, logical, supported claims. “B” level portfolios incorporate personal ideas, insights, and readings, but do so less smoothly or appropriately than “A” level portfolios. Local and global revisions are well-done, but rarely move past direct teacher or peer comments.

A “C” level portfolio – This portfolio shows the writer is working towards becoming competent in a variety of rhetorical situations. “C” level writers tend to be less perceptive than “B” level writers, and this is demonstrated, in part, through less awareness of audiences outside the classroom. This portfolio seems “standard”, with course materials integrated, yet, little outside readings. Revisions are mainly in one area and lack moving beyond draft comments.

A “D” level portfolio – This portfolio shows the writer’s inability to work with a variety of rhetorical situations. It shows the writers inability to reflect on their work and make necessary adjustments. There may be gaps in logic and little understanding of audience expectations. Claims are basic and support is minimal. While there may be limited local revisions, the portfolio demonstrates that these do not substantially improve papers.

A “F” level portfolio -This portfolio shows the writer’s inability to write for various aims and shows difficulties in most rhetorical situations. The writing is rarely appropriate for the audience. Claims are unsupported. The writer shows that they had difficulty with reading and understanding course materials. There is little evidence of revision.

In “Techno-Pedagogical Explorations: Toward Sustainable Technology-Rich Instruction,” Dickie Selfe discusses how to appropriately integrate technology-rich instruction and activities into the classroom. He realizes that all technology-rich pedagogy is experimental; therefore, he suggests strategies to control and generatively use the instabilities of working with technology in the classroom.

For example, he encourages using threaded on-line discussions, but adds that instructors must make the expectations of these posts clear and incorporate the conversations into class-time discussions. Also, he encourages teachers to create open exchanges with students and allow them to know that technology work is often experimental, so the instructor appreciates student involvement and feedback which can be provided, in part, through e-mail listservs. While technology should never solely drive the class, it is, nonetheless, a beneficial tool for allowing students to achieve rhetorical goals, such as publishing works and interacting with real audiences, as well as providing students with various multimodal composition opportunities. Often, technology exercises need to be sequenced so that they are not just one-time projects, but rather they scaffold learning to culminating assignments.

Overall, Selfe suggests that instructors take a PAR approach to teaching with technology – one where the instructor (P) prepares a lesson and prepares students for that lesson; (A) engages in the activity and asks if there are any problems with the activity; and (R) reflects on the outcome of the lesson or activity and how it can be used.

In closing, Selfe suggests that instructors keep in mind the goal of creating critical consumers of information, as well as opening lines of communication between different disciplines that might be able to help with these technology-rich projects.

The WPA’s “Outcomes for First-Year Composition” attempts to provide a document which regulates the type of outcomes the should be expected from first year composition classrooms. It provides both a list of expectations of what students should know by the end of their first year composition course, as well as suggestions on how students can build these skills. The expectations and suggestions include:

– Rhetorical Knowledge: know how to focus on a purpose; write to a specific audience; respond to different rhetorical situations; etc. Suggestion: teach writing applicable to students’ fields

– Critical thinking, reading, and writing: be able to integrate the the individual’s and others’ ideas; understand the relationship between language, power, and knowledge; understanding writing as a process; etc. Suggestion: use writing as a critical thinking tool

– Processes: work through multiple drafts; use flexable writing plans and processes; be able to critique self and others’ works; etc. Suggestion: working in stages to achieve final results

– Knowledge of conventions: learn documentation, formatting, genre conventions, and surface features; etc. Suggestion: teach conventions applicable to students’ fields

– Composing in electronic environments: write in electronic environments; use and critique electronic research sources; understand rhetorical strategies from electronic texts; etc. Suggestions: engage in electronic writing, research, and dissemination of work

In “Writing with Video: What Happens When Compostion Comes Off the Page?”, Maria Lovett, James P. Purdy, Katherine E. Gossett, Carrie A. Lamanna, and Joseph Squier look at how UIUC’s “Writing with Video” undergrad composition course works to meet the needs of students that are expected to live and work in a society of multimodal communications. Specifically, “Writing with Video” looks at the way that narrative is written and produced in visual mediums. However, the classroom also integrate more traditional alphabetic forms of writing through journal, research, and response assignments. The process of editing, compiling, assembling, and making rhetorical choices is present in both written and video assignments. Thus, both the written and the visual work together to allow students access to multimodal forms with which to raise students’ awareness of video’s role in rhetorical work. Moreover, this process allows students the tools to critically engage and critique visual multimodal forms. Overall, “Writing with Video” presents a WAC model for engaging with new media through an interdisciplinary approach that can be integrated into the composition classroom. Pedagogically, such projects are able to engage a variety of students with various backgrounds in order to challenge students’ to analyze how meaning is made in visual texts, as well as allowing students the space to compose their own collaborative, cross-disciplinary video production.

