Review of Toward a Composition Made Whole by Jody Shipka

Reviewed by Brandy Dieterle, University of Central Florida

link to summary pagelink to introduction pagelink to Rethinking Composition and Processlink to Partners in Actionlink to Framework for ActionLink to Making Things Fitlink to Negotiating Differencelink to ConclusionLink to References

Chapter 3: A framework for action: Mediating process research

In this chapter, Jody Shipka (2011) focused on describing two process studies, looking particularly at "environment selecting and structuring practices" (p. 57) and "semiotic remediation practices" (p. 58) to reinforce her argument that we should be looking at the entire writing process. For one study, Paul Prior and Shipka interviewed 21 writers ranging from undergraduates to professionals. For the other study, Shipka interviewed 29 of her first-year composition students. The video included here depicts elements of one writer's process (Muffie) for the duration of a single assignment.

Shipka discussed Muffie's project.  

Environment Selecting and Structuring Practices: Shipka asked writers to develop two visual representations of their writing processes, one focusing on the primary spaces where writing occurred and the other on the whole writing process. The majority of these visual representations of space depicted the writer working alone, but the ones of the overall writing process were much messier and richer. Environment selecting and structuring practices often end up being motivational for writers, and some participants explained they needed to be in a particular space, eating certain snacks, listening to certain music, and so on. However, participants also explained how they navigated the constraints of environments or situations that were not ideal for their writing processes.

Semiotic Remediation Practices: To discuss semiotic remediation practices, which examine the various tools and strategies associated with composing, Shipka focused on one specific student of hers: Muffie. Muffie's project, a dance routine, told a story of one particular class period. Although a dance routine may not naturally seem like a form of composition, Muffie had to put a lot of effort into the project. For example, she recruited some of her dance major friends, came up with a song and dance, assigned dancers to particular students in her class, arranged practices, and more in just a little over a week's time. Muffie's ultimate goal was "to help her classmates better understand how bodies, like print-based texts, might be read and interpreted" (p. 77), and according to Shipka, Muffie accomplished her goal. For Muffie, writing was present over the course of the development of the project, even though it was not apparent in the final product.

When first hearing about a project such as Muffie's, it is easy to be skeptical. Like the critics of multimodal composition, I wondered how a dance routine could teach rhetorical skills. However, Shipka persuasively explained how much Muffie grew as a communicator because of this project. Muffie often felt very constrained as a writer, but being given such complete control over a class project allowed her to take something she was comfortable with, dance, and present it as a rhetorical activity. For the project, she had to document a class session, recruit friends, select a music track, develop a dance routine, and manage practices. While Muffie's actions are not traditionally seen as composition, she made significant choices that would impact the success of the final project. Individuals in the workplace may face choices similar to these, and for many teachers the ultimate goal is to prepare students for them. The case studies of student work are the most intriguing aspect of the book because they allow readers, particularly those interested in taking a multimodal approach, to see the theory Shipka presented in action.

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