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Modal Memoirs, Collaborative Composing, and Wearable Writing

By Jon M. Wargo
 | Aug 19, 2016

wearable writingAs an assistant professor whose interests in literacy intersect with technology and mobile media, I get a lot of questions from aspiring teachers who wonder how to support students as they learn to write with technology. My experiences have helped me realize the importance of emphasizing process and experience over product.

Collaborative writing with wearable technologies

This summer, I cotaught a creative writing residency for rising third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade students as part of a larger camp sponsored by a local National Writing Project site. The camp’s goals were (1) to cultivate the writerly life within our students, and (2) to flex our own muscles as English language arts educators by deeply reflecting on the process and experience students were having as writers rather than the finished product they composed. From haikus to transmodal graphic novels, we watched our students develop a fluency for writing that was fueled by engaging the “what if” question. This resulted in a collaborative piece the group composed to illustrate what happens when intermediate writers remediate a classic picture book with wearable technologies (a GoPro, in particular).

Apart from individual journals, pieces, and projects, fostering a collaborative spirit and culture among our budding writers was important. We also wanted to transform their thinking about revision away from something that involved “red marks and right spellings” and toward revision as the process of adapting and rethinking a message. To do this, we developed what Robert Yagelski calls a culture of writing as experience—as a way of being. Arguing that texts function as experiences, we highlighted how meaning could change significantly through the act of remediation, or the re-presentation of material in one medium through another. With my own interests in cultivating a disposition for sonic composition with writers and the liberty to play with composing under the guise of creative writing, I engaged the class with The Listening Walk Project (TLWP).

This project involved a collaborative piece of writing whose goal was to remediate Paul Showers’s famous picture book, The Listening Walk, by using audio and video to highlight the group’s collective experience of walking through the campus community.

Modal memoirs of remediating digital writing

In the earliest stages of TLWP, we introduced students to Showers’s book, discussed the process of remediation, and then voted on focal elements from The Listening Walk that we wanted to highlight as important in reimagining our own piece. Sound, video, and perspective were those most voted for by the group. Sound would provide coherence across Showers’s piece and ours, video enabled us to explore the features of wearable writing with the GoPro, and perspective became important to our young writers and the process of collaborative composing. The larger group disliked that Showers’s text presented us only with the young girl’s perspective. Some argued, “We never get to see what the dog sees!” whereas others asked, “What does the Dad hear, is it different?” These lines of questions continued to inspire our thinking and writing as we collectively embarked on our own listening walk.

TLWP process for remediation

Capturing over two hours of video, with each student as “lead author” and wearing the GoPro for 10 minutes, we came back to our classroom to debrief the experience of wearable writing. One of the first comments students made in watching the larger video was the need to fast-forward moments of whole-group walking: “That’s boring to watch.” Using FinalCut Pro, I acted as lead reviser to speed up travel between locations. Then, in groups of two, we cut the larger video down to a manageable 60 minutes. I worked with each group to have students note individual spots for revision. Some wanted text overlaid, adding figurative language to highlight the perspective their GoPro and wearable writing captured.

Others wanted to include some narration, using audio as an orienting device in between frames. These “notes to the director” were taken together to revise the larger video as a group. After we collectively revised, we watched the film in its entirety, now down to 11 minutes total. At this point, the collaborative revision was less about individual frames and monuments captured along the walk and more about coherence. Are transitions similar to one another? How do we account for shifts in perspective? Taken together, these small moments led to larger conversations, indicative of what I call a modal memoir. Alongside my coteacher, we used modal artifacts from the cutting room floor, the b-roll if you will, to highlight the rhetorical choices students made concerning audience, delivery, and purpose.

Later, when students reflected on the process, many shared how the GoPro felt on their body as part of the writing experience. As Goldie, a fifth-grade girl wrote, “TLWP wasn’t about the video, it was about the group walking together. The experience. We felt writing together.”

Listening to everyday implications

As their teacher, I realized that collaborative composing with wearable writing (in this case, translated through the GoPro technologies) fostered the ability to focus on process over product. It cultivated the experience that is inherent in all forms of composition. Whether through swiping, clicking, and tapping a tablet or physically shifting your body so as to capture new perspective, emerging digital technologies offer new opportunities not only for remediation, but also to cultivate a writerly identity.

As you seek to engage your students in their own writerly lives, consider how remediating forms, genres, and projects through a digital lens may offer new insight into who and how they are as writers. Encouraging students to draw, write, and compose their own modal memoirs throughout the year inspires them to consider revision not as a list of skill steps but as an experience well worth having.

WargoJM_HeadshotJon M. Wargo is an assistant professor of Teacher Education and core faculty in Reading, Literacy, and Literature at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI.

This article is part of a series from the Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).
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