Toward a Composition Made Whole

Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh Press, 179 pp.




















As a whole, Toward a Composition Made Whole cautions against our field’s tendency to equate multimodality and technology with computer-based, digitalized artifacts and urges writing scholars to pay attention to the multiple overlapping times, spaces, materialities, and technologies of the composing process. These two calls frame the arguments in the subsequent chapters of the book.

Chapter one, "Rethinking Composition/ Rethinking Process," critiques previous research on the writing process for neglecting the embodied, spatial, multimodal, and technologically mediated aspects of writing and calls for a new method for studying the composing process, one that underscores the significance of space, time, material dimensions, modalities, bodily actions, technological choices, and social interactions. This approach, Shipka argues, will “illumine the fundamentally multimodal aspect of all communicative practice” (p. 39) and enables us to resist a logocentric conception of literacy and production of texts. 

Drawing upon theories of mind, action, and mediation, chapter two, "Partners in Action: On Mind, Materiality, and Mediation," details the framework behind Shipka’s pedagogy and the call in chapter one. It posits that human activities are always mediated by cultural tools; hence, we must examine human actions in concert with the tools. Our mediated actions reflect four characteristics: they 1) fulfill multiple goals, 2) are enabled and constrained by cultural tools (affordances and limitations of the instrument), 3) has historical context, 4) transform current practices and give rise to new ones. Following these theoretical assumptions, Shipka seeks to avoid research and instruction that treat text, technology, reader, and writer as discrete components, urging scholars to examine their connection and relationship in depth.  top of page

Chapter three, "A Framework for Action: Mediating Process Research," illustrates how to apply the framework in the previous chapter to research the composing process. To study students' writing process, Shipka asks participants to draw several visual representations of how they write, taking into account place, time, and tools. She then interviews them about the drawings, encouraging them to elaborate on the visual details. Through this method, Shipka believes she is able to trace “the full range of psychological and technical tools that are taken up, combined and transformed throughout the composing process” (p. 79) and attend to “multimodal, blended, and remediated aspects” of writing (p. 64). top of page

Chapter four, "Making Things Fit in (Any Number of) New Ways," presents an activity-based pedagogy for teaching multimodal composition, one that fosters play, purposeful choosing, and rhetorical sensitivity. This pedagogy does not privilege certain ways of knowing, learning, or modality over others. The instructor does not predetermine the form of the final product; students are given the opportunity to compose in any genre, modality, and medium of their choice—print, digital, or non-digital. They take full responsibility for defining and justifying the mode, purpose, potentials, context, resources, and methodologies of their project. This, however, does not mean anything goes. Students are required to engage in critical thinking and research in order to generate sound arguments that exhibit rhetorical awareness and intellectual sophistication. To foster this, Shipka provides careful scaffolding that helps writers plan their composing options, analyze the advantages and limitations of various modalities and materialities, research sources, and develop strong arguments. Learners take into account the objectives, audience, strategies, and context of their projects. Much complex rhetorical decision making is required. Through this scaffolding, Shipka believes students not only come to learn argumentation, research, rhetorical principles, and thinking skills, they also gain greater awareness about the affordances of different modalities and technologies. Ultimately, they learn how to rhetorically engineer “texts” appropriate for a rhetorical situation. top of page

Realizing that the open-ended, activity-based pedagogy will likely pose a grading challenge for instructors, chapter five, "Negotiating Rhetorical, Technological, and Methodological Difference," offers a flexibleheuristic for evaluating multimodal composition in any format. This heuristic does not consist of specific criteria. Rather, Shipka asks students to submit a “statement of goal and choices” (SOCG) along with their final project in which they define the purpose, context, and audience of their work; detail and justify their selections; explain how their choices serve the overall goals of the project; and evaluate how the choices made allowed them to accomplish the goals other combinations of choices would not have. Using SOGC, the instructor assesses the final project in relation to the composing process, specifically taking into account the elaborate rhetorical decision making procedures that students undertook. Shipka explains that this assessment approach allows instructors to delimit the writer’s project options, while being able to evaluate her/his rhetorical competence at the same time. top of page

The final chapter, "Conclusion: Realizing a Composition Made Whole," presents strategies for addressing counter-objections against the instructional approach that the book is advocating. It urges instructors to demonstrate to skeptics that the pedagogy engages students in traditional academic writing skills like research, claiming making, and focusing and organizing arguments; stress the complex rhetorical decision required to produce the final project; and highlight that in the end, students learn to choose their communicative channels/options wisely, critically and purposefully in a rhetorically informed manner. top of page




Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Final Chapter


Reviewed by Chanon Adsanatham

Shipka, Jody. (2011).