Connecting through Composition: Critical Intersections in Middle School Multimodal Writing

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Connecting through Composition: Critical Intersections in Middle School Multimodal Writing

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Classroom writing practices exist in a complex social environment where students present identities to each other through the texts they create and their interactions (Pandya, Z., 2015; Dyson, 2018; Snaza & Lensmire, 2006). Recognizing this complexity, writing practices in schools have changed over time. Practices have shifted from a traditional focus on technical skills of writing, to a writing workshop model, emphasizing student choice of topics and opportunities to share. Critical writing pedagogy emerged in response to the workshop model’s perspective of students bringing a single identity to a neutral writing process. However, traditional writing practices are pervasive in schools and there is a need for research that draws attention to classrooms where teachers implement critical writing pedagogy (Furman, 2017). This yearlong critical ethnographic study describes seventh grade students’ writing processes at the intersection of critical writing pedagogy and multimodality, and considers how students’ social identities as writers and peer relations around writing are mediated by literacy practices within the classroom. Drawing on mediated discourse analysis (MDA) (Scollon & Scollon, 2004; Norris & Jones, 2005) to examine moment-to-moment actions and interactions, this study traces a routine journal writing practice where students regularly enter into critical dialogue. An analysis focused on resemiotization (Norris & Jones, 2005) highlights how students’ learning and interactions shift throughout this classroom practice. In addition, this study utilizes trajectories and timescales (Scollon & Scollon, 2004) to look at how two literacy events draw on this journal practice in similar ways while unfolding differently in relation to the specific surroundings of each moment. Finally, this study draws on MDA’s view of agency to consider the ways the classroom teacher navigates intersecting discourses in order to implement these critical and multimodal writing practices in the classroom. This work has implications for how we view writing practices and students as they engage in composing and sharing. It calls for a view of students as writers who are making choices about when and how they write and engage in dialogue based on the complex surroundings of a moment. This view shifts attention away from an idea that students either have or lack abilities and instead focuses on the possibilities of teachers to create and reflect on spaces where students choose to engage in meaningful writing and dialogue.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2019. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisor: Cynthia Lewis. 1 computer file (PDF); viii, 228 pages.

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Rollag Yoon, Stephanie. (2019). Connecting through Composition: Critical Intersections in Middle School Multimodal Writing. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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