For far too long educators have hidden behind their basal’s and state tests. They preach the 5-paragraph-essay because it “works” and gives the “best results.” They often claim they offer choice which normally looks like having students decide between two prompts and using a five-paragraph essay to respond. Enough is enough.
Unfortunately as an educational community we have praised even celebrated these educators, when their test scores rocket. Administrators place these educators on pedestals… for mediocre writing instruction. The American education system are creating children who can formulaically write (also read and solve math … but that’s for another time) but are not allowing for students to create authentic writing.
What is authenticity in writing? In Amanda Montgomery’s book “A Place to Write” she describes authentic writing as two fold. “Authenticity in writing has to be both a personal relevance to students coupled with writing that is beyond a letter grade.” Students need to see themselves in their writing to produce authentic writing. Students also need low stake writing opportunities to make writing more than just a check list. So how does this vicious cycle die?
As stated before the idea of choice is not enough– educators need to create writing culture that reflects the writing our students see in the world outside the four walls of school.
“Suppose that we designed a curriculum in composition that prepared students to become members of the writing public and to negotiate life. How might alter what we do?” (Coppla, 2020)
Creating Space for Student’s Multimodality
Voice and choice has been preached for years. Even teacher’s that haven’t created a safe and sacred writing space use this language. So how can educators really provide voice and choice?
- We listen to our students
What does this look like? It’s taking time to listen to how students PREFER to compose. As Coppla argues in her book Writing Defined, “Not all students find exclusively alphabetic composition to be the most efficient, appropriate, or engaging mode of composition through which to share their thoughts, ideas, and stories.” Educators need to take time to create a classroom culture where students voices are elevated. It starts with asking a simple question
What sort of writing do you see and hear? What sort of writing do you like to ingest?
One can argue that if we empower and embolden our students to share their voices and stories that they will leave our classrooms as writers through an array of compositional processes.
2. Wake up call
Educators also need a wake up call. As teacher’s and adults what media and writing do we consume daily? If honest with oneself rarely if ever do adults consume 5-paragraph-essays on a daily basis. According to the Pew Research Center 20% of adults say they consume their news from social media, 33% from online websites, 26% from radio, 44% from television… and a measly 16% from the printed newspaper. So what is authentic writing outside of the classroom if it ISN’T a 5-paragraph essay?
Educators need expose their students to writing they consume in the world outside of their school buildings… and the resounding name for this writing is multi-modality writing. Multimodality is writing which explores audio, visual, the arts.
Multimodality has many benefits but one of the biggest being that it is writing composition that our students already have. It is literacy that they consume outside of the classroom and something that they are familiar with. When students are given the freedom to express their thoughts with choice in modality it may ignite a spark that cannot be diminished.
Multimodal for Dummies
So where to begin?
Digital tools: Setting up a multimodal classroom requires patience and a learning spirit. Educators will need to take time to teach digital tools. It is surprising how quickly students pick up new digital tools as well as already have a basis of understanding. Students need time to explore and become experts. This is when the playing comes back into the classroom. Create and make messy mistakes.
Makers space: Students need room to create. Considering writing space is a key to a multimodal classroom. Is the space authentic? Educators may consider taking students outside the classroom either digitally or physically for inspiration as well as creating an ascetically pleasing classroom which inspires creativity.
Mentor Texts: Some mentor texts to consider when bringing in multimodality into the classroom: Social media, texting, podcasts, radio broadcasts, scripts, picture books, photo essays, movies, youtube videos, comics, the list goes on…
As educators considering multimodality we need to ask as Coppola questions at the end of her book, “who are the gatekeepers of writing? What do you notice about these people?” Is the educational community allowing a test to dictate our students voices? The time is now to allow authentic voice and choice into the classroom.
Will you join me?