Teaching Complex Sentence Structure

from Pixabay.com

Thinking through the best approach for the high school ELA classroom…

As a high school English teacher with 15 years of experience, I still struggle with the best way to teach my students how to use complex sentence structures in their writings.

What is the best way to help students vary sentence structure and demonstrate complex thought processes? Should students be required to label and identify the 4 English sentence types? Or is teaching this skill in context preferable to direct grammar instruction?

The 4 English Sentence Types

English Lessons with Adam

This video gives detailed instructions on the 4 English sentence types and would be a great resource to help students review this information. But I ask myself, is it imperative that students can label the different sentence types to be able to use them effectively in their own writing?

Or is the better method to allow students to learn through practice, observation, and peer revision? Do students need to understand the different types of sentences before applying complex sentence structure to their own writings?

Application over direct grammar instruction

Grammar Lessons that Work

This video from the series “Grammar Lessons That Work” fits a little more closely to my philosophy. It is my belief that it is more important that students can apply this skill rather than identify it, and sometimes we lose them in the identification process. So I decided to do a little scholarly research on the topic to see what the experts think.

The Research

Through my brief research on this topic, I have read several accounts of the best way to approach this particular grammar skill in the ELA classroom. From this research, I have gleaned the following:

  • Some targeted instruction is beneficial.
  • Sentence combining trumps traditional grammar instruction.
  • Authentic audiences and topics enhance student engagement.

Below, I briefly explore three journal articles that address best practices in helping students improve their use of complex sentence structures:

Sentence combining versus traditional grammar instruction

“Thus, sentence-combining instruction was effective in improving the sentence-combining skills that were taught.”

Saddler and Graham

In “The Effects of Peer-Assisted Sentence-Combining Instruction on the Writing Performance of More and Less Skilled Young Writers” Saddler and Graham claim the following:

  • “…peer-assisted sentence-combining treatment can improve the sentence-construction skills of more and less skilled young writers.”
  • “Such instruction can also promote young students’ use of sentence-combining skills as they revise.”
  • “Finally, sentence-combining instruction can have a positive effect on the quality of young students’ writing,”

Targeted instruction improves skill…

“Results suggest that a focused intervention can produce improvements in complex sentence productions of older school children with language impairment” (p. 713)

Balthazar and Scott

In “Targeting Complex Sentences in Older School Children With Specific Language Impairment: Results From an Early-Phase Treatment Study” Balthazar and Scott suggest that targeted instruction can help older school children with specific language impairments improve their usage of complex sentences.

The targeted instruction in this study included sentence combining and other work with complex sentence structures rather than traditional grammar instruction that includes identification of parts of speech, etc.

While Balthazar and Scott employ the use of sentence combining in their study, the results suggest that direct instruction is also particularly important for students who may have a language impairment.

In the digital age…

“Clearly this was language composed and constructed to fit its purposes – to explain, hypothesize and speculate” (p. 121).

Kelly and Safford

I would be remiss not to also think about digital literacy in my brief research. I wanted to touch on how we might approach teaching complex sentence structure in the digital age. Kelly and Safford’s article “Does Teaching Complex Sentence Have to be Complicated” addresses this very topic. In this article, the writers reflect on a blogging activity in which students blogged about the 2006 World Cup. The authors came up with the following implications:

  • “Blogging offers a real-world digital medium for communication. It is multi-dimensional in that it does not just offer a ‘‘container’’ for writing but has the possibility of multiple audiences and access points.”
  • “It seemed to be the dialogic nature of the blog that powered this language: perhaps it was the blog’s communicative network that enabled the children to hypothesize and defend their reasoning and speculation using complex sentence structures.”
  • “From this small-scale pilot we propose that the bringing together of the blog with a temporary, global event taking place in real time and with unpredictable outcomes, together with children’s authority and passion about the subject matter, provided a moment of linguistic empowerment, fired particularly by the language and content of sports commentary.”

By allowing students an authentic audience and purpose, Kelly and Safford suggest that students will begin to use complex sentence structures in an almost organic fashion. Because the type of writing requires students to “explain, hypothecize, and speculate,” they will use complex sentence structures to achieve this end.

While I’m not solely convinced that students will inherently begin to use complex sentence structures because we ask them to blog about a real-life event, I do think the authentic audiences and real-world scenario do provide an engagement and purpose for students that would make an activity like this beneficial in the ELA classroom.

My takeaway

As is the case with most issues in education, the solution tends to be a combination of many factors. As I begin the 2019-2020 school year, I plan to keep in mind the many ways in which I can help my students improve their writing. Peer editing and revision with a specific emphasis on complex sentence structure will be at the forefront of my writing instruction. I will add greater direct instruction for my struggling students, and I will incorporate authentic blogging experiences for my students on relevant, contemporary topics that will encourage them to think deeply with the hope that this critical thinking will manifest itself in sophisticated writing.

