Shipka’s Toward a Composition Made Whole presents thought provoking arguments that can transform how we teach, research, and evaluate writing. Its innovative pedagogy enables us to go beyond digital confines and broaden the types of “writing” and “reading” that we might assign and teach in our classroom. This is especially significant for institutions and students who might have limited computer resources or who prefer to work with gestural (embodied) or material rhetorics that are non-electronic. While our field has addressed the rhetorical significance of visual, aural/oral, and alphabetic discourses, gestural and spatial designs (New London Group, 1996) have yet to receive much attention. Shipka’s framework allows us to teach and approach these modalities as other viable forms of writing.
At the same time, however, I realize that Shipka’s call may strike some readers as unorthodox and radical. They may feel uncomfortable following it, and the traditional curriculum of some first-year writing programs may make it difficult for instructors to implement her pedagogy. The book offers hands-on strategies for addressing potential resistance, and it persuasively demonstrates how the pedagogy allows students to learn rhetorical concepts and academic skills of traditional writing courses. Yet readers may still wonder how they might help students master essayistic literacy—a skill that the academy values and expects first-year composition to fulfill—and maintain the open-ended assignment option that Shipka suggests at the same time. Further, the book does not thoroughly detail how to walk students through complex invention and planning needed to generate the final product. This is important given the open-ended nature of the assignment. Some hands-on strategies for addressing these challenges would be helpful here.
Nonetheless, Shipka’s creative ideas, lucid prose style, and well illustrated examples make Toward a Composition Made Whole a refreshing book to read. Its framework for teaching, researching, and assessing multimodal composing pushes us to think beyond typical conventions and orthodox pedagogical practices, enabling us to expand our understanding of “rhetoric,” “writing” and “technologies.” For this reason, the book is an innovative and useful resource for instructors, writing program administrators, and graduate students.
Reviewed by Chanon Adsanatham
Shipka, Jody. (2011).