Reading Notes for “Thinking about Multimodality” by Takayoshi and Selfe

Reading Notes: Takayoshi and Selfe                                          Ed Lessor

Key Terms and Concepts

The essay is a straight forward endorsement for embracing multi-modal approaches in Composition Courses. The author’s offer five points in support of the basic claim that Composition needs to keep up with emerging technologies: 1. In an increasingly technological world, students need to be experienced and skilled in both reading and composing in multiple modalities. 2. The definition of “composition” must grow and adapt if the field is to remain relevant. 3. Authoring multimodal texts is engaging to students. 4. Multimodal composition requires attention to rhetorical principles of communication. 5. Teaching multimodality is a pathway to pedagogical goals consistent with progressive principles of education. The essay ends with five critical questions that are often asked by traditional composition faculty when the subject of multimodalism is discussed.

Student Reception
I find “Thinking about Multimodality” to be a great introduction to bringing multimodal approaches into composition courses. I think the students appreciate that the piece is written for teachers of composition—they feel like they are getting a peak behind the curtain! I usually have my students read and respond to the five main points in the first half of the essay. We save the “Five Key Questions” for our class discussion. After we have gone through a brief discussion of the “real” world need that students have for multimodality in an increasingly technological workplace we are able to discuss the expectations that the students bring into the class (I assign this one very early on.) The second main claim of the essay, that composition instruction needs to grow and change with the times if it is to remain relevant, generally leads to an interesting discussion. I bring in a bit of the history of Composition Studies in the 70’s and 80’s as an example of how the field has shifted away from an analysis of literary texts into writing that is more central to the needs of students. It is always interesting to hear the range of expectations that students have about what they should be learning in their composition courses.

Unit Goals
I teach this essay very early on in the semester. My overriding goal for teaching this one is to demonstrate the importance of multimodalism in the contemporary writing classroom, and to address the concerns of students that we are straying from the “true” path of a college level writing course. When we discuss how the production of multimodal texts is demanding, but also engaging to the students there is always one student that sees this as pandering—this makes for an interesting conversation as well. They seem to be fairly clear about how multimodal texts require attention to rhetorical principles that we would focus on in any type of composition classroom, but they do seem to feel that it is somehow easier to work with visual and audio argument (they generally lose this resistance once we begin to analyze those modes!). The question of larger pedagogical goals is a useful one to discuss early on in the course—I think many of my students are surprised that we think about teaching at such a theoretical level and are a bit suspicious of this! After we have talked through the responses that the students have come up with for the reading, we then turn to the five questions section at the end. I find it interesting that many of the students that have negative or reactionary takes on the essay see their concerns reflected in this section. The key fear expressed by my classes about multimodalism in the course is that it is displacing the actual work of “writing arguments” that they feel they have signed up for. The discussion in the final section addressed many of these concerns in a very direct manner. I find that after we go through this essay in some detail that the resistance to multimodal argument on a theoretical level is greatly reduced. There is still a bit of a struggle when it comes to the production of multimodal texts, but this tends to take a more practical direction rather than a dismissal of what we attempting to do with multimodalism in the course.

Course Goals: This essay aligns well with many of the general course goals for CO 300:

Extend knowledge of rhetorical concepts, demonstrated by a student’s ability to:

  • Read and discuss theoretical texts from rhetoric, discourse studies, communication, and related disciplines
  • Analyze texts reflecting disciplinary/professional/specialized discourse
  • Compose effective arguments in different genres (such as academic and public media) and different modes (such as alphabetic, auditory, and visual modes, as well as multimodal texts that combine these strategies) designed to achieve multiple and specific purposes for multiple and specific audiences
  • Reflect on the synthesis and communication of knowledge in alternate modes of composition

Extend experience in composing processes, demonstrated by a student’s ability to:

  • Critique one’s own compositions and the compositions of others
  • Evaluate sources for accuracy, relevance, credibility, reliability, and bias

Extend mastery of argumentative conventions, demonstrated by a student’s ability to:

  • Adapt genre, mode, and other compositional choices to meet audience and purpose
  • Focus and sustain arguments in different modes using effective arrangement
  • Select, evaluate, and integrate appropriate evidence for multiple genres, modes, and rhetorical situations
  • Anticipate and address audience questions and objections