Thinking about Multimodal Assessment

Yesterday, our RCWP Project WRITE team had the good fortune of being able to work with NWP’s Director of Research and Evaluation, Paul LeMahieu, on an analytic writing continuum workshop. In his talk, which was similar to the session that I attended last summer, he talked about how the continuum has been developed, the pedagogical uses of it, and how we, as professionals who teach writing, need to not just tell those who value tests to “stop,” but to also offer them something better to use instead (we hope to post some notes on the session soon on the Project WRITE wiki).

Particularly useful for the Project WRITE teachers, as he talked about the different categories for assessment on the continuum (content, structure, stance, diction, sentence fluency, and conventions — modeled, with permission, after six traits), he also talked about how this structure of assessment works for most kinds of writing, but not all and not the least of which is multimodal writing. He mentioned how there are not really any models that explore how to assess multimodal composition and how, perhaps, we could develop one through this work in Project WRITE. That is a very exciting component of this project that I had not anticipated when we originally started, and I look forward to pursuing it more soon. (NOTE: I do think that Bernajean Porter has got our thinking moving in this direction for K-12 students, and put up some good criteria and an interactive rubric maker on her Digitales Evaluation site.)

Coincidentally, I have been chewing on this idea now for the past few days as I was trying to help my students in ENG 201 come up with criteria for evaluating their final multimodal projects. As I asked them to reflect on what they have been doing and how they have been working over the past few weeks on these projects, we talked on Tuesday about how the categories of the analytic continuum (which we have been using all semester) just didn’t quite line up with what they were thinking about in terms of what to earn a grade on. Along with some criteria for judging group member performance, they went back to our discussions earlier this semester about rhetoric, and we came up with the following ideas for grading this project:

  • Ethos: the credibility of the author is established through professional language, use of appropriate sources, and evidence of author’s perspective (within or in addition to the main multimodal documents)
  • Pathos: the texts make appropriate emotional appeals that both engage the reader and provide insight into the chosen topic
  • Logos: the texts present a clear and coherent central idea, supported with appropriate evidence and argumentative strategies
  • Content and Structure: the choice of mode and media support the message in the texts and elements of multimedia are thoughtfully integrated into the project rather than as a gratuitous add-on
  • Design: the choice of design principles (contrast, repetition, alignment, proximity) as well as rhetorical decisions (transitions, word choice, stance) combine to make an attractive and effective presentation

So, it will be interesting to see how this turns out. Students, in groups, will be assessing the other groups’ work and I will be throwing in my grade with the whole bunch to get an average. I haven’t graded anything multimodal yet, let alone a collaborative grading where students are involved in the process. I’ll write more about it once we are done, and look forward to hearing your ideas about how you are teaching and assessing multimodal writing, as well as any resources that you can point to about this messy, yet engaging, component of the writing process.

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Reflections on Social Networking based on NCTE/NWP 2007

Today’s NCTE Inbox had an official list of blog posts about the convention, as well as Traci Gardner’s commentary about whether and how teachers should blog (for the record, she thinks that they should, although some districts do not). I find this thread of conversation an interesting complement to a few others floating around today, too.

One of the threads is a group of NWP tech liaisons talking about whether and how we should start a national social network of teachers doing great things with writing and technology. This network exists, in some ways, but it is scattered in many places, not all of them “officially” sanctioned by NWP (nor do they need to be). This conversation is important though because I think that it raises one fundamental issue — for all the blogs, wikis, podcasts, social bookmarks, RSS feeds, Facebook groups, Ning networks, and other ways that we have to stay in touch, do we actually stay in touch?

I have been thinking a lot about this lately as I help my pre-service teachers understand the implications of blogs and wikis as well as try to organize such groups for the various professional organizations that I am in including RCWP, MCTE, MRA, and CEE. How to build and maintain a network — let alone if a “formal” network is needed at all — is at the core of what I and four other colleagues are thinking about as we prepare to propose a new interactive website for CEE. There is also interaction in the works for MRA. Yet, RCWP and MCTE have had interactive sites, more or less, for a year or two now and neither of them generate much traffic. So, even if you build the space for the network, it is not a guarantee that teachers will come.

So, what to do about social networks for teachers? I am not sure how to best answer that. We are trying a wiki and Google groups for Project WRITE, and having limited interactions and success with those spaces. Is part of the problem that the idea of social networking is still too new or different from what we are used to with F2F networking? Are we still just stuck in email mode and not ready to venture out to the web to find a network, rather waiting for it to come to our inbox? Or, is it just the fact that a certain type of chemistry, one that can’t be forced, but must be natural, must emerge?

I certainly don’t have any answers, especially not tonight. But, I feel that the questions are worth asking; even if we don’t get to answering them outright, we can begin to understand why teachers (generally) choose not to use these networks. My thoughts range from being busy to not being aware, from being happy within a school-based learning community to simply not wanting to move outside of one’s comfort zones. As networks continue to grow, I think that we need to ask these fundamental questions about why and how they work for some teachers, while not for others, and whether we should be trying to make the perfect network, or rethink what it means to be a teacher in the 21st century.