Composing with Sound In the Classroom Post 2: Why Bother with Sound?

Before I get too deep into some of the logistics in my discussion on using sound composition in the high school classroom, I’d like to generally explain why I think more teachers of writing should be capitalizing on this gold mine of a mode.

As teachers, we only have our students in our rooms for a precious little amount of time, and the expanse of skills and knowledge we want to impart to them is truly bottomless. The process of paring down our lessons and units to no more than what is absolutely necessary and no less than what is irresistibly engaging for our students is the impossible task given to every educator. With this conundrum at hand, what makes sound composition worthy of our valuable and fleeting time together?

In response to this question, I have compiled the following list which is certainly only introductory; however, my hope is that it will serve as an entry point for educators considering incorporating sound into their curriculum.

  • I have blogged before about the importance of composing in a variety of modes. Equipping our students to be fluent, creative, and explorative in whatever modes are available to them is an integral piece of developing them into literate scholars in our current world. Sound is one of those modes!
  • Sound saturates our students’ lives. Music, podcasts, speeches, radio, and our own classroom instructions are all strategically constructed sound compositions designed to accomplish specific rhetorical goals in a targeted audience. It is important that we not miss opportunities to help our students become more aware of some of the genres and rhetoric swirling around them in these compositions by teaching them how sound works as a tool for making meaning.
  • Sound as a mode in the classroom is unusual and unexpected, which means it automatically places students outside their comfort zones. This is where they can most easily escape convention and imitation in order to find creativity and unique voice. This also promotes genre awareness as students work in a mode that invites the use of fixed, established genres as well as genre-invention.
  • Inclusive classrooms are authentically accessible for a wide range of students of different physical, cognitive, and linguistic ability levels. Using sound composition diversifies the accessibility of your classroom, creating more points of access into your material for more students.
  • Students often come to sound composition with a pre-established and somewhat instinctive understanding of how sound works. Based on their experience using and experiencing sound compositions, they will find themselves prepared to use sound strategies in ways that prompt real reflection on audience awareness, rhetorical goals, and genre decisions.

Traditionally, classrooms that explore non-alphabetic modes of composition employ the use of imagery, physical movement, video, or sculpture. While all of these modes are essential, I rarely find sound among them. This is exciting to me as an educator because it means we have this massive, untapped resource at our fingertips! My goal for the next few blog post is to offer some easy, free, and practical tools to help educators bring sound composition work into their classrooms.


Composing with Sound in the Classroom: Post 1

Anyone familiar with me or my work as a teacher or a scholar knows that I have the biggest soft spot in the world for any kind of compositional work involving sound. I’ve blogged for NCTE about it with some of my colleagues; I was part of a collaborative piece exploring sonic rhetoric that was published in the online journal Kairos; I incorporate audio options for my students in major assessments; and I try to bring sonic rhetoric into my classroom whenever humanly possible. I could (and will at a later date) go on, but my point here is that I believe composing with sound is a dynamic, inherently engaging way of teaching students to think creatively and carefully about the ways they make meaning in their work.

Despite the staggering wealth of opportunities for meaningful exploration and play that sound composition offers, I don’t often see it used in composition classrooms. I believe there are a variety of reasons for this, including but not limited to…

  • a general lack of appreciation for the value of multimodal composition
  • intimidation surrounding working in an unfamiliar mode and/or genre
  • uncertainty concerning how to authentically integrate the content into coursework
  • perhaps most significant, anxiety regarding the required technology

With this list in mind, I’d like to take my next few blog posts to address some of these common hindrances to sound composition in the classroom. While using sound to teach composition may sound complicated or confusing, my experience has shown it to be the exact opposite. There are actually VERY accessible, intuitive, and user-friendly solutions to many of these concerns, and I’m excited to share some of my experience with using sound in the classroom in the hopes that this might encourage other educators to take the risk and give sound composition a try with their students! I can absolutely promise that you and your students will LOVE the things you discover when composing with sound.



Storify is Dead (Almost)

I don’t know if you’ve heard the terrible news. My much beloved Storify is dying. On May 16, 2018, Storify will be shutting down and deleting all of its content. They’ve posted the message loud and clear on their soon-to-be-deleted homepage.

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Storify has been a regular feature on this blog.

I’m still sorting out how best to preserve while still continuing to share the content that I and students have built using Storify’s platform. I have until May 16th to figure it all out. Apparently, after May, I will have the option to use Storify 2 which comes inside of a purchased Livefyre license, but, if Storify is no longer free, it loses its value for me.

