Expanding Potential for Written Engagement With the Visual and Textual

Expanding Potential for Written Engagement With the Visual and Textual

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-8661-0.ch010
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This chapter focuses on the extended possibilities of considering what is textual and written alongside the visual, a move that has been noted by literacy scholars for some time. In the author's state of residence, writing has become an overlooked aspect of the curriculum and, in the author's high school context, writing engagement itself exists on an uneven continuum among students. Moreover, literacy is becoming a closed venture as book bans increase and authors are absent on shelves, yet resonant and intriguing for adolescent readers who are seeking authentic voices.
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In the moments before class begins, the teacher makes the rounds in the classroom, making sure all students are properly logged in. At the side of the room as the door opens, there is a wide expanse of whiteboard space. Two students move toward the board space, picking up markers, and sketching. Here and there, assignments and announcements in the teacher’s jagged handwriting are decorated with small characters, word bubbles, and other comics features. The movement of the students is not directed, and note even openly invited by audible means; these are students who have seen the teacher engage in similar work, creating visual representations of stories and ideas that they have encountered in the classroom.

It can be difficult to boil what works in literacy down to one particular approach, and it is equally difficult to bottle the interactions that occur, as well as the time that it takes, to encourage students to share their voices. In this author’s practice, the centering of a range of voices and ways of storytelling is an important feature, and close consideration of practices is the result of iterative reflection and self-study. Throughout their career as an educator, the author rests on not one approach, but a multitude of texts and methods for encouraging students to find the beauty and value of the written word. The prevalence of testing and other trends makes this work all the more difficult. The author makes the case that literacy is playful work, across all ages, and that composition should be a celebration of identity/ies and discovery, rather than a strictly esoteric or rubric-defined endeavor.

In an effort to foster more engagement, this chapter explores the possibilities of centering visual texts, including comics and graphic novels along with infographics and filmic media, to explore the layers and possibilities of composition through multimodal means. By framing response as composition, the author supports the notion of digital literacy development (Bawden, 2008) and the often-emphasized construct of 21st century skills, as well as invoking the history of multimodal compositional theory (Kress & Selander, 2012; Smith et al., 2021). Writing means more than simply using words in a multimodal world, and there has been a researched history of this work with students in adolescence. At the same time, it seems that the education system is continuing to catch up to changes in the ways people read, write, and create on a daily basis.

This active and iterative process of composing and interacting is sometimes relegated to interactions outside of school. Street (2006) noted that practices at home, or based on the agentical interactions of readers/writers/composers, do not always align neatly with those practices which are honored in more prescriptive ways, particularly in educational institutions. Goodfellow (2011) noted that there is often a switch in ways of taking up communication practices across spaces. Examinations of home literacy practices have continued, with emphasis in Dolean’s (2022) work on social and cultural elements of children’s lived experiences.

The question which undergirded this inquiry was: In what ways might students take up choices to respond across multiple modes after reading?

Key Terms in this Chapter

Multimodality: The study of multiple modes, or ways of making meaning, in texts.

Comics: A term which refers to a juxtaposed material of images and words, linking grids, layouts, panels, and other grammatical features.

Graphic Novel: A marketing term applied to long-form comics.

Platforms: The sites or spaces, usually supported by companies, in which audiences can engaged in a virtual and largely open-ended manner.

Affordances: The possibilities of particular media or modes for conveying meaning in specific ways.

Digital Storytelling: The use of digital means to craft narrative and informational texts.

Modes: The individual textual spaces within a larger multimodal text in which meaning can be composed and conveyed.

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