In the “Prologue” and “Openings” to his dissertation, “Multimodality and Composition Studies, 1960 – Present,” Palmeri argues that we need to do more than teach students to compose written text; we need to teach them to be multimodal compositionists. In order to do this, instructors do not have to turn away from the more-traditional composition theory, but to keep in mind the way that these theories try to articulate all communication as a multimodal process, even though they may still privilege the written text. Therefore, Palmeri re-reads expressivist, cognitive, and social composition theories from the 60s, 70s, and 80s to see how multimodal texts are addressed in these works.

Even as Palmeri identifies a tradition of work that engages multimodal composition, he points out that there are still obstacles and resistance to teaching visual and audio literacies and composition components in the university composition classroom. However, he argues that to be literate in the contemporary world, the ability to compose and read multimodal representations is essential. Moreover, students may come to the classroom with multimodal literacy that the teacher limits to producing alphabetic compositions. Therefore, teachers must inclusively encourage students to use their multimodal literacy and guide them in how these text can be used to ethical and social purposes. Such multimodal productions will not necessarily detract from the student’s ability to produce alphabetic writing, but actually might enhance it.

“Why Teach Digital Writing?” more accurately addresses HOW to teach digital writing, as it includes sections on “how technology changes writing practices,” “changed contexts for writing,” “a rhetorical view of writing,” “(some) conclusions” and “references.” The “introduction” states the central assertion that computers are not only tools for writing, but fundamentally change the writing process and create a new space for writing. Thus, a new theory for digital writing needs to be articulated, which, in part, realizes that composition must be taught on computers and must integrate new pedagogies that use multimodal tools in digital space.

All sections of this multimodal text reiterate the fact that students must be prepared for both electronic production and distribution of work. And this means that (often resistant) composition instructors need to provide students with tools for dealing with these expectations. The space of instruction is not only in the composition computer lab, but also in the wider space of interconnected, networked technologies. Thus, the rhetorics that currently define traditional writing are not able to define this new context of multimodal computer composition, and a new definition of rhetoric needs to take into account the way that the process, product, and reception of writing occurs with technology. In this new technology-rich writing environment, pedagogy must adjust to take in to account multimodal approaches to writing, while promoting a critical consciousness of technology, social situations, and cultural conceptions.

In “Multimodalities,” Gunther Kress argues that a variety of modes of communication (such as visual, music, movement) have become prevalent in public spheres and need to be accounted for in our theories of communication. He asks that all communication and language be re-thought as a multimodal phenomenon, which problematizes our current reductive conceptions of sight for reading and hearing for speech. Even speaking or reading require a multimodal approach which take into account touch, sight, sound, tone, and expression.  Kress also stresses the fact that we not only “read” multimodal language information, we also “use” it. Thus, all language is implicated in a process of consumption. Just as we read books as texts, we can also read objects as multimodal texts where use is important. Also, when abstract ideas are difficult to express in traditional language, humans may use all multimodal forms available such as pictures, music, movement, etc. in order to communicate an idea which is then used in a specific way. Importantly, visual and verbal narratives embrace different forms of sequencing and involve different criteria in order to be fully understood.  Therefore,  multiplicities of literacies must be developed in order to competently read communications in a multimodal world.

NCTE’s “Guideline on Multimodal Literacies” generally states that using multiple, interdependent modes of communication and expression (such as music, art, writing, technology, etc.) in the classroom can equate to better learning environments for students. They cite that such interdependent, multimodal types of learning come naturally to young learners, yet testing and disciplinary curriculum impoverishes them from these learning environments and invokes independent learning, although, collaboration is often needed for multimodal works. Also, even though children are able to read multimodal works well, they may need help in developing meaning and understanding underlying concepts. Thus, forms of holistic assessment should account for this process.

Because of students’ exposure to popular medias and multimodal products, they are currently expected to be able to function is a society by reading and composing these types of texts which blur traditional concepts of author, genre, and linearity. Because of exposure to multimodal composition, some young students may know more about these technologies than teachers, but they still need instruction in how to create multimodal compositions that creatively works for democratic purposes. Thus, students need to learn how to use multimodal productions for composition, writing, design, and distribution of information.

In “Cross-Curricular Underlife: A Collaborative Report on Ways with Academic Words,” Worth Anderson, Cynthia Best, Alycia Black, John Hurst, Brandt Miller, Susan Miller (a teacher and five students) undertake a study which looks at student motives for taking various composition classes and concludes that the strategies the students adopted in composition/English classes did not match the strategies that would be used in later public and private endeavors. The article includes the students’ own individual observations about both composition and non-composition classes that they took, as well the relationship between these classes. From these observations, the students draw a variety of conclusions. For example, Cynthia found that the strategies she learned in her composition class only helped in classes where instructors “taught” (things such as reading and writing) and did little to help her with what she perceived as the larger part of classes, independent learning outside the classroom. In another instance, Brandt found that the composition classes did not prepare him for the type of language used in other college courses, such as technical fields. In its entirety, the study found that the composition class did well at teaching what it was intended to teach – writing, language learning, and audience – but did little else to prepare students for the type of discipline-specific assignments and expectations they would encounter in other university course work. The students had trouble transferring what they learned in composition to these other settings and had to develop new techniques to deal with discipline-specific situations.

et cetera