By Sarah Krajewski
I’m always looking for new ways to change things up in my classroom, and this year my plan was to revise my research units. Both my 9th and 12th graders have to incorporate research, and in the past, that always meant writing a paper. Recently, however, I read Shawna Coppola’s latest, and highly recommended book, Writing Redefined: Broadening Our Ideas of What It Means to Compose. This book made me rethink what my research units could look like.
Coppola makes the case for incorporating “multimodal compositions,” which incorporate more than one mode instead of just the traditional alphabetical form. Instead of leaving these other modalities behind in early elementary school, students of all ages can (and should) incorporate illustrations like sketches and maps, or digital components like infographics, photos, and audio. The more modalities, the more decisions our students are making. Talk about rigor!
So, how could one go multimodal? Though my seniors and I are still in the early stages, here’s what we’ve done so far:
Begin by Taking an Inquiry Stance – As Coppola says, taking an “inquiry stance” allows students to “coconstruct and better retain knowledge” (23). Start by assessing what students already know, and then immerse them in that multimodal text. For my 12th grade research unit, we immersed ourselves in various multimodal mentor texts (like this one) in order to study how to put our own together. After sharing our noticings, I looked for patterns to create mini-lessons my students would find helpful.
Work with Your School’s Tech Integrator – I don’t know if all schools have one, but my tech integrator is fabulous! After explaining how I wanted to incorporate multimodal compositions into my curriculum, she introduced my students and me to Google Sites (see my sample below). Our interests were peaked! We are now in the application stage, so my students are in the midst of creating their own Google Site. As we move along, I often direct them back to our mentor texts so they can further explore.
You May Already Incorporate Multimodal Compositions – After reading Coppola’s book, I realized that I already incorporate multimodal compositions quite often. I do, however, plan to add more. With my upcoming 9th grade research unit, we will create infographics and work in audio. My students will still learn all the necessary research skills, but they will present their findings in more than just the alphabetical form. Afterward, I look forward to exploring many other modes of learning, for there are endless possibilities.
After writing my last post about my desire to add more joy into my classroom, I have found that multimodal compositions do just that. I see that creative spark in my seniors’ eyes as they venture beyond the typical research paper to create their Google Sites. They are making myriad decisions than the typical research paper would allow for. They feel empowered as they prepare themselves for the digital world they will soon go into on their own. Our students need more opportunities like this.
Sarah Krajewski teaches 9th and 12th grade English and Journalism at Cleveland Hill High School near Buffalo, New York. She is currently in her 18th year of teaching, and is always looking for new, creative ways to help her students enjoy learning, reading, and writing. You can follow Sarah on Twitter @shkrajewski and her blog can be viewed at http://skrajewski.wordpress.com/.