12. Graphic Re-Imaginings
Curricular Revision with/in/through Programmatic Representations
Curricular revision is an important task for those who direct writing programs, because advances in disciplinary research often outline programmatic content that can increase student learning and/or more accurately reflect the communicative landscape. Revisions are detailed by and manifested in the documents that compose the program: teachers’ guides, assignment sheets, outcomes statements, etc. Indeed, these documents constitute and inform the history, legacy, and content of programs (see Rose, 2013 for a fuller account). Several scholar-administrators have explored the inventional, generative function of documents in processes of curricular revision, seeing these documents as “available designs,” a concept from the New London Group’s Pedagogy of Multiliteracies defined simply as “the resources for Design” available to composers when creating and sharing meaning (p. 20). According to Anne Wysocki (2005), interrogating these resources “can help us understand how material choices in producing communications articulate social practices we may not otherwise wish to reproduce” (p. 56). In other words, by defamiliarizing the familiarity of programmatic documents, we can find new affordances and new potentialities for the programs in which we work. For example, Tarez Samra Graban and Kathleen J. Ryan (2005) theorize how programmatic documents can be used to perceive curricular revision as a reflective practice rather than a one-time event. They write “the (re)production of curricular documents provides a space for initiating and sustaining discussions on high-stakes topics,” which “promotes reform by reconstructing the programs they represent” (Graban & Ryan, 2005, pp. 89–90). They offer a heuristic modeling this process, which includes five phases: collecting documents that tell the history of the program and its current iteration; creating a new vision for the program within the context of that history; designing and framing new documents; executing the design; and identifying/reflecting the roles that WPAs do or do not play in that process. With this heuristic “document revision becomes an ongoing, located opportunity” for curricular revision/programmatic (re)invention (Graban & Ryan, 2005, p. 92). Documents, then, as “available designs,” make and remake the programs that they describe through processes of revision and reflection.
In this chapter, I will consider an example of these documents: graphical curricular representations. As a discipline, writing studies has attended to the visual in several meaningful ways: analyzing visual-rhetorical practices (Handa, 2005); considering the implications of the visual in first-year composing (George, 2002); conceiving of visual concept maps as a possibility for fostering the transfer of writing knowledge and practices (Archambault & Masanuga, 2015; Workman, 2017); and theorizing the role of mapping in the work of writing program administration (Kazan & Gabor, 2013). Less attention, however, has been given to the ways in which first-year composition curricula can be/are graphically represented. These representations appear on websites and syllabi, communicating to internal and external audiences. As programmatic documents, they (can) perform vital visual-rhetorical functions: 1) They communicate (and make arguments about) the content of the programs they describe; and 2) they offer material that WPAs might use to review and revise curriculum. To demonstrate this capacity, I will trace three different ways of possibly visualizing and conceptualizing first-year composition curricula using the curriculum of the program in which I work, the First-Year Writing Program at Eastern Michigan University, as an example. Those three different ways are
- the current graphic that our program utilizes in our teachers guide, on our program’s website, and in our textbooks;
- using Anne Beaufort’s (2005) domains of writing knowledge to reimagine the current graphic and, thus, the program; and
- using the concept of a spiral curriculum as a further reimagining.
Figure 1. Current graphic.
The above image (Figure 1) represents the program I currently direct, the First-Year Writing Program (FYWP) at Eastern Michigan University (EMU). The curriculum detailed in the graphic manifests revisions that took place during the 2013–2014 academic year. The program is now guided by five core principles: rhetoric, process, conventions, multimodality, and reflection. Collectively, these principles articulate the values of the program, outlining for students, instructors, and public audiences the work that takes place within FYW. In its current iteration, the graphic performs two vital functions: 1) It positions the two courses offered within the program as sequential and integrated via the program’s guiding principles; and 2) it offers a succinct and easily understood definition of FYW that includes more than just words on the page, which is especially important for the graphic’s various audiences.
First, the graphic communicates the relationship between the two courses offered within the program. In the image, the guiding principles in the central orange ovals function as a “through line” between WRTG120: Writing the College Experience and WRTG121: Researching the Public Experience, connecting to the two courses to one another. This visually and rhetorically sequences the courses in a way that the university does not currently value. WRTG120 is a credit-bearing elective in which students can enroll following a combination of directed self-placement and advising; WRTG121 is a general education requirement for all students. Several years ago, WRTG120 was removed as a required part of the university’s core curriculum to reduce time to degree completion. The graphic connects the two, making the subtle and implicit argument that learning to write: 1) is an ongoing effort that cannot take place in one single course; and 2) is achieved by attending to rhetoric, process, conventions, multimodality, and reflection.