Resources for Combining Sentences

Below I have added some helpful resource links that can help with the practical application of combining sentences and complex sentence structure instruction:

Sentence Combining: Building Skills Through Reading and Writing

Strengthen Sentence Variety and Sentence Combining

Sentence Combining Made Easy

Works Cited

Balthazar, C. H., & Scott, C. M. (2018). Targeting Complex Sentences in Older School Children With Specific Language Impairment: Results From an Early-Phase Treatment Study. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research,61(3), 713-728. doi:10.1044/2017_jslhr-l-17-0105

Dean, D. (2008). Sentence Combining: Building skills through reading and writing[PDF]. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

ELA Common Core (Ed.). (2019). Sentence Combining Made Easy. Retrieved July 27, 2019, from https://www.elacommoncorelessonplans.com/language-standards/combine-sentences-improve-writing.html

English Lessons with Adam – Learn English [engVid]. (2016, January 28). Retrieved July 27, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=urr55rAreWc

Kelly, A., & Safford, K. (2009). Does teaching complex sentences have to be complicated? Lessons from children’s online writing. Literacy,43(3), 118-122. doi:10.1111/j.1741-4369.2009.00501.x

Randazzo, L. (2017, September 09). Grammar lessons that work. Retrieved July 27, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RY58OddW-T4

Saddler, B., & Graham, S. (2005). The Effects of Peer-Assisted Sentence-Combining Instruction on the Writing Performance of More and Less Skilled Young Writers. Journal of Educational Psychology,97(1), 43-54. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.97.1.43

Texas Education Agency (Ed.). (2019). Strengthen Sentence Variety and Sentence Combining (English I Writing). Retrieved from https://www.texasgateway.org/resource/strengthen-sentence-variety-and-sentence-combining-english-i-writing

Access to multimodal texts in the Smithsonian Learning Lab

ENGL 621 Technology and Literacy-Final Presentation

While some may argue that the Smithsonian Learning Lab is a database rather than an individual text, I feel this site is appropriate for our purposes in 621 as it is a collection of many different types of texts. Because it allows access to remediated versions of artworks, alphabetic texts, video, and audio, the Learning Lab affords students and teachers the ability to engage with texts that might be otherwise inaccessible. Using theories from the New London Group, Ben McCorkle, Andrew Feenberg, Mary Carruthers, Jay Bolter, Richard Grusin and others, I argue that the Learning Lab serves a valuable role in the secondary English classroom.

Anne Marie Hudak’s 621 Final Presentation

Works Cited

Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. MIT Press, 2003.

Carruthers, Mary. “Memory and the Book.” The Book of Memory: a Study of Memory in Medieval Culture. Cambridge University Press, 2008, pp. 221–255.

Feenberg, Andrew. Transforming Technology : A Critical Theory Revisited. Oxford University Press, 2002.

Gane, Nicholas, and David F. Beer. New Media: The Key Concepts. Berg, 2008.

Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. MIT Press, 2010.

McCorkle, Ben. Rhetorical Delivery as Technological Discourse: a Cross-Historical Study. Southern Illinois University Press, 2012

New London Group. “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures.” Harvard Educational Review. vol 66, issue 1, 1996, pp. 60-92.

Plato. Phaedrus. Trans. B. Jowett. Project Gutenberg, http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1636.

Smithsonian Institute. Smithsonian Learning Lab, 2019, learninglab.si.edu/.

Multimodal process creates multimodal product

My 621 presentation-making journey

So it’s likely you are wondering what these three images have in common. They all represent the creative process that I have gone through today as I have been working on my final project for 621. As I have been developing ideas for my presentation, each of these has some connection to the process of meaning making that has occurred through the creation of what will ultimately be a multimodal text (my presentation).

The first image is a diagram of the New London Group’s “Modes of Meaning.” I have found myself using multiple design elements as I have been working through the literature and connecting it to my technology. The second is a photo of my work space where I’m working with multiple examples, and various remediations, of texts: handwriting, digital texts, phone technology, and print texts. Finally, the third is a photo of my dog who has served as a sounding board for me today as I have talked through some of my ideas verbally, and other times silently, on our walks this morning.

“A Sequence of Stages”

In discussing past global research on the creative process in visual art, writing, music, and science, Emig notes that “many students of creativity as well as creators across modes” (17) have proffered a view of the creative process as a sequence of stages”

(Palmeri 27).

Today, I have truly experienced this “sequence of stages.” As of yet, I have nothing like a finished product for my 621 project, but I have taken my thoughts through various stages, texts, and modalities. Before sitting down to the computer today, I began by visualizing in my mind The Smithsonian’s Learning Lab, the technology/text that I plan to use for my project. By using this metaphorical “visual text” to think about the direction to take my final project, I was able to generate ideas for the sequence of my presentation.

I then sat down at the computer and used digital word processing to copy and paste quotations from the digital texts that we have been reading to help ground my ideas into a coherent thought. Through this process, I enjoyed the affordances of digital word processing that allowed me to copy and paste, rearrange, and reorganize ideas from various scholars. This reminded me of Palmeri’s quoting of Berthoff from our readings this week:

“Operations involved in perception”

(Let me read you what Rudolph Arhheim, in his superb book Visual Thinking, lists as the operations involved in perception:  active exploration, selection, grasping of essentials, simplification, abstraction, analysis and synthesis, completion, correction, comparison, problem-solving, as well as combing, separating, putting in context.”

(Berthoff qtd. In Palmeri 38)

I would take breaks from this process of cutting and pasting, arranging and rearranging to take my dachshund, Greta, for short walks. During these “breaks,” the process continued in such a way that I began to visualize what I wanted my final project to look like and what digital tools I will need to make that happen. (I’m thinking Google Slides, iMovie, and Flash Player. My phone might come in handy as well.) Palmeri references Forming in the quote below which closely parallels my creative process on those little walks:

“Compose with visual images”

As we look at the world and compose visual images in our minds, we are constantly making meaning by selecting, arranging, and classifying—participating in an ultimately social process in which we construe what we see in relation to what we have seen in the past and what we expect to see in a given context (Forming 32)”

(Palmeri 39).

As I am going through the process of creating a multimodal text (which ultimately will consist of video text, digital alphabetic text, audio, and more), I am reminded of Palmeri’s overall claim that multimodality is not just about the final product but about the process as well. Through visualization, handwriting, digital word processing, manipulation of digital images and audio, I will be using a multimodal process to create a multimodal product.

“Making meaning with images, sounds and movement”

Berthoff asserts that composition students and teachers might best be able to understand writing as an imaginative process by studying the work of visual and performing artists who make (or form) meaning with images, sounds, movements, and tactile objects”

(Palmeri 39).

Much of this leads me back to our humament projects (and even the act of typing this blog.) The very process itself contributes to meaning making because thoughts and ideas are generated through the very act of manipulating various texts.

For example, when I was working on my humanent text, I wasn’t really sure where to begin. As I started working with the various materials, ideas and thoughts were generated in the process of creating the physical piece.

And so it has been with creating my 621 presentation as well. I’m sure by the time I post it on Monday, it will have evolved into something different than my original conception through the process of creative manipulation of multimodal texts.

Works Cited

New London Group. “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures.” Harvard Educational Review. vol 66, issue 1, 1996, pp. 60-92. 

Palmeri, Jason. “Composition Has Always Already Been Multimodal.” Remixing Composition: A History of Multimodal Writing Pedagogy. Southern Illinois University Press, 2012, pp. 21-50. 

Disagree with Plato?!

Can I do that?

“Language Log: Take a Hint.” XKCD, 2015, xkcd.com/856/.

SOCRATES: I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus,

that writing is unfortunately like painting; for

the creations of the painter have the attitude

of life, and yet if you ask them a question

they preserve a solemn silence.

Plato. Phaedrus. Trans. B. Jowett. Project Gutenberg. Updated Jan 15, 2013. Web

Do these images “preserve a solemn silence”?

  • Industry by Arthur Durston
  • Iceman Crucified #4
  • Automotive Industry (Mural Detroit Public Library)

I tend to think they have very much to “say”….

And so… I must disagree with Plato (through the voice of Socrates).

It is interesting that this excerpt from Plato’s Phaedrus was one of the first pieces that we read in ENGL621 Technology and Literacy, and yet here I am… coming back to it again. I just can’t shake this idea, I think, because I disagree so much about the “silence” of writing, and for that matter the “silence” of painting as well.

I’m particularly interested in the visual image as text, and not just in terms of it being aesthetically pleasing, but that it communicates with its readers. While the painter/writer, may not be able to “literally” respond to questions by the viewer/reader as Plato suggests, there is still a dialectic between painting/writing and viewer/writer. And so I quarrel with Plato… and THAT to me is astounding.

Am I allowed to “quarrel” with Plato? I guess he is not here to “respond to my questions,” so the next best thing is to use his written text as a jumping off point to an academic “discussion” about the value of digital technology as discourse, specifically through the interactivity (or lack there of) of the use of digital images in education. And so I will start with Andrew Feenberg, who also quarrels with Plato:

However, while Plato’s condemnation of writing was unfair, he alerts us to a real issue: whenever a new educational technology is introduced, arguments emerge for substituting interaction with the technology for the process of intellectual exchange. But there is something about dialogue, and the active involvement of the teacher, that is fundamental to the educational process and that should be woven into the design of every new instructional tool” (Feenberg 116).

Feenberg, Andrew. Transforming Technology : A Critical Theory Revisited. Oxford University Press, 2002.

And so this idea of using digital images as text in a way that also includes active involvement of the teacher leads me to my focus for my final presentation. I would like to explore the affordances of The Smithsonian Institute’s Learning Lab as a digital text (perhaps more a database to house digital texts… there are some blurred lines there). Within this lab, teachers and students have access to digital images of artworks and other artifacts housed in the Smithsonian Museums. Teachers can also add digital texts and assignments to lab collections which adds that teacher involvement that Feenberg writes about in Transforming Technology: A Critical Theory Revisited.

This is the digital text I would like to explore in my final presentation:


One of the affordances that I see from the Smithsonian’s Learning Lab is the ability of both teacher and student to manipulate, choose, and interact with texts (both visual and written) in multiple ways. It allows for both teacher and student choice and voice that fits into a postmodern culture that values these qualities in its texts. Rather than following the linear consumption associated with the traditional printed paragraph text, it allows users to pick and choose, research, collect and discard. McCorkle’s quote below speaks to this view of rhetorical delivery:

“The fairly recent change in the theorization of rhetorical delivery roughly coincides with another scholarly conversation centered around emergent and established technologies of writing, our ability to manipulate their formal and material qualities, and their respective status within the communications environment of the late twentieth century” (McCorkle 146).

McCorkle, Ben. Rhetorical Delivery as Technological Discourse: a Cross-Historical Study. Southern Illinois University Press, 2012.

One of the challenges that I see with this text/technology that I need to further explore before creating my presentation relates to the quote below from Gane and Beer’s New Media: The Key Concepts. Here, they reference Lev Manovich’s theory that new media, while often appearing interactive for reader/user, is actually restrictive because the appearance of interactivity is merely an allusion established by “predefined pathways” that send the reader to places the creator wants him/her/they to go.

“…while new media give the appearance of being highly interactive they often offer something far more restricted: a limited number of preprogrammed options that in turn structure our usage… they prompt us to select from menus or follow predefined pathways” (Gane and Beer summarizing Manovich).

Gane, Nicholas, and David F. Beer. New Media: The Key Concepts. Berg, 2008.

So as I further dig into the challenges and affordances of this digital text, I will do a little more research on the various cultural influences on technologies. Particularly, I am interested in delving more into the opposing theories mentioned by Feenberg in Transforming Technology that suggests that online education can go in one of two ways: the factory or the city model. I am curious whether the affordance of the Learning Lab will promote the rote production of the factory model or the inquisitive influences of the city model. I tend to think the latter.

“I have tried to show here that the educational technology of an advanced society might be shaped by educational dialogue rather than the production-oriented logic of automation. Should a dialogic approach to online education prevail on a large enough scale, it could be a factor making for fundamental social change” (Feenberg 130).

Feenberg, Andrew. Transforming Technology : A Critical Theory Revisited. Oxford University Press, 2002.

Works Cited

Feenberg, Andrew. Transforming Technology : A Critical Theory Revisited. Oxford University Press, 2002.

Gane, Nicholas, and David F. Beer. New Media: The Key Concepts. Berg, 2008.

“Language Log: Take a Hint.” XKCD, 2015, xkcd.com/856/.

Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. MIT Press, 2010.

McCorkle, Ben. Rhetorical Delivery as Technological Discourse: a Cross-Historical Study. Southern Illinois University Press, 2012.

Plato. Phaedrus. Trans. B. Jowett. Project Gutenberg. Updated Jan 15, 2013. Web

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Smithsonian Institution. “Smithsonian Learning Lab Resource: Automotive Industry (Mural, Detroit Public Library).” Smithsonian Learning Lab, Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access, 31 Oct. 2015. learninglab.si.edu/q/r/59055. Accessed 14 June 2019.

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Smithsonian Institution. “Smithsonian Learning Lab Resource: Industry.” Smithsonian Learning Lab, Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access, 31 Oct. 2015. learninglab.si.edu/q/r/46126. Accessed 14 June 2019.

Smithsonian Institute. Smithsonian Learning Lab, 2019, learninglab.si.edu/.

Remediating handwriting

I apologize to my classmates as the first part of the blog post harkens back to reading from a week ago, but it only just occurred to me that this was a good forum to share this experience.

Last weekend I went home to visit my parents and came across this amazing collection above. We had just read “The Lost World of Colonial Handwriting” by Tamara Thornton in ENGL621, and so I was immediately struck by this letter written to my great, great aunt, Mrs. Davie Halloway Neill. The handwriting itself was compelling as I struggled to decipher each word, and I thought about what this script might tell me about the author and her relationship with my ancestor.

“Because handwriting revealed the self, what made handwriting important was the impression of the self it left with readers, and what made it good was the degree to which it faithfully represented the writer.”

(Thornton 65)

Thornton writes about the concept, popular in the 17th and 18th centuries that handwriting could tell the reader something about the writer’s occupation and character, and I found myself jumping to some conclusions about this writer as I delved into her letter. Immediately, I thought about our correspondence project and wanted to include this discovery in my first letter to my pen pal.

And here is where I started to really think about the affordances of handwriting, print, and digital texts. I wanted to “show” my pen pal this letter because there is a sense of immediacy in the handwritten text that you just don’t get from print text (and especially not from digital text). I could feel the paper, already yellowing from time, and see the little gentle curves of the writer’s script. There was something gentile about it, and I transferred this gentility onto the writer of long ago.

But then, I couldn’t possible risk sending this one-of-a-kind original letter through the mail! And so I thought better of it and, disappointed, chose to focus on another topic for my first correspondence. It was not until this morning, however, that I decided to write this blog post because it occurred to me that while the immediacy of handwriting might be lacking in digital text, digital text has other affordances that the original does not. Namely, the ability to provide both visual and textual media that can be both convenient and powerful, yet allow us to preserve fragile texts that might otherwise not stand the test of time.

“Our culture conceives of each medium or constellation of media as it responds to, redeploys, competes with, and reforms historical progression, of newer media remediating older ones and in particular of digital media remediating their predecessors.”

(Bolter and Grusin 55)

So I got out my cell phone and began creating a few examples of remediated texts. Above you have a photograph of a photograph housed on this webpage. There is also a photograph of a news print that includes a printed reproduction of a hand-drawn representation of an original tombstone (in and of itself an original text). Lastly, there is a photograph of the handwritten letter. Wow! So many different levels of remediation, I don’t even no where to start. Ultimately, however, I’m thankful for the affordances that digital technology allows us in terms of literacy. While it is not the same as actually holding that original letter in my hand, it allows me to share with a much larger audience something that was really amazing and personal in the moment.

“But ours is a genealogy of affiliations, not a linear history, and in this genealogy, older media can also remediate newer ones.”

(Bolter and Grusin 55)

And so I was left with this really powerful experience that really required all levels of media, text, and materiality. Without the original handwritten letter, I would not have felt the immediate connection with the original composer. Pashaw, Plato!… Rather than this writing distancing me with its inability to respond to my questions, instead it sparked a curiosity about the writer that would never have existed without the technology of writing. And without the affordances of digital texts, I would not have shared it with those of you reading this post. So this nonlinear history of texts has served me well.

“When we write with cutting-edge tools, it is easy to forget whether it consists of energized particles on a screen or ink embedded in paper or lines gouged in clay tablets, writing itself is always first and foremost a technology, a way of engineering a materials in order to accomplish an end.”

(Baron 71)

And so I am compelled to turn to Dennis Baron’s “From Pencils to Pixels.” This text embodies for me what we should be doing with our assumptions about literacy, texts, and materiality. We should be questioning those notions that we assume to be true for many of those “truths” can be revealed as misconceptions. For example, I was surprised to learn that, historically, writing has not always been a trusted mode of communication. Baron expresses how “questions of validity came up because writing was indeed being used to perpetuate fraud” while “spoken language was easily corroborated” (Baron 76). We must always continue to question what we “know” to be true.

Works Cited

Baron, Dennis. “From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technologies.” Literacy: a Critical Sourcebook, by Ellen Cushman, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001, pp. 70–84.

Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. MIT Press, 2003.

“Notepad with Script.” Blick.com, twitter.com/blick_art/status/955826684732768256.

Pixabay, pixabay.com/.

Thornton, Tamara. “The Lost World of Colonial Handwriting.” Literacy: a Critical Sourcebook, by Ellen Cushman, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001, pp. 52–69.

“Various Writing Materials.” Teacher Link, teacherlink.ed.usu.edu/tlnasa/reference/ImagineDVD/Files/au/overview.html.

The Importance of Images for textual understanding

Thus the visual presentation of a text was considered, at least by the learned, to be a part of its meaning, not limited to the illustrations of its themes or subjects but necessary to its proper reading, its ability-to be significant and memorable

(Carruthers 224) .

This week I began my journey through my summer classes with ENGL621 Technology and Literacy. Already I am hooked! We read a portion of Carruthers’ The Book of Memory, specifically exploring the purpose of images in medieval texts. The quote above shows the importance of visual images in meaning and understanding. Carruthers discusses how images in these texts were not merely meant for decoration or aesthetic purposes, but that they served an important role in comprehension. This idea of the role of “nontraditional” texts in understanding is something that interests me as a secondary classroom teacher.

Even at an early age, we are “drawn in”

“Looking at pictures is an act exactly like reading”

(Carruthers 222).

Book cover of The Giving Tree
Cover of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein was one of my favorite books as a little kid. And if I am honest with myself, it was more about the pictures than the text. The love and empathy that Silverstein conveys through these images really brings the story home to the reader. While the words are powerful, the image of the tree bending down to share his apple, the moping, love-struck teen resting along the tree’s trunk, and the old man lonely, sitting on the stump, all tell the story just as clearly (if not more so) than the words themselves. I would argue that most people who grew up with this book can probably picture all three of these images just described. This is strong proof that Carruthers is correct that images help to hold ideas and themes in our memory.

More than just for children’s books

“Both textual activities, picturing and reading, have as their goal not simply the learning of a story, but learning it to familiarize and domesticate it, in that fully internalized, even physiological way that medieval reading required” (Carruthers 222).

I am a true believer in the adage that “a picture tells a thousand words,” and I think as educators, we should be using visual texts more often than we do in the English classroom.

“The Poet as Painter: Artwork as Text in the Secondary English Classroom”

Headshot of Anne Hudak
Anne Marie Hudak

Click here to view the abstract.

Above is a link to the table of contents and abstract for a master’s thesis that I wrote in 2004. The idea of using visual texts to help unpack written texts or to be used as a jumping off point for critical thinking is something that I am very passionate about. Although… it’s been a long time since I read this paper, and now I’m wishing I had titled it “The Painter as Poet…”

SAAM Summer Institutes- A Little Plug

Summer Institutes: Teaching the Humanities through Art at SAAM

For people who are passionate about using artworks in the classroom to promote deeper learning, I highly recommend the SAAM Summer Institute “Teaching Humanities through Art.” This program helps K-12 teachers explore ways to incorporate visual texts into the classroom to promote critical thinking and engagement. I attended the institute in 2016 and gleaned so many valuable tools.

“The author is a “painter,” not only in that the letters he composes with have shapes themselves, but in that his words paint pictures in the minds of his readers” (Carruthers 229).

So it is with this quote that I begin my journey into “Technology and Literacy.” It is certain that cultures privilege certain types of texts over others. It is interesting to look at certain privileging over the course of history to see how cultural norms affect these biases. If it is true that some people have argued against the use of visual images as a “lesser text” or simply as aesthetic decoration, we must think about why that culture might see visual images in this way. Likewise, we need to be sure to examine our own biases for or against certain texts in our modern culture and be slow to dismiss texts that we consider “lesser” until we have fully examined how our values might affect this judgement. In the meantime, I’m here to keep an open mind and experiment with all sort of texts in the classroom: visual, traditional, digital, and the like.

Works Cited

“Memory and the Book.” The Book of Memory: a Study of Memory in Medieval Culture, by Mary J. Carruthers, Cambridge University Press, 2008, pp. 221–255.

Moser, Anne. “The Poet as Painter: Artwork as Text in the Secondary English Classroom.” College of William and Mary, 2004.

Museum, Smithsonian American Art, director. Summer Institutes: Teaching the Humanities through Art at SAAM. YouTube, YouTube, 18 Jan. 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srLUXzBJ4Yg.

Shel, Silverstein. “The Giving Tree Book Cover.” Wikipedia, 1 Oct. 2017, upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/7/79/The_Giving_Tree.jpg.

“Summer Institutes for Teachers.” Smithsonian American Art Museum, americanart.si.edu/education/k-12/professional-development/summer-institutes.

Box Logic Remediation Project

Interfacing in Education

For my Box Logic Remediation Project, I chose to do an iMovie that presents a fundamental, scholarly review of interface in classroom discussion. It gives an overview of why both electronic discussion boards and more traditional classroom discussions are beneficial in the classroom.

I chose to use iMovie to create this video because it is a program that I call upon my students to use in projects a lot, but I am not well-versed in using myself. Because I do not find iMovie intuitive, I’ve often shied away from practicing with it.

I learned some other important tidbits along the way. Namely, I discovered Pixabay, which made the process of adding images so easy, and it’s free! I had a little trouble with the close captions, again, with this project, but I eventually figured it out. YouTube kept uploading them in Dutch!

My ever-evolving relationship with literacy

I have to publish something on YouTube?

So this was me after reading that I had to create a YouTube video. I think it’s interesting after all the discussions we have had in ENGL 629 about multi-modalities, I still hate the sound of my own voice on an audio or video recording.

The experience was very worthwhile though, especially working with the closed-captions feature… definitely worth the cringe-worthy reaction to my own voice.

My Relationship with Reading

Transcript of Literacy Narrative

So my relationship with literacy, like most relationships in life, has had its ups and downs, not that I’ve ever truly been on bad terms with literacy, but there have been times that I’ve put reading and writing to the backburner and haven’t been the best “partner” so to speak. First of all, most of this narrative is going be about written text since that has primarily been my experience with media through most of my life. It’s not until recently that I really started thinking about other texts as being media as well and having to do with literacy. My first experiences with reading… they were very positive ones, including reading with my grandmother. So, I adored her, she adored me. I was the only granddaughter, and she had two boys, and we used to read books together all the time. There was one book in particular… I don’t even remember the title of the book, but it was about animals from around the world, and it would describe these animals and the sounds that they would make during the day, and then you’d flip the page, and it would have the animals at night and the sounds that they made. It had beautiful, colorful pictures, and I just loved that text. It’s unfortunate that I have not been able to find it as an adult, but I just loved turning the pages and anticipating what was going to happen next. And truly that’s what I was doing… was anticipating because at that time I actually couldn’t read, but I had memorized every single line. And as my grandmother would turn the page, I would “read” to her what was coming up next. And so, just my first memories of reading were very positive ones. Then after that, my next experiences were also very positive. In kindergarten, they used to sneak a group of us out during naptime (and I hated naptime) to go read in another room.  We kind of whispered these lines of these books together, and so it was just a very positive memory. I felt important.  I felt special, being able to do this, and so I had this really great relationship with reading and books. That relationship really continued through high school and college. I felt that reading allowed me the opportunity to connect to the characters in a special way and to connect to the writers as well. I could almost always find some sort of connection and relate it to myself in just about everything I read, and reading came very easily to me. I could tell that it came easier to me than some of my peers, who sort of struggled with this. But for me, it was comfortable and I felt very lucky that this sort of privileged form of media was something that I didn’t have to work too hard for. Anyway, it has continued throughout high school and college, and it really wasn’t until I was out of my undergraduate college that my relationship with reading changed. And basically, sort of, life took over, adulting took over, and I found less and less time to read. And so it was always kind of that last thing on my priority list, and it [reading] was put to the backburner, and I just didn’t do it very often. And then, I started finding that when I did [read], I didn’t have the patience for reading that I had had before. I would read a headline, I might get through one or two paragraphs, and then just kind of my interest would sort of die off. So I sort of felt guilty about this, and I just I don’t know… I always had some reason not to read, and truthfully it hasn’t been until I made a career switch and decided to start teaching that I’ve kind of gotten back into reading on a more regular basis. Reading and I had been on a “break,” and once I became a teacher, I had to sort of “reconcile” with reading. It was hard. I had lost my stamina, and I still found that I was reading just enough to get through the requirements. Rereading a text that I was going to be reading with my students, something of that nature. Reading a lot of their writing… that kind of thing, but I also recognized that to be a good teacher, you have to model, and you have to do those things that you want your students to be able to do. So reading and

I have kind of “made up” in a lot of ways, but I still find that I don’t have that same special relationship that I did when I was little. Um, I still try to read for pleasure, although it usually ends up just being about seven minutes before I am fast asleep in bed at night where I pick up a book just for pleasure, but unfortunately, it doesn’t last too terribly long. So, anyway, in my classes, I found that I’m doing more reading than I had been for a few years, and the amazing thing is that in my classroom, that I am really both teacher and student. So the other day, we were reading “Turkeys in the Kitchen” by Dave Barry, and my students were having a rather spirited discussion about gender roles, and by the end of class, they were presenting me with different texts they were showing me… that infamous Gillette commercial about hyper-masculinity and they were showing me Nike commercials that had to do with gender roles, and so they were introducing me to newer medias that sort of went along the same theme. So my relationship with reading has come to a new chapter, so to speak… one of multi-literacies and new media. And though I sort of feel like I’m “cheating” on my written texts, sometimes, I’m keeping an open mind to new experiences.

Opening my mind to new texts

“And given all of these converging factors, teachers can’t help but notice new media texts—and worry about how or if such texts should be assuming a more prominent place in composition classrooms” (Selfe 44).

If I am honest with myself, the idea from the above quote is the very reason that I chose to take this Seminar in New Media Studies. As an English teacher, opening up my mind (and my classroom) to new media has been a bit of a struggle. We often find ourselves wondering if we are losing something by allowing media (other than traditional written texts like novels, plays, and poetry) into our curriculum.

The old school way of looking at this is to think that we are somehow “dumbing it down” when we allow for new media to find a place in the classroom. However, this mindset is antiquated and, quite frankly, dangerous. Not only from the standpoint of disengaging our students, but also in doing them a disservice by not preparing them for a world outside of academia.

“Literacies accumulate rapidly when a culture is undergoing a particularly dramatic or radical transition. And during such periods of rapid change, individuals are often expected to learn, value, and practice both past and present forms of literacy simultaneously and in different spheres of their lives” (Selfe 50).

As Selfe argues in the quote above, we live in a world in which just focusing on traditional written texts is not going to be enough. By ignoring new media forms, we are ignoring “present forms of literacy” and our students will ultimately pay the price. I think about the incident in class that I referenced in my literacy narrative about a classroom discussion on gender roles I had with my AP students a few weeks ago.

We were reading and discussing a traditional text (Dave Barry’s “Turkeys in the Kitchen”) when students starting popping out of their seats, phones in hand. “Look, Mrs. Hudak! This is the Gillette commercial I was talking about.” My initial reaction on the inside was, “Oh no! I’m losing them…. they’re on their phones.” But then I realized I had NOT lost them. They were making connections to media that was current and relevant to them. The examples they showed me of online videos had just as much literary merit and connection to the topics we were discussing. In some ways, they were even more powerful because these new media included multi-modalities: images, sound, and vocal language.

This became on of those times when I had to push back my bias towards written text and allow my students to lead the way. They were finding connections that I hadn’t… and they were stepping into the role of teacher. Bravo, students!

Works Cited

Literacy Narrative. Dir. Anne Hudak. YouTube. 31 Mar. 2019. 06 Apr. 2019 <https://youtu.be/dV7gzmdgTkA&gt;.

Perkins, Hilary. Disgusted Cat. 2 Feb. 2009. Flickr. 6 Apr. 2019 <https://www.flickr.com/photos/cowbite/3248529556&gt;.

Selfe, Cynthia. “Students Who Teach Us: A Case Study of a New Media Text Designer.” Writing New Media Theory and Applications for Expanding the Teaching of Composition. Logan: Utah State UP, 2004. 43-66.

Down the virtual rabbit hole

Remediation of interface leads to virtual experience

from Hypergrid Business

This week’s readings introduced us to the concept of mapping, and while I found the readings really interesting, I decided to go back a little further to chase my rabbit this week. In last week’s box logic notes, I started looking at remediation of interface and why we do it.

In my search last week, I found myself hopping over to chapter 16, “The Virtual Self,” in Bolter and Grusin’s Remediation: Understanding New Media where I started to explore the empathetic motivations of assuming other’s points of view in virtual reality.

While I don’t think the topic of virtual reality is quite where I’m going to end up in my Box Logic Project, I did decide to take a closer look at a text referenced in Bolter and Grusin: Meredith Bricken’s “Virtual Worlds: No Interface to Design.”

“Assuming multiple perspectives is a powerful capacity: only after young children are developmentally ready to understand that each person sees from a different perspective can they learn to relate to others in an empathetic way” (Bricken qtd in Bolter and Grusin 245).

Initially, the quote Bolter and Grusin pulled from Bricken’s article and the title of the article struck me as something that might connect to where I think I want to go with my Box Logic Project: understanding why we remediate interface and how this information can help me choose appropriate interfaces to more fully engage students in the high school classroom.

Ultimately, this rabbit hole didn’t quite lead me to my hoped-for destination, but I did glean some interesting insights in my journey.

“Cyberspace technology couples the functions of the computer with human capabilities. This requires that we tailor the technology to people, and refine the fit to individuals. We then have customized interaction with personalized forms of information that can amplify our individual intelligence and broaden our experience”  (Bricken 1).

While Bricken is specifically writing about virtual reality in this quote, this idea can be extended to the adaptation of any interface. Truly, what I hope to discover in my research for my Box Logic Project is how to determine what sorts of interfaces will help “amplify” the experiences of my students in the classroom. If virtual experiences are truly our attempts to connect and empathize with other individuals and gain understandings of them, the world, and ourselves, what are the best ways for students to interface?

“The task of designing a virtual world, then, does not rest on helping people interpret what the machine is doing, but on determining the most natural and satisfying behaviors for particular participants, and providing tools that augment natural abilities” (Bricken 3).

I love this idea of “providing tools that augment natural abilities.” In K-12 education, we often talk about getting away from “technology for the sake of technology” and this speaks to that idea. What is the best way to engage with new media and new technologies to enhance learning? Or… is there true value in engaging with technology just for the sake of engaging in technology? I don’t know; perhaps I need to think about that question, too.

“People really do seem to find virtual worlds easy to figure out. However, a closer look at the design criteria for these particular models is important. All virtual worlds are not equally learnable. How quickly and accurately we build a cognitive model of the environment is influenced by the environment’s design. For example, when a virtual world seems familiar to us from some real-world experience, we may accommodate to it more quickly” (Bricken 10).

And this quote speaks to the cultural aspect of accessibility. In an earlier blog, I referenced the idea that there is not one interface that is inherently “better” or more accessible, but rather that our previous experiences color and affect how we interact with new interfaces. This is something to keep in mind as I begin to think about narrowing down my topic a bit.

For further thought…

So, in this blog post, I think I’m bringing myself back to the idea of mapping (even though I said I wasn’t going there). I know I need to start narrowing down my topic even further, perhaps thinking about a specific task or skill-set within the classroom when exploring the effectiveness of certain types of interface (small group discussion, composition, etc.) And it may be that mapping the players or “actors” within certain interfaces will help me to start to see the ease and accessibility that students can move within these spaces….

Works Cited

Bricken, Meredith. “Virtual worlds: no interface to design.” (1991).

Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. “The Virtual Self.” Remediation: Understanding new media. Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 2003. 242-54.

Future of Virtual Reality. Digital image. Hypergrid Business. 26 Dec. 2018. 24 Mar. 2019 <https://www.hypergridbusiness.com/2018/12/the-future-of-virtual-reality-beyond-videos-and-games/&gt;.

Inside the box: exploring the purpose of remediation

Box Logic Notes #3

Why do we remediate interface?

“In fully immersive virtual reality, the whole interface is an expression of this freedom to move” (Bolter and Grusin 243-244).

This week, I began to really delve into why certain interfaces continue to evolve. Why do we really feel the need to have that immediacy in new media? Then, I was watching a comedy special with my husband and ran across this clip:

Coming full circle?

So funny and so true! I question why we continue to remediate interface if all we are doing is getting closer and closer to “the real world”? Why remediate at all if it is bringing us full circle. I decided to see if I could find anything else in Bolter and Grusin’s Remediation: Understanding New Media on why we remediate interface. I came upon the following quote in chapter 16 “The Virtual Self”:

“Nonetheless, this same freedom [of transparent interface] can serve a more radical cultural purpose: to enable us to occupy the position, and therefore the point of view, of people or creatures different from ourselves” (Bolter and Grusin 245).

I can certainly see the desire as human beings to want to view things from a different perspective, to put ourselves in the shoes (or eyes) of another person or even, as shown in B and G’s text, other creatures like dinosaurs and gorillas. Bolter and Grusin claim that for Jaron Lanier, we do this in order to empathize with others:

“For Lanier, the immediacy of virtual reality makes possible a new kind of empathy” (Bolter and Grusin 246).

I think that our desire to empathize is part of what makes us human, but I am convinced that virtual reality can get us there. Even in a situation in which the interface is such that it appears to be completely transparent and we no longer notice it, I don’t know that simply viewing from “the point of view” of another creature can fully allow us to “be” or experience what that other person is experiencing. There is more to feeling empathy than seeing through the eyes of another.

Why the need to step into other’s shoes?

“Virtual reality itself has been the subject of several recent films, and invariably in these films, a character casts his or her mind into the computer, usually to have it trapped there or to exchange or merge with other minds” (Bolter and Grusin 247).

While the following scene from Big does not feature virtual reality (although we do get a peak at 1980s “virtual reality” with the video game at the very beginning), this clip shows an example of the many films from the 1980s and 1990s that featured this idea of one person who quite literally embodies some one else. Freaky Friday, 18 again, Dream a Little Dream, The Shaggy Dog, and so many more. The fact that there are so many films along this same theme certainly shows a human fascination with the topic.

Tom Hanks’ character experiencing empathy in Big.

In this film, Tom Hanks’ character, Josh Baskin, is a 12-year-old boy who wishes himself “big.” In this scene, the grown-up Josh finds himself nostalgically viewing kids his own age (and even teenagers a bit older) after he’s experienced some of what it’s like to be a “grown up.” He’s able to feel empathy for these other characters because he’s “been there” as a child and now through other more adult-like experiences.

Really, why do we? Food for thought…

If what Lanier says is true that “virtual reality makes possible a new kind of empathy,” then I can certainly see our fascination with remediating interface. It seems clear to me that this desire (one might even say need) for empathy is what defines us as human. What I question, though, is why we need new media to help us find that empathy?

Is it because no matter how hard we try, we can never truly and fully empathize with another human that we feel the need to remediate interface in search of that connection? Okay, so I think I might be going off the philosophical deep end, but I’m really getting excited about this topic now.

In last week’s Voice Thread discussion in ENGL629 (Seminar in New Media Studies), I posed this question: Which came first? The cultural change or the new media? And so it is here. I question the true impetus for remediation and for our desire to develop newer and different interfaces.

Are we searching for what Lacan might suggest is some sort of a lack? (a little nod there to my ENGL671 Literary Theory class) Is remediation of interface our attempt (that continues to fail) to be able to truly and fully empathize with another. And, if this is so, is what Bolter and Grusin claim about “empathetic learning” true? That “the integrity of the self is always compromised” (247).

For further review: Citations below for Caroline Bassett and James Miller

Works Cited

Bassett, Caroline. “Beautiful Patterns of Bits: Cybernetics, Interfaces, New Media.” Manchester University Press, 2013.

Big. Dir. Penny Marshall. Perf. Tom Hanks. Gracie Films, 1988. YouTube. 22 Nov. 2015. 09 Mar. 2019 <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFDH6GeCM1c&gt;.

Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding new media. Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 2003.

Miller, James. “The Dematerializing Interface.” Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture, vol. 10, no. 1, 2015, pp. 66-80.

Showsaf. “Body Swap Movies.” IMDb. 27 June 2011. IMDb.com. 09 Mar. 2019 <https://www.imdb.com/list/ls000924797/&gt;.

Video Games are Done. Dir. Dwayne Perkins. YouTube. 08 Sept. 2016. 09 Mar. 2019 <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwRfUJYoI20&gt;.

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