Boston, Cohn, McKittrick, Snead, “Current Conversation on Multimodal Assignments and Assessments”

Boston, Cohn, McKittrick, and Snead offer a review of four books dealing with multimodality, multimodal assessment, and/or writing assessment (generally): Arola & Wysocki’s edited collection composing (media) = composing (embodiment); Shipka’s Toward a Compostion Made Whole; Neal’s Writing Assessment and the Revolution in Digital Texts and Technologies; and Elliot & Perelman’s edited collection, Writing Assessment in the 21st Century.

Looking across these books, they pull out notable patterns that signal where assessment is going. They split their patterns in a couple categories:

Composing practices: the reviewers note that these books arrive at a consensus that students are composing in rich, multimodal writing environments outside of the classroom, across a variety of new media; such writing isn’t just across digital media, but across all material, textual and semiotic resources (Shipka). But such writing isn’t happening in the classroom. The consequence of which is that students are not counting such writing as ‘real writing,’ marking a gap between writing inside and outside of the classroom (Neal). Further, reviewers also draw attention to a lack of agreement about the best means of assessing such work—in fact, such debates still exist for traditional writing.

Theory: the reviewers also unpack some of the theoretical groundwork laid out among these authors. Shipka, for example, encourages more attention to “‘the larger forces that affect the writer and of which that writer is a part’ (Dobrin). Broadening the focus in composition to include communication practice as a whole, rather than a narrow focus on essayistic literacy, results in a natural incorporation of multimodality” (69). Neal also argues for a unified validity framework a means of moving forward.

Identity: “writers construct identity with every composing choice they make…choices in medium, design, and instruments all implicitly reflect a writer’s personal values” (70). As Arola and Wysocki write, “we see ourselves in what we produce” (25, Boston et al 70). Further, attention to media also allows us to recognize how identity is “enabled or consrained by the mediational means or cultural tools employed” (71). Our actions, selves, and expectaions—thus—are “shaped through our interaction with human and nonhuman resources” (71).

Pedagogy: “how can instructors encourage their students to work in multiple modes when standardized testing forces students to deliver their writing in prescribed, linear, text-based modes?” (72). Pedagogy, then, should encourage students to engage in composing that highlights students multiliteracies. Such composing should allow students to “enact ‘innovative, purposeful choosing’” (Shipka 89). “Students consider all the possibile means of communication and the choices they manifest in ‘selecting a particular means for particular occasion,’ focusing on sound rhetorical decision-making. Students also develop a sense of the relationship between goals, processes, and goal attainment in the activity of composing” (72).

Assessment: Per Neal, assessments should be ‘site based, locally controlled, context-sensitive, rhetorically based, and accessible’ (73).


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