Second, the graphic communicates a definition of FYW that includes more than alphabetic text, providing accessible key terms and concepts that build up to that definition. Audiences who interact with the graphic will note the ways in which the program encompasses more than just the conventions of academic writing, an approach to FYW that Doug Downs and Elizabeth Wardle (2007) argue only perpetuates common misconceptions about writing, specifically “that academic writing is generally universal, that writing is a basic skill independent of content or context, and that writing abilities automatically transfer from FYC to other courses and contexts” (p. 554). The FWYP at EMU also includes rhetoric, multimodality, and reflection, concepts that are not as common in first-year composition as we might think (for a fuller description of the disconnect between scholarly consensus regarding the content of first-year writing and the actual content of individual programs, see Emily Isaacs’s Writing at the State U, 2018). Perhaps the most unique inclusion is multimodality. Including the term as a guiding principle of the program and a part of this graphic reveals that composing with (multiple) semiotic resources beyond alphabetic writing is an integral part of the curriculum. Few programs make multimodality a required part of the first-year writing curriculum (Bearden, 2019), and even fewer employ the term “multimodality.” Its presence in the graphic strengthens the re-definition of FYW, reinforcing to audiences internal and external that the content of the curriculum is not “writing and writing only.” Additionally, the two-word phrases that describe the individual outcomes for each course are intentionally brief to make them digestible and memorable. For example, in WRTG121, the guiding principle of multimodality becomes “multimodal design.” Those outcomes and what they mean for students are elaborated in different locations: on the program’s website, in curricular maps, in individual syllabi, etc. In the graphic, though, they are snapshots of the intellectual work of each course within the program, differentiating the two, depicting how WRTG120 leads into WRTG121, and previewing the content of first-year writing here at EMU. In the remainder of this chapter, I will make use of two different kinds of “available designs” to visually and conceptually reimagine the content of EMU’s FYWP. The alternate graphics—Beaufort’s domains of knowledge and a spiral curriculum—provide alternative layouts and ways of rearranging through which we might reimagine the relationships among the program’s principles, terms, and outcomes.
Domains Of Writing Knowledge
This second graphic is a re-imagining utilizing what Anne Beaufort (2008) argues are the five knowledge domains of writing expertise: rhetorical knowledge, writing process knowledge, discourse community knowledge, subject matter knowledge, and genre knowledge. In Beaufort’s original graphic, which is currently utilized by several writing programs, the different domains overlap with one another, and all are situated within the circumference of rhetorical knowledge, indicating that rhetoric inflects all of the other areas. Such a depiction demonstrates the layered, interconnected areas of knowledge that are necessary in learning to write as it simultaneously names those areas for its audiences. To use the heuristic potential of this graphic as an “available design,” I re-presented the curriculum of EMU’s FYWP using this structure (see Figure 2). In the creation of my graphic, I maintained the overarching position of rhetoric as an environment for the program's four other principles, because at EMU, we perceive rhetoric to be the cornerstone of our curriculum. As students move through our program, we expect them to cultivate a rhetorical metalanguage that they can use 1) to understand how composing varies across contexts and tasks (rhetorical knowledge) and 2) negotiate those variations themselves (rhetorical performance). In that larger (rhetorical) context, multimodality, conventions, processes, and reflection all intersect with one another.
Figure 2. Revised graphic for EMU's FYWP using Beaufort's knowledge domains as a model.
The revised graphic reveals a key insight and raises interesting questions and reveals future possibilities for further curricular revision for EMU’s FYWP. First, the revised graphic (and Beaufort’s) remind us that no set of outcomes is discrete. Rather, outcomes are recursive; they overlap and intersect. This is something that we do not necessarily articulate in textual practice, perhaps because of the “bulleted” nature of the way in which we present outcomes. Our graphics can be even less nuanced (see Figure 1, for example). The overlaps in Figure 2 invite our program to see the connections among what could be perceived as disparate principles, to attend to the (inter)connections more explicitly. For example, the overlap of multimodality with conventions, reflection, and process raises questions, such as:
- What would multimodal reflection look in the context of EMU’s FYWP?
- How might students conceive of conventions, which our program defines as the common forms and formats of texts, in spaces other than (academic) print?
