Multimodal “Craft” Workshop

Inspired by the workshop I attended at 4Cs, I knew I wanted to incorporate a multimodal workshop into my classroom during the last unit. In the last unit of our standard curriculum, we do a translation project that visually (and digitally) translates the final essay. It felt weird to put those constraints on the assignment, though, particularly because my course inquiry is about dis/ability, and limiting students’ modes of expression seemed contradictory. Because I figured digital projects would be the default, I wanted to give my students an immediate opportunity to revisualize their arguments in a tactile way. I was so pleased with how they took up the assignment and represented their arguments that I wanted to share the lesson plan & some of the photos (I told them the photos would be used for my website).

9-photo collage of our workshop: students working on their projects and a few final products
Collage of in-process and final products that included arguments about sports, representations of disability in the media, the politics of “helping,” music and depression, and parenting.

So here’s the layout (which is a condensed version of the 4Cs workshop):

  1. Write about one or two items that you brought (5 min). Like the workshop, I asked everyone to bring five items to class with them. To write about the objects, I posed the following questions: What is the significance of this item? What is its purpose? What could its purpose be?
  2. Exchange one item with your group (5 min). Everyone sat in groups to help exchange ideas, and I wanted them to try to incorporate at least one unplanned object in their compositions. I also had supplies that they could use.
  3. Compose (45 min). I gave them the majority of the class period for this and asked them to consider these questions: What can these objects communicate that your essay couldn’t? What are the potentials and limits of these objects? How can they work together or in opposition to tell a story?
  4. Peer Review (15 min). I wanted them to do a “speed dating” peer review where people displayed their objects, talked through their process, and tried to let their peers guess the arguments. But everyone worked at such different paces that I didn’t want to cut anyone off. So instead, I gave them the option to do the reflection in class if they finished early.
  5. Write a rhetorical reflection (homework). How did this activity make you rethink your argument? What were you able to accomplish? What issues did you encounter? Did this workshop give you any ideas for how you’d like to revisualize or “translate” your argument? What’s the takeaway?

Many of them made great connections with what they did in class to their argumentative essays. For example, the photo in the bottom right corner of the collage is an argument about the stigma against disabled parents. Her composition displays a sippy cup that represents the “parent” (which looks physically different from the other characters), a child in the middle, and a smaller angrier character on the other side. There is a black tie around the baby that represents the tug-of-war between parents and social workers.

Of course, there was some pushback (“Is this college?”) but overall was a productive activity that broke up our usual routine and gave students an opportunity to do some hands-on composing—something that isn’t always easy to incorporate into a writing classroom.


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