Writing for the Right Audience: Using multimodal projects in composition to enhance action and expression
After three and a half years of teaching Composition and Rhetoric to first- and second-year college students at Appalachian State University, Mr. Jon Pope identified a recurring challenge in his students’ work: he was the only audience member. Whether the assignment was a personal narrative or an essay in biology, Mr. Pope seemed to be the only target audience that his students considered. To address this challenge, he decided to implement multimodal experiences in the classroom that were not only engaging, but incorporated numerous types of writing for specific and diverse audiences.
One of his most popular experiences involves groups of students designing, writing, and shooting a 10-minute television pilot, complete with business plans, advertisements, executive pitches and presentations. Through the use of innovative multimodal classroom experiences, Mr. Pope provides multiple means of action and expression that increase students’ sensitivity to a wider audience in their writing.
Each College STAR module will explain how a particular instructional practice described within the module aligns with one or more of the principles of UDL. For this module, the focus will be on Provide Multiple Means of Representation, Principle I; Provide Multiple Means of Action or Expression, Principle II; and Provide Multiple Means of Engagement, Principle III.
Module Alignment with Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression
Mr. Jon Pope uses action-oriented multimodal experiences in his classroom. This practice is linked to each of the three guidelines under multiple means of action and expression: Provide options for physical action, provide options for expression and communication, and provide options for executive functions. Mr. Pope’s use of dramatizations and collaborative role playing provide options for physical action. In his open ended television pilot project, students can choose various methods for response and navigation since the parameters are broad. Students also choose how they create their project, and how to respond to and move forward with the network executive’s feedback. In the dramatization of miscommunication, students act out the interaction to gain insight, moving from unidirectional understanding of conflict to multidirectional.
The TV pilot project uses multiple media through the numerous avenues of communication. Students write a TV script, record their pilot on video, and create business letters, network proposals, advertisements and presentations using the media and tools they prefer.
The long term project also offers options to enhance executive functions. Since the TV pilot project is a group project with many facets, students need to set appropriate and achievable goals. They need to plan and strategize when to accomplish each step in the process and provide the necessary documents at each step.
In summary, the use of multimodal experiences in the classroom offers multiple options for both action and expression.
Module Alignment with Provide Multiple Means of Engagement
Multimodal experiences stimulate student interest by offering options for choice and autonomy throughout the open ended experiences, and employ real life experiences that increase relevance, value, and authenticity.
The collaborative design of the projects helps students to sustain effort and persistence. Because the TV pilot project entails varying and diverse activities, students become more aware of their academic strengths and weaknesses. This process optimizes challenge and fosters collaboration and community. Using previous students of the class as network executives who have the ability to accept, reject, or offer feedback to groups increases mastery-oriented feedback.
In his freshman level Composition and Rhetoric classes, Jon Pope recognized that his students were limiting the audience of their writing to their professor; “The obstacle that I was seeing in my classroom was the challenge of audience. It’s so easy for students, especially first- and second-year students, to only conceive of their instructor as the audience of their writing.” In order to challenge this pattern, Mr. Pope implemented multimodal experiences that highlighted opportunities for students to be sensitive to and authentically write for diverse audiences.
Multimodal, sometimes used interchangeably with multimedia, experience in the classroom is a newly popular practice within higher education. The term multimedia refers to texts that may include online elements, images, video, and/or sound. However, multimodality refers to the construction and composition process that occurs in order to produce a multimedia text.
Multimodal practices encourage professors to think of the diverse ways students interact with and construct their own texts. Mr. Pope asserts, “Multimodality is so important because it helps students conceive of multiple audiences who have various expectations.” Incorporating multimodal experiences means that professors integrate the many forms of communication used today, from assignments in analyzing advertisements to writing their own, and from writing short fiction to turning it into a movie. One student commented, “When it comes to teaching styles and communication, Mr. Pope incorporated a plethora of mediums that included using drawings, games, and role playing to get us in the mindset of our own subject matter- PowerPoints, music, discussion, creative projects, and so many more. He understood that not everyone learns the same way so he taught using many different forms of communication.”
Mr. Pope implements action-oriented and engaging multimodal experiences to encourage his students to address a larger audience. Mr. Pope explains, “Our job in Rhetoric and Composition is to make students into good writers, and you cannot do that just by writing to one person. How can I get them to write for someone other than me? So I created a project that gave them an imaginary scenario, and I think the multimodal texts broke it open.”
EXAMPLE #1: COLLABORATIVE ROLE PLAYING PROJECT
The leading example of Jon Pope’s use of a multimodal experience in his classroom is the collaborative role playing project. In this long term assignment, students are given the scenario that they are young college graduates who want to create their own television show. In order to be successful, they will need to create a unique pilot concept, pitch the concept to network executives, create relevant advertising, and film a 10-minute pilot. Thus the project entails multiple forms of communication, writing, and audience.
In the classroom, students are divided into small groups and given the instructions to write and develop a 10-minute television pilot that they will ultimately act out and record on video. Immediately, the medium of television is relevant and relatable to students. The groups are then randomly assigned a target demographic ranging between children’s television, teen years, young adult, middle age and older adults. The students must research and think creatively and purposefully about their audience’s likes, dislikes, and interests in order to create a successful TV show.