- Composing is, of course, always already a multimodal process, but how might students engage that process more intentionally?
This thought experiment of reenvisioning the FYWP’s curriculum through the “available design” of Beaufort’s domains of writing knowledge yields an important insight: as I explored here, multimodality’s overlap with the program’s remaining core principles invites us to reconsider the ways in which multimodality manifests within the program. This expands the kinds of texts students create as they work toward major research projects and reflect on that work. However, this is but one heuristic potential of the specific graphic. The intersections between reflection, process, and conventions and the ways in which rhetoric operates with/in all the other four core principles remain to be explored. Such reimaginings and revisions reflect the complexity of writing generally and the writing that takes places within EMU’s FYWP. This visual-rhetorical practice will be useful for other WPAs interested in exploring the overlaps and intersections in their own outcomes.
Figure 3. Spiral curriculum example.
Another “available design” for graphically re-presenting the curriculum of EMU’s FYWP is a spiral curriculum. This is the most generative “available design” that I explore in this chapter, because it explicitly places the program’s core principles/outcomes in dialogue with one another and demonstrates the reality of learning (to write). Spiral curricula conceptualize and visualize learning as a recursive process. Harden and Stamper (1999) write that a spiral curriculum “is one in which there is an iterative revisiting of topics, subjects or themes throughout the courses” (p. 141). Jerome Bruner (1960) reveals that the importance of a spiral curriculum “is not simply the repetition of a topic taught…. [But] the deepening of it, with each successive encounter building on the previous one” (p. 10). Thus, within a spiral curricular structure, students encounter a concept or idea in multiple iterations with increasing complexity and nuance each time. For example, students might consider the term rhetoric and its implications for the writing process in one project. In the following project, students would analyze the rhetorical practices of someone else before moving into a final project that encourages them to analyze their own rhetorical practices in a piece of their own writing. With each encounter, students move toward a more sophisticated understanding of the concept, which has implications for their own communicative practices.
Using this kind of graphic as an “available design” to rethink my program’s own curriculum necessitated situating our guiding principles into reiterative and recursive relationships with one another. In the revised graphic (Figure 4), students utilize rhetoric, conventions, process(es), multimodality, and reflection with increasing complexity in each project (represented as a loop) rather than certain principles being emphasized more within certain projects. The latter is what currently takes place within the program: while students can and do exhibit multimodal composing, for example, in various ways throughout the semester, it is more common for students to create an explicitly multimodal project only for the semiannual Celebration of Student Writing. Within the spiral curriculum, however, multimodality is an integral part of every assignment, not relegated to the final third of the semester. In this way, the graphic functions as a model for and invitation to curricular revision, presenting an exigence for finding ways to more meaningfully include multimodality in all assignments. I will think through this specifically in terms of the second project in WRTG121, a “researched” writing project. The curriculum map for the WRTG121 course defines the research project in the following way:
Approximately 8-10 pp. essay demonstrating sustained inquiry into a topic, question, problem, or controversy. The project may be framed as an argument or something less explicitly claim-based, but it should introduce a problem, question, or controversy; account for the contemporary conversation related to the project’s focus; and feature evidence from at least two of the following (framed as methods): memory work, word work, interview, site work, source work, or data work.This description explicitly connects to certain programmatic principles and outcomes— research (research processes), conventions (style conventions), and rhetoric (rhetorical performance), in particular. However, an “8–10 pp. essay” is a print-based assignment that offers little opportunity for students to cultivate skills in multimodality (multimodal design), an outcome that states students “will have composed using digital technologies, gaining awareness of the possibilities and constraints of electronic environments.” The new recursive placement of multimodality within the revised spiral curriculum graphic suggests a different assignment sequence. If the premise of the spiral curriculum (and graphic) is that students engage core principles in multiple iterations, a new first project in WRTG121 might be a “worknet” project. Derek Mueller (2015) claims that these assignments, “treat sources as complexly enmeshed resources for rhetorical invention and, in effect, as constellations of activity whose tracing may prove generative throughout a researching writer’s many stages of active inquiry.” In other words, students visually and spatially represent the relationships among the sources that they’re engaging, relationships that reveal to students areas for future inquiry. The worknet project is an explicitly multimodal way of conceiving of rhetoric- and research-based processes. As a first assignment in the course, it provides students the opportunity to utilize all core principles simultaneously, establishing a metalanguage to which they will return reiteratively throughout WRTG121.
In its current iteration, the second project (quoted above) does constitute a conