Multimodal pre-composition processes

In the first chapter of Remixing Composition, Palmeri takes on the role of creativity in the composition process by engaging with Janet Emig’s work. As someone who has taught students to write essays and suffered through writing many essays myself, I was particularly excited about Emig’s ideas that other modalities could be beneficial to the creating process. Emig even suggests that English teachers should equip themselves with new skillsets to better serve their students:

Partially because they have no direct expertise of composing, teachers of English err in important ways. They under-conceptualize the process of composing. Planning degenerates into outlining; reformulating becomes the correction of minor infelicities.   (Palmeri 27, quoting Emig)

Emig’s use of the verb “degenerate” is striking—moving students straight into an outlining process actually harms their ability to formulate and explore ideas. This quote, and this whole section, makes me think of how (most of the time) students skip entirely or rush through the brainstorming phase to get to writing as quickly as possible. Their hurry to move along the process suggests that we teachers have failed to convince them that planning is valuable, and perhaps our failure to explore multimodal forms of planning is part of the problem.

Emig focuses mostly on the work of visual artists in her argument for interdisciplinary multimodality. I also wonder about the use of theater techniques and movement exercises. Last year in my Bread Loaf class “Using Theater in the English Classroom” with Angela Brazil in Vermont (sidebar: EVERYONE should take this class), we practiced using our bodies to supplement our understandings of the text. Angela was adamant that we not think too much—”just strike the first pose that comes to mind!” Her emphasis on getting outside of the conscious thinking process strikes me as similar to much of what Emig and Palmeri describe in visual artists who spend time looking at potential subjects, touching their materials, and moving things around before actually starting to work. I’d love to think more about how movement can be incorporated into multimodal learning of all kinds, and specifically for this chapter, the creative pre-composition process.

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