Once the students have developed their concept and written the pilot, they create a written business proposal to pitch to network executives (played in real life by previous students of the class). In order to set up the meeting with the executives, the groups write business letters to the network to schedule the meeting. Once a meeting is set, the group creates a presentation document such as a story board, PowerPoint, or Prezi. On the day of the meeting, the group presents their concept. The network executives have the choice to accept the group’s proposal, offer feedback, or completely reject the idea. The students have second and third chances to edit their work and present again. Once their project is accepted by the network executives, the students may begin to film their pilot.
The role playing project is collaborative, creative, and extensive. Students have multiple opportunities to construct written texts for very different audiences. Their pilot must appeal to a specific demographic, the business letter must be formal and targeting a network, and the presentation has to be engaging, creative, and inviting to network executives. None of these activities target the professor as the audience. It was through the creative and engaging interaction with multiple texts with different audiences that increased the students’ awareness and sensitivity to the idea of audience.
The outcomes of the project include increased engagement and enjoyment in the class. Since the consequences were heightened through the executive pitch meetings, where students may be rejected, the students were encouraged rather than discouraged to focus their writing to the right audience. One outcome was that Mr. Pope noticed that his students were more sensitive to their audience after the project.
EXAMPLE #2: COMMUNICATION DRAMATIZATION
In his sophomore English class, Mr. Pope utilizes another life-inspired multimodal experience to help students more deeply understand miscommunication. Mr. Pope asks students to come to class with a personal example of when a miscommunication took place between themselves and a professional relation, often a boss. During the class period, he asks students to work in small groups sharing their stories. He noticed a trend; all of the students brought in similar stories where the author was the victim in the interaction, and the person in the position of power was at fault. In response, all the students sympathized with their peers and considered the boss as the miscommunicator. To challenge them to observe the nuances of verbal interaction, Mr. Pope asked each group to choose one of the examples with different styles of discourse or conflict to act out. The groups produced short scripts and assigned parts. But it was not until they physically acted out the interaction that a change of perspective took place.
In one iteration of the experience, a student playing the authority figure during the skit began to advocate for the way she interacted in the situation. Students began to debate what took place in the conversation, and at the end, the original student apologized for her mistake. Mr. Pope was delighted; “And suddenly, for the person who plays the oppressive boss, it’s amazing how much they take on that role and defend why they’re saying what they’re saying. And they go off script even! So you get these students arguing with each other in character and suddenly it’s a way more complicated thing. In another skit, the student who wrote the story as the victim ended up saying, ‘Yeah there really were many aspects of this, I think we all miscommunicated a bit’, and actually apologized, and that was not a part of her original story at all. And so putting the communication into this new form broke it open so that new perspectives emerged.”
Asking the students to interact with the story in a new way – as a skit – demonstrated the complexity of interactions and offered opportunity for insight and greater understanding. One student commented, “He helped to tear down preconceived notions about our own processes that held us back.”
The biggest outcome of multimodal experiences Mr. Pope sees with his students is their increased sensitivity to audience, as well as an increased understanding of the complexity and nuance of language in writing. It was through multiple means of interacting and engaging with many kinds of text that allowed students the opportunity to understand text in a new way. Mr. Pope advises, “If students are not getting the whole picture, make them interact with it in a new form. And often that’s what it takes. Knowing that they’re going to perform this in front of the class makes them think differently. Having other people involved and playing different characters makes them think differently.” This teaching style is noticed by students: “Mr. Pope did a great job of cultivating a learning environment for all different types of learners. He knows that his students can’t learn unless they are invested in the subject; therefore, he makes it a high priority to keep his students attentive and engaged.”
Editor’s Note: The Literature Base section of each College STAR module provides a brief summary of support for the instructional practice highlighted within the module. This is not an exhaustive literature review. It is designed to give the viewer an introduction to the literature about the module’s instructional practice. Please consider using the Learn More section of the module to supplement the information you obtain through this Literature Base summary.
The terms multimodal and multimedia are often used interchangeably. However, multimodality is used to describe how multiple modes of communication are used to construct a text. Multimedia refers to text that includes multiple media sources. Signifying the difference in terms is imperative in higher education and research (Lauer, 2009). It is important for students to understand the implied context and general perception of different modes of communication. In order to use multimodality effectively, the user must understand the meaning implied by different images, sounds, and videos before utilizing them. Using multiple modes in the same assignment offers opportunities for students to analyze their choices while writing (Archer, 2010). Baepler and Reynolds (2014) found an increase of student engagement through the use of multimedia assignments such as video making in a writing class. Students commented that the video assignment made them think about their audience and tailor their video, as well as their writing, to a specific audience. Williams (2014) found that although students are highly engaged with multimedia sources in their daily lives, their creation of texts seldom extend beyond the scope of the professor. He suggests that the use of multimodal texts in the classroom, and utilizing action oriented experiences will help students develop rhetorical concepts and help them conceive of larger audiences for their work. Knight (2013) describes the need to define a multimodal aesthetic which involves a lived experience in order to create relevance and authenticity. Doing so would imply that the creator of multimodal texts must think about the audience in order to create an aesthetic.
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About the Author
Appalachian State University