Creating Spaces for Strategic Contemplation:
A Collaborative Webtext
By David Maynard and Christine Denecker
Designed by Megan Adams
Strategic Contemplation and “Ask the Expert”
While Multiple Intelligences, multimodal composing, and invitational rhetoric should not be misread as different terminology for the same classroom phenomenon, their connections and overlap became more apparent to me as David and I continued our conversations and began contemplating the implications of his “Ask the Expert” project. David, a seasoned community college adjunct writing instructor with a Master’s degree in English Literature, came to the course (and to the assignment) with strong, practical experience in the teaching of writing. My hope was that the course would provide a theoretical framework through which he could view and then explain, as well as analyze, the on-going instructional work he engaged in on a daily basis. Likewise, the assignment, itself, as mentioned earlier, was meant to serve as a vehicle that would challenge David (and his classmates) to apply theories learned in the course as they analyzed the responses of a composition teacher of their choice who shared insights into how he/she approached writing instruction. And while David’s work exceeded assignment and course expectations in terms of theoretical application and technological craftmanship, it was the strategic contemplation and dialogic collaboration he and I engaged in that provided the most powerful learning opportunities. Our early, formative discussions revealed that David was less enamored than I with analyzing the merits and nuances of his completed assignment; instead, he became increasingly interested in a personal, cognitive dissonance that continued to dog him regarding the project. In these first instances when David began interrogating the rhetorical event of his work, I saw the potential for strategic contemplation to give both of us a framework and vocabulary for understanding the unexpected and unintended complexities he encountered.
As David’s reflection grew and deepened through our dialogic collaboration, I witnessed and participated in the “scholarly meditation” Royster and Kirsch (2012) describe as inherent to strategic contemplation. The authors explain scholarly meditation as an act, which “opens up spaces for observation and reflection, for new things to emerge, or, rather, for us to notice things that may have been there all along but unnoticed” (p. 658). This scholarly meditation includes “following unexpected leads, standing in silence, and allowing for chance discoveries and serendipity” (Royster and Kirsch, p. 89). In David’s case, he initially meditated on diverse questions regarding the nature of collaboration and authorship, the invisibility of technology, and the implications of utilizing Windows Movie Maker as well as the subsequent labor inequities of doing so, before turning more pointedly to questions of ethical intentionality and social implications of multimodal composing. David’s contemplation increased my own, and I began ruminating on principles of invitational rhetoric, dialogic collaboration, and what undergirded the pedagogical choices that led me to craft the “Ask the Expert” project in the first place.
Foss and Griffin (1995) suggest that invitational rhetors enter “interaction with a goal of not converting others to their positions but of sharing what they know, extending one another’s ideas, thinking critically about all the ideas offered, and coming to an understanding of the subject and of one another” (p. 8). Thus, David’s out-loud musings extended my own ideas about the assignment and led to a set of internal, rapid-fire questions: “Should I expect more from my students than theoretical application and multimodal construction in the ‘Ask the Expert’ assignment?”; “How might this assignment challenge students to become more cognizant of their choices, not just as rhetoricians, but as humans?”; “Am I limiting students’ potential for growth as rhetorical scholars by not carving out a space for strategic contemplation given the assignment’s current parameters?”; “Is David’s level of reflection anomalous, or do other students pose similar questions after completing this assignment, and I just have no current mechanism for knowing?”; “Am I slowing down enough to carefully and intentionally consider and re-consider the pedagogical choices I am making in this course?”
Ultimately, David’s strategic contemplation spurred my own, and I began to more carefully consider the intentionality of my pedagogical choices and particularly, the manner in which I integrated multimodal composition into my classroom. First and foremost, I saw the need to be more forthright when disabusing students of the notion that multimodal equates to digital. Second, I saw the need to lay the groundwork for classroom (and out-of-the classroom) discussions of the ethical implications of composition pedagogies that privilege the expansion of technological literacy.
Next Section: Lessons Learned