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Schiavone, Aubrey. Consumption vs. Production in Multimodal Textbooks. March CE. Posted 03/24/2017.

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Schiavone, Aubrey. “Consumption, Production, and Rhetorical Knowledge in Visual and Multimodal Textbooks.” College English 79.4 (2017): 358-80. Print.

Aubrey Schiavone presents a study of four textbooks designed to support composition’s “multimodal turn” (359). In her view, these textbooks, published in the past fifteen years, can be positioned as “mainstream textbooks” likely to be used by a range of teachers, including teachers new to composition, in designing a class with multimodal components (363). Schiavone presents statistics on citation and sales to support her choice of these books (380).

Schiavone draws on the work of scholars like Robert J. Connors and A. Abby Knoblauch to argue that textbooks influence teachers’ decisions about what kinds of assignments are appropriate in writing classrooms (377). Thus, she argues for “mindful” attention to the particular messages embedded in textbooks about how best to teach activities such as multimodal composition (376). Her analysis suggests that an unself-conscious use of textbook assignments can limit the degree to which classroom practice accords with theories about the nature of multimodality and how students can best learn to respond to and use multimodal artifacts (371).

The books in her study are Picturing Texts (Lester Faigley, Diana George, Anna Palchik, and Cynthia Self, 2004); Rhetorical Visions: Reading and Writing in a Visual Culture (Wendy S. Hesford and Brenda Jo Brueggemann, 2007); Seeing & Writing 4 (Donald and Christine McQuade, 2010); and Beyond Words: Cultural Texts for Reading and Writing (John J. Ruskiewicz, Daniel Anderson, and Christy Friend, 2006) (362).*

Developing her “[t]heoretical [f]ramework” (363), Schiavone cites a number of scholars including Diana George, Lester Faigley, and Steve Westbrook to propose that the use of multimodal elements can function in different relations to text. A “binary” relationship is one in which students are encouraged to examine, or “consume” a visual or multimodal artifact and then produce a separate written text analyzing or responding to the artifact (364).

In a “linear” relationship, illustrated by assignments discussed by Westbrook, students examine products in one mode and then convert them to other modes, for example creating images to capture the meaning of a previously produced essay; in this kind of relationship, in Schiavone’s words, “students’ consumption of visual and multimodal artifacts functions as a kind of scaffolding up to their production of such texts” (365; emphasis original).

Finally, Schiavone identifies a “reciprocal” relationship, which “imagines consumption and production as necessarily interconnected” and, in her view, citing Faigley, encourages students to engage in more meaningful critical awareness of rhetorical processes as they produce their own multimodal artifacts (366).

Schiavone also investigates theoretical definitions of “visual” as opposed to “multimodal” artifacts. In her discussion, a “visual” artifact will be “monomodal” if students are encouraged only to examine an image, whereas artifacts that combine the visual with the textual (e.g., maps) or with other modes such a auditory elements can be more correctly identified as “multimodal.” Schiavone contends that the terms “visual” and “multimodal” have been “conflat[ed]” in some scholarship and that this distinction should be made more consistently (366-67).

In her analysis, Schiavone is concerned with the difference between “consumption” and “production” of various kinds of artifacts. Through her examination of “every assignment prompt across four textbooks, a total of 1, 629 prompts” (371), Schiavone developed codes for “consumption” of textual, visual, or multimodal artifacts (i.e., CT, CV, or CMM) and for “production” of these artifacts (PT, PV, PMM) (369). She provides examples of each kind of code: a prompt receiving a code of CV, for example, might ask students to “examine [the] image carefully until you are reasonably confident that you understand and appreciate how it works. . . ,” while one receiving a PV code might require students to “create a visual adaptation” of another artifact (375, 369; examples in Schiavone’s analysis are taken from McQuade and McQuade, Seeing & Writing).

She notes that some prompts can receive more than one code, for example calling for the consumption of a multimodal artifact and then the production of a textual response (370). She argues that such combinations of codes can either reinforce a binary approach by separating the activities involved in “reductive” ways (374), or they can encourage a more complex understanding of how multimodal composition can work. However, she states, “complexity is not the norm,” with 49% of the prompts receiving only one code and 33% receiving only two (374).

Her findings indicate a “misalignment” between theoretical approaches that advocate more production of multimodal projects in writing classrooms and what the four textbooks appear to promote (373). One result is that the textbooks call for much more production of text than of either visual or multimodal artifacts (372). She detects a pattern in which prompts receiving “linked codes” required students to consume a visual or multimodal item, then produce an essay about the item (374-75). She argues that this pattern perpetuates binary or linear approaches to multimodal instruction.

Her analysis further indicates variation across the textbooks, with Picturing Texts calling for a higher percentage of production, particularly of visual or multimodal items (PT = 28%, PV = 6%, PMM = 25%) than the four books as a whole (PT = 36%, PV = 2%, PMM = 11%) (373).

Schiavone concludes that both individual instructors and compositionists engaged in teacher-training must “be mindful about their uptake of textbook assignment prompts” (376). This caution, she suggests, is especially important when instructors are not necessarily specialists in rhetoric and composition (376). Theory and guidance from sources such as the WPA Outcomes Statement should be more visible in the texts and in the development of instructors (376-77, 378). Textbooks should be seen as “teaching tools rather than full teaching plans” in composition classrooms (377).

Schiavone also notes that the textbooks provided far more prompts than could conceivably be used in any single course, and suggests that the authors could more fruitfully “pay better attention to assignment sequencing” than to quantity of materials (377).

Ideally, in her view, such “mindfulness” should lead to multimodal pedagogies that are “theoretically grounded and rhetorically rich” (378).

*Online searches suggest that some of these texts have subsequently appeared in later editions or with different titles, and some are out of print.

Author: vanderso

I'm a recently retired associate professor of English in Southern Indiana. I've been teaching writing for twenty-five years, but I feel I have much to learn about how people really learn to write. In this blog, I'll be sharing research and thoughts and hopefully gathering information from others about the process of learning to write.

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