ILA Technology in Literacy Education SIG 2018

Multimodal composition & assessment

Student-centered Digital Multimodal Assessment with Visual Rhetoric

Kym Martin, a former high school English teacher, wanted to incorporate digital multimodal composition in a way that supported the schools’ more traditional rhetoric and composition curriculum while inviting students to use the social languages they utilize everyday. She saw her students as “already writers,” communicating with multiple modes in sophisticated ways. Furthermore, she wanted to give her students the freedom to choose what they would publish and how. The big question: How can she assess so many diverse projects? And so… a collaborative formative experiment was born.

Multimodal Intervention

The collaboration between Kym and Fawn evolved over a period of two years as part of an ongoing formative experiment. Formative experiment is an approach in research that centers on iterations of an intervention in authentic classroom contexts.

The goal was to design an intervention, or a series of lessons and assessments, for digital multimodal composition. Digital multimodal composition (DMC) is the practice or product of combining modes (e.g., visual, aural, spatial, linguistic, and gestural) and media (e.g., video, images, music, etc.) to create a cohesive whole. Kym wanted students to employ the social languages they utilize everyday as an entry point into academic languages, emphasizing that “students are already writers.”

The Digital Self Portrait

Together, we developed an intervention for a DMC project: The Digital Self Portrait. Students could use any digital media with which they were familiar, including social media, to communicate something essential about their self. They were encouraged to choose a medium that would support their rhetorical purpose.

Student Choice & Assessments

Student choice was an important aspect of the intervention. Of especial concern for Kym was how to assess multiple and diverse digital projects, which ranged from social media (e.g., Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube) to websites, digital comics, and student-developed video games. Additionally, we wanted to involve the students as much as possible in the process. We share the results of the study with practical implications for ELA classrooms in this  presentation for the Technology and Literacy Education SIG at ILA 2018.

The Digital Self Portrait in the Classroom

The Digital Self Portrait

The Digital Self Portrait assignment introduction: “Attached to our phones, compulsive about social media, surrounded by screens, beeps, and buzzes, it’s not just that the Internet is everywhere…it’s that the Internet increasingly defines us.”

The Digital Self Portrait asked students portray something essential about their ‘self,’ or identity, through a social media (or other interactive platform) of their choice. To prepare for the DSP, students:


ELA Common Core State Standards

W.5.9-10: Focus on what is most significant for purpose and audience.

W.6.9-10: Use technology…to produce, publish, update, or share writing products.

W. 6.9-10 Take advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other info and display info. flexibly.

L.3.9-10: Apply knowledge of language to make effective choices for meaning or style.

SL.5.9-10: Make strategic use of digital media in presentations to enhance understanding…and add interest.

We generated a list of possible standards, but refined the list after students generated ideas for the evaluation criteria.

Visual Rhetoric

A Visual Rhetoric Lens. The elements of a visual rhetoric framework underscore that in contemporary culture, we communicate primarily through images (e.g., Handa, 2004; Hill & Helmer, 2004; Olson, Finnegan, & Hope, 2008; Rose, 2016). Visual culture, in addition to visual rhetoric, contributes an understanding that many of the images and resources used in meaning-making are already imbued with culturally significant meanings (Barthes, 1957, 1964; Mitchell, 1994). Conventions in visual rhetoric contribute to an understanding of the intersections of discourse communities, visual culture, and the grammars of signs and symbols used to communicate meaning (Kostelnick & Hassett, 2003). When we ask students to use tools from visual culture, they are specifically thinking about audience and purpose– and how language/signs/modes help them achieve their purpose.


Co-constructed assessment, or student contract, crafted with students as a contract, was combined with presentation and a reflection that included self-graded contract. Together, these assessments gave Kym a more full understanding of what students intended and accomplished.

The Five Canons

The five canons of rhetoric, invention, arrangement, style, memory and delivery have been compared to the stages of writing. Our thinking has evolved to emphasize that composing for an intended audience requires being mindful of the effect of your choices and some, but perhaps not all, of the canons can help us illustrate this approach. For example, in Silva Rhetoricae‘s definition of invention, we highlighted keywords to underscore that invention is more than a drafting stage:

Invention: “Invention concerns finding something to say. Certain common categories of thought became conventional to use in order to brainstorm for material. These common places (places = topoi in Greek) are called the ‘topics of invention.’ They include, include, for example, cause and effect, comparison, and various relationships.”

The emphasis is still on ideas, but the author is playing with their material while thinking of topoi. Other stages are also useful for digital composing in multiple modes with crossover in writing, such as arrangement, or the ordering of discourse– a consideration of appeals (ethos, pathos, logos), for example.

In the end… the writing process used in ELA classrooms still works for talking about stages of designing texts in multiple modes and media.

Targeted Lesson Planning

Lesson ideas were drawn from the text, Practices of Looking (Sturken & Cartwright, 2009, 2017). Our lessons covered:

Co-constructed Asssessment

Posted after presentation 7/22/18

Other resources:

NWP MAP Group Digital Writing Assessment and Evaluation

Presentation Handout




Sturken & Cartwright




Student Samples

Exploring our technology -mediated identities through digital writing.

Students overwhelmingly chose to compose with Instagram; however, unique projects like “Everyday,” a video game, took interactive media to a whole new level. In this example, the player could also become creator- manipulating the actual game. Other examples included websites, draw-my-life videos, digital comics, and more.






ILA Technology in Literacy Education SIG, Austin 2018

Fawn Canady


Kymberly Martin


Chyllis E. Scott