So, for now, it appears that my stand-in for this year’s students will be Padlet, which is essentially an online bulletin board that allows students to individually or collaboratively arrange links, images, and text in a secure, but shareable space. I’ll report back on the usefulness of this stand-in; however, before I get too ahead of myself, a moment of silence for Storify.

Playing with My Friends

I’ve blogged before about how much joy I get out of playfully collaborating with my colleagues to create exciting and awesome new ideas and compositions. From presenting at conferences to reflectively exploring new areas of scholarship to writing this awesome piece on composing with sound for Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, some of my best work has come from working alongside others to create something much greater and more complex than I could have come up with using just my mind alone.

Carrying on in this developing personal practice, I have teamed up with Kate Artz and Anne Mooney to publish our most recent piece with Kairos, “Transmodality in Action: A Manifesto.” It’s definitely my oddest, most experimental publication to date, but I love it passionately, largely because it was really really fun to make.

Don’t get me wrong; the scholarly value and complexity of my publications and research matters to me greatly. However, there is just no way around the fact that I like doing things that are a lot of fun with people that are fun to work with. Playing in this way inevitably leads me to create excellent work. And therein lies the heart of what I want to say in this post.

Here are some things that happen when I playfully explore my field alongside like minded colleagues:

  • I discover new facets and angles to issues that interest and excite me and that shape the way I think about my discipline.
  • I create high quality work that expresses my passion for my field and engages others to play with or dialogue over the ideas we are exploring.
  • I push myself to articulate my thoughts and observe how others understand and interact with them.
  • I find myself happily and willingly dedicating long hours of hard work to scholarly endeavors without excessive fatigue or frustration.
  • I develop habits of questioning, trying on multiple perspectives, and hunting for new ways to view things.
  • When a project draws to a close, I am eager and excited for new, bigger, and more elaborate projects.

I can say with certainty that my colleagues experience all these same benefits in their own ways. And if it’s true for us, it’s true for our students. Looking over this list, these are some of the core skills and experiences I want my students to have in my classroom. So while I am pouring over elaborate lesson plans and assessments, I resolve to make it a goal to carve out time to let my students and their friends play with composition and literature. Because that seems to be where the real magic happens.


Presenting at New England CCCCs 2017: Continuing my Career as a Teacher-Scholar

As I’ve blogged about extensively in the past, I have an enthusiastic love for academic conferences within my discipline. Even when the conference or the keynote speaker isn’t what I was expecting or hoping for, I always walk away from my conference experiences feeling enriched, motivated, and challenged. Now that I have completed my graduate degrees and am working full time in a high school classroom, conference participation and attendance don’t fall quite as readily into my work life routine as they have in the past; however, I find it more important now than ever that I continue pushing myself to remain actively engaged in current, ongoing scholarship within my field. It matters deeply to me both as a scholar and as an educator. To my pleasant surprise my supervisors, administrators, and colleagues at LCA support me in this wholeheartedly.

As a result of all these factors, this past May, I had the genuine pleasure of continuing my research and scholarship in teaching composition by working alongside my longtime research colleagues, Anne Mooney and Kate Artz, to organize a 60-minute panel at NCTE’s New England Summer Conference on College Composition & Communication (CCCCs): Sharing Best Practices at Boston University. And let me just say, my passion for academic conferences has not waned in the slightest.

Our session, entitled “Making Audio Accessible: Teaching Transcription as Composition” examined how teaching transcription of audio files as a rhetorical process empowers students to create purposeful and accessible texts of their own. Attendees of the session participated in an activity designed to help them better understand the experiences transcripts create for their readers. We also provided assignment materials for attendees to use in their own classrooms. It was a great turnout with truly fantastic and engaged participation from our attendees.

We were also fortuitously paired with Dartmouth College’s Mark Koch, who approached similar questions to the ones we explored in our panel, but through the rhetorical activity of composing maps. While his was a very visual mode and ours relied on the relationship between audio and text, both projects explored exciting and interesting ways to prompt students to grapple with complicated and difficult questions when composing. What information is included? What information is left out? What are my rhetorical goals, and how can I best achieve them? We felt very honored and lucky to have been so aptly paired with Dr. Koch.

