Themes

    Even though many authors contribute to Multimodal Composition, several key themes are emphasized throughout. This further accentuates the notion introduced by Takayoshi and Selfe in Chapter One that the book’s authors are a unified team, devoted to supporting each other and the entire community of multimodal composition teachers. Below are a few of the themes that I feel the authors emphasize the most and are also most valuable to my understanding of multimodal composition.


Multimodal Composition is Rhetoric


    Emphasized many times is the concept that multimodal texts are in fact rhetorically based, which is why they belong in composition classrooms. Mickey Hess in Chapter Three, “Composing Multimodal Assignments,” suggests that “both teachers and students…undertake such work with the goal of thinking about what humans can accomplish when they use different modalities—and all available rhetorical means—to communicate as effectively as possible” (p. 30). In fact, a very useful table in Chapter 11 lays out some rhetorical issues and describes how they “cross forms” between alphabetic, audio, and video essays (p. 155). Also, in Chapter 9 entitled “Responding and Assessing,” Sonya C. Burton and Brian Huot assert, “Rhetorically based understandings of composition should drive and inform teachers’ approach to assessment in multimodal composition classrooms” (p. 99). With many educators and community members worried that students are not getting enough of the “basics,” it is important that the authors emphasize how multimodal composing does not distract from learning the foundations of rhetoric, but will instead “enrich the teaching of composition in general” (p. 5).


Collaborate


    A crucial element in the success of assigning and composing multimodal texts is collaboration, and the authors of Multimodal Composition describe various types of collaboration: between teacher and students, departments within a university, colleagues, administrators, writing center staff, technology personnel, and the community. The nature of the multimodal course must also be collaborative, with teacher and students learning from each other and creating assessments together. John Branscum and Aaron Toscano in Chapter Seven, “Experimenting with Multimodality,” emphasize the importance of a multimodal classroom as one in which “students exchange ideas, supportive strategies, and peer-responses” (p. 92).


Give Examples and Learn by Doing


    The authors recommend that teachers of multimodal composition give students many chances to view examples of multimodal projects and discuss and evaluate them based on rhetorical principles. The book contains many resources for finding examples to present to your class, and the DVD contains several audio and video essays. Also provided are examples of assignments in which students find multimodal texts on the web or from other sources and share them with the class. In addition, because it’s suggested that teachers themselves try at least a mini version of the multimodal assignments they give to their classes, they can also share their own projects with their students. In the afterword, Debra Journet, who observed Selfe’s graduate seminar, says, “The real fruits of the seminar were not just the products that the students completed but also, and perhaps more importantly, the embodied processes of composing, learning, and teaching that they practiced: learning by doing” (p. 191).


Digital Media Not Required


    For anyone afraid of digital technology or without sufficient access to it, Multimodal Composition also provides sample assignments that include choices not in digital form, such as comic strips, posters, etc. Although several of the authors emphasize this point, Takayoshi and Selfe make first note that “multimodal compositions are not dependent on digital media (although digital tools can often help authors who want to engage in multimodal work)” (p. 10).


Experiment and Be Flexible


    Probably the most important reminders for working with technology and within multiple modalities are to remain flexible and be willing to experiment. These themes are emphasized in the book in many places, but John Branscum and Aaron Toscano in Chapter 7 entitled “Experimenting with Multimodality,” do well at highlighting this principle. The upbeat tone of the chapter made it one of my favorites, with suggestions like keeping your cool when things go wrong and as they put it, “When everyone is stumped, take a deep breath, relax, and reboot!” (p. 85).


Cite, Cite, Cite!


    The authors also provide much information regarding where to find materials for students to use in their multimodal compositions and how these materials should be cited. Chapter Six by Iswari Pandey, “Saving, Sharing, Citing, and Publishing Multimodal Texts,” is another excellent chapter with a good deal of crucial information about intellectual property and copyright as well as referrals to many websites that discuss the issue further. One such site listed in Figure 6.7 on page 74, www.creativecommons.org, provides a search feature for finding “a wide range of free audio, video, and image files that students can use without charge in their own multimodal texts as long as they adhere to the artist’s/author’s conditions (as expressed by the Creative Commons license attached to a work)” (p. 75). This is the site I used to find the music and images for my multimodal project that can be viewed in the “Key Quotes” section of this review.

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