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 4: Making things fit in (any number of) new ways

Purposeful choosing, adaptation, and material flexibility are, according to Jody Shipka (2011), key components of "how material, social, geographical, technological, economic, institutional, and historical 'realitites' (or differences) impact what one is able to accomplish as well as the potentials one is able to imagine" (p. 84). This was what she advocated for throughout her book, using her mediated action framework to look at communication as a dynamic, multimodal whole instead of a select semiotic resource. Such a framework allows for flexibility without the instructor determining for students the various genres, media, and audiences of their course assignments. The students then must identify their own purposes, potentials, and contexts and also determine the most appropriate way to represent their work.

Shipka's Oxford English Dictionary assignment was just one of many described in her book. This assignment asked students to develop a project based on the OED history of a particular word. The Media Tree featured on her website provides an example of this assignment along with its goal statement, which is discussed in greater detail on the next page.

Taking such a pedagogical approach requires students to work differently than they are used to because, as Shipka explained, writing assignments oftentimes are not so open as those she was advocating. However, she argued that this inquiry-based approach asked students to shape their projects in a way that met the objectives of the assignment and the course instead of following step-by-step instructions for completing a written essay. Students tasked with making these sorts of rhetorical decisions, then, were better equipped with "meaning-making and problem-solving strategies" (p. 101).

Aware that this pedagogical approach to composition may be questioned, Shipka identified how she saw this framework achieving the goals of composition courses. She specifically mentioned that it asked students "to write, conduct research, and respond to complex social texts" (p. 102). Students were also writing for a purpose (of their choosing), writing for audiences and in rhetorical situations with particular genres, making use of technology, and so on. Finally, Shipka explained that students were still engaging in learning about process and revision.

Shipka also identified some challenges for and misconceptions about making use of her framework; students found the assignments to be time-consuming and frustrating and wrestled with final products that didn't look like traditional writing assignments. Also, "multimodal frameworks necessarily require new pedagogical approaches" (emphasis in original, p. 107).

Although Shipka took the time in this chapter to address the challenges and objections to adopting multimodal assignments like her own, one area where the book might have gone further is by providing practical advice for teachers needing to persuade adminstrators and others to allow multimodal course curricula. I have been lucky enough to find myself in universities that allow me to make use of multimodal assignments in my classrooms, but many other teachers still face the criticisms Shipka identified and may not have the opportunities to implement such a curriculum.

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