As this was my first conference as an active teacher instead of a graduate student, I was definitely aware that my daily activities existed much father outside the realm of traditional research and scholarship than they have in the past; however, I became acutely conscious of the difference my role in the classroom made in the way I was able to process and engage with some of the theoretical ideas we were batting around. The immediacy with which I was able to envision the practical implementation of some of the principles and concepts we were exploring was pointed and fascinating to say the least. More than ever before I felt the importance of the balance between my identity as an educator and my identity as a scholar, and the energy and excitement of that recognition has not left me as I transition into my summer.

Ultimately, I was able to gather with motivated and experienced educators from across New England to share our research, discuss developments in our discipline, and provoke deeper, more complex thought on the issues shaping our field today. But I was able to do so while inhabiting the role of a teacher-scholar more fully than I ever have before. And I have a sense that the gravity of that has yet to entirely hit me, which excites me greatly.




Using Digital Activities in the Classroom – Part 4 of 5: Storify

I am absolutely loving my first year of full-time lead teaching; however, it has been consuming enough to take me until now to get to the next installment in my series on using digital activities in the classroom, introduced in this post.

As I slowly work through this series, I’m going to use this post to explore a tool that I have only recently added to my digital toolbox: Storify.


This post in my digital classroom activities series just HAPPENS to coincide with a little side venture that my teacher-friends Anne Mooney, Megan Grandmont, and myself  undertook this past summer in which we argued in a group text thread over the difference between transmodal and transmedia composition and then converted the whole conversation into a Storify story. The whole thing was loads of fun and you can read about it in this blog post. Coming off of completing this side-project, however, I am extra enthusiastic about the affordances of Storify and how it can be used in a high school classroom!

What is Storify?
Before we get too far, let me explain what Storify is. Storify is a free, online tool that allows you as the user to draw from multiple social media and online resources including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Soundcloud, Tumblr, and a variety of other sites, curating information to meet your needs. You can also enter urls to find google images or particular sites. The links, images, or videos that you pull from these different resources can then be assembled into a timeline or “story.” The story is entirely linear; each element has to come before or after the others. As you are assembling your story, you can enter text to give the story shape, flow, and cohesion. The end result is a multimedia summary or record of a topic or event with information aggregated from a host of different sources.

Perhaps the best way to understand Storify is simply to read through some examples.

  • HERE is an example of an ongoing story started in 2011 by journalist Josh Stearns who used Storify to track the arrests of journalists covering the Occupy protests. The chronological nature of Stearns’ project works well with Storify’s linear structure. Storify’s ability to draw from various social media outlets helps Stearns consolidate a wide array of disparate pieces of information into his story.
  • HERE is a story capturing the unfolding story of an elderly bus monitor who was harassed by some students, triggering a national response of donations so that she could retire early.
  • HERE is an excellent how-to story that guides students through the paper-writing process, offering links to tools and articles as they go.
  • HERE is the story I created with my colleagues to capture our process of working through the difference between the terms “transmodal” and “transmedia.”

The possibilities are pretty immense with Storify, both in terms of using some of the incredible stories that are out there as well as creating some of your own.

Classroom Applications:
Because the possibilities with Storify are so diverse, the potential classroom applications also cover a fairly wide, interdisciplinary gambit. I’ve compiled the following list, which is by no means comprehensive:

  • Research: Storify lends itself to compiling and organizing research because it inherently connects students to a wide variety of sources. It encourages students to consider multimedia options and to arrange those sources in meaningful ways. Because Storify connects users to several social media platforms, it also lends itself to considering the current and real-world impact their subject of research has on the world around them. The ability to include text with any element in the story allows students to create a kind of multimedia annotated bibliography that can be edited and shared at any time. Here is a student example of a more formal annotated bibliography completed in Storify.
  • Drafting and Outlining: Storify can serve as an excellent pre-writing or drafting tool. Although it is designed to curate information from a variety of sources, original writing can play a major role in a story. Students can outline and draft essays, papers, or personal responses in their story, sectioning their work into different blocks of text. Those blocks of texts can be moved around by simply dragging and dropping, encouraging students to consider the flow and chronology of their compositions. Students can then begin to build on those individual text blocks, expanding their outline into a full, written composition.
  • Digital Writing: While the prior two ideas consider Storify to be more of a process tool for students to employ on their way to creating their final product, this suggestion proposes that a Story may make for an excellent final product in and of itself. Combining Storify’s ability to draw on diverse, multimedia documents and to integrate original writing creates the opportunity for students to explore digital writing in new and meaningful ways. Students can create robust, multimodal, and intertextual research papers, reports, or essays using Storify’s platform. These Storify essays, reports, and papers can be brief (like this student essay on the effects of social class on education) or they can be more complex and lengthy (like this student research paper on the responses to a presidential debate). Using a Storify story as a final document can encourage students to think creatively about their writing and research, push themselves to incorporate more multimodality into their composition, and expand their idea of what it means to write in scholarly contexts.

Again, I will stress that this list is by no means comprehensive! There are infinite possibilities when using a program like Storify, each possibility with its own set of potential assignments.

Pros and Cons:
As with any pedagogical tool, there are affordances and constraints to using Storify in the classroom. Some of the cautions and concerns I have personally and that I have found considered in posts like this one from professor and rhetorician Rebecca Harris include asking students to use their recreational social media knowledge for academic and scholarly purposes. Using Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to hold academic conversations or pursue academic ends does require students to use familiar tools in an unfamiliar way. While this may end up being an actual strength of the project, I would anticipate it requiring some intentional discussion and exploration at the beginning of any project.

That being said, the potential affordances that accompany work created using Storify are immense. One of the most important aspects of this project in my opinion deals with some of the borderline debilitating anxiety that I see many of my students experience around writing. Despite my students’ incredible skill at composing texts, messages, and captions in social media contexts, sitting down with a pen and paper or at a word processor to craft a composition out of nothing paralyzes them. Storify scaffolds this process for them by resembling more familiar, lower stakes composition contexts and by allowing students to pull in information from a variety of sources to supplement and guide their writing processes. I think my students would feel a little bit more like “the expert” in assignments like these, allowing them the confidence to experiment and play with their composition.

Another major benefit of using Storify to guide classroom writing and research is the way Storify seamlessly integrates multimodality into the research and writing process. Storify anticipates students using videos, images, social media, and links in their work. This can help students push genre norms and experiment with the ways they integrate media into their work.

Needless to say, Storify is currently at the top of my list for digital tools to work into my classroom. As soon as I am able to work one of these assignments into my curriculum, I will report back with findings. In the meantime, if anyone out there has experience or ideas for using Storify stories in student writing, I’d love to hear from you!



Being Reflective with Teacher Friends: Transmodality vs. Transmedia

There have been many things I have loved about my unfolding career as a teacher. Among these many things, one of the most central has been the incredibly motivated group of teachers I have the honor and privilege of working with on a regular basis. Another of these very lovable things has been the irresistible and magnetic complexity that is woven into the work that my students and I engage in together. Making meaning as readers and writers is an intricate, dense undertaking that must be approached with great reflection, creativity, and awareness. As I grow in my craft, I consistently see these two great loves intersecting: my fellow educators and our shared fascination with the nuanced process of meaning making.

Most recently, these two loves came together in a somewhat unexpected way! My fellow teacher-friends, Anne Mooney and Megan Grandmont, and I are always blogging, tweeting, or talking about our work. This encompasses what we are reading, what lessons we are planning, what ideas we are batting around etc. These brilliant and fiercely dedicated teacher-friends keep me focused and my lesson plans in tip-top shape. This past summer, all three of us have been in between our degree programs and our new jobs as classroom teachers. One might think we would use this interim time to rest and read fun novels on the beach. One would only be partially correct in this thought.

We did indeed do those things; HOWEVER, we also got into a serious debate over the differences between transmodal and transmedia work. As a result of our recent blogging, scholarship, and personal interests, the three of us dove deep into what these terms and their associated concepts mean for ourselves, our classrooms, and our students. Towards the end of our conversation, Megan pointed out that the exploratory discussion we had just pushed our way through would make for an excellent Storify story. And so, over the next few weeks, we worked to compose a story that captured our own personal process of hashing out the differences between transmodal and transmedia composition. The result? Please enjoy this foray into our summer obsessions!

Updated on 04 January 2018: Due to Storify’s shutting down and deleting their content, which I cover in this post, I’ve exported this story into a PDF file which you can view at this link. Most of the links transferred properly, but obviously the embedded videos no longer work. I think most of the heart of the dialogue is maintained.

Updated on 27 January 2018: As discussed in this post, I will be transferring all of my work in Storify into Wakelet. HERE is this conversation stored in Wakelet. In the exact opposite scenario from my prior update, all the embedded videos work perfectly in the Wakelet version of this conversation, but not all of the links transferred.