Mediated-Action Approach: Feasible?

In Toward a Composition Made Whole, Shipka (2011) defines a composition made whole as being “concerned with attending to the ways in which individuals work with, as well as against, the mediational means they employ in the hopes that this, in turn, will help empower individuals to choose wisely, critically, and purposefully the relationships, structures, and representational systems that are most fitting or appropriate given the purposes, potentials, and contexts of one’s work” (149). What I found particularly interesting (and reassuring) with Shipka’s work is the focus on her mediated-action framework. While Multiliteracies and Yancey’s work mention remediation of texts, Shipka seems to first focus on the mediating of texts and other multimodal representations of student work.

Shipka seems to do an adequate job explaining how one would go about assessing such multimodal composition projects. Assessment (and grading) is an issue that came up in our first class meeting, I think, after reading NCTE’s Position Statement about Multimodal Literacies. We discussed the difficulty of focusing on how to grade these projects and whether that should be our focus, or even a consideration. I appreciate the distinction that Shipka makes about the shift in responsibility from teacher to student with it being the student’s responsibility to demonstrate learning. Shipka, citing Beach (1989) argues, “students who are required to produce ‘precisely defined goal statements’ for their work become increasingly cognizant of how texts are comprised of a series of rhetorical, technological, methodological ‘moves’ that, taken together, simultaneously afford and constrain potentials for engaging with those texts” (p. 112). Shipka introduces her approach to the assessment piece with the statement of goals and choices (SOGC) and makes a distinction between that and generic reflective writing. It’s interesting that the SOGC can be as long as twenty pages to explain what one student does for a project that probably did not take as long as it took to write the SOGC. I would also add that building a relationship with students in the classroom would aid a teacher in assessing whether a student had achieved what he or she sought, or is capable of.

After reading Multiliteracies and Toward a Composition Made Whole, I was excited about the approach to writing courses as communication courses with the integration of multimodal composing, but I keep coming back to the question of practicality and applicability to a high school English classroom, and to a researchable topic.  I don’t presume to know much about a college composition instructor’s freedom in crafting a syllabus, but I am definitely constrained by what I can teach and how I can teach it, but also when I can teach it. This is at the heart of what I want to research for my dissertation. How can I do both? What Shipka, and the New London Group, seem to be advocating for is a “retooling” of the traditional composition classroom (I insert “high school English classroom” for “composition classroom” here), but “retooling” as Shipka sees it does not, on the outset, seem to be very feasible for me.

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4 thoughts on “Mediated-Action Approach: Feasible?

  1. I think trying to both is indeed a struggle. A small thought I had, not really a frustrated per-say, but with the SOGC statements, are we really grading the project at this point, or what the student has written in the statement? I feel like, as a teacher, I might have trouble not grading the effort and work put into the SOGC. Sure, we as teachers would need to see if what the student says they are trying to do comes through in their project, but what about those students who have trouble writing about static things? I know I often struggle with description and writing a clear statement on the purpose of something I’ve done, especially in a static medium. Writing an abstract about a written research paper is one thing, but writing a statement of goals and choices about a paper written on an Abercombie and Fitch T-shirt? Definitely a struggle in my thought process; however, students are surprising, so perhaps students who wholly take on such a task would be more readily able to write about their own work. Hope to discuss your thoughts further in class!

    • I thought the same thing. I was wondering if, or to what degree, my students would be able to articulate the rationale for their choices. Like you stated, students have the capacity to surprise us in unexpected ways.

  2. I too started questioning the ability to grade and implement this type of work in a high school English classroom, but was relieved at what you cited above with the gravity of the “grading” being placed on the students as they reflect on their own practices. To me, the SOGC acts as a “safety net” for students efforts and intentions, allowing them to really show off the thinking and process they have engaged in.

    On the note of being able to describe one’s actions in regards to accuracy and length, I find that this is some of the easiest “non-writing” I feel like I’ve ever done– even though it is also likely the most rigorous. The papers that ask me to describe my thinking allow me a space to crank out more “writing” than I ever think possible in other contexts. But again, this is just personal experience– I haven’t seen it in action with my students yet.

  3. I’ve gone to lots of workshops and other professional development opportunities where I head people talk about the really interesting and avante-garde things teachers are doing. While I always get kind of excited, I start to ask that question, “how would I do that?” In teaching college, I think professors are lucky when it comes to the freedom they have and are better able to do things like Shipka is doing. The average college student is in class about fifteen hours a week, so that means that more time can be spent on projects. So, I’m not sure when the average high school student has time to do some of the filming, writing, and remediating Shipka’s students are doing. That instead has to happen in class.

    All of this is to say that I agree that Shipka is thinking more about the average college class and leaving out the average high school teacher. So, if I were you, I’d also be wondering how “feasible for me,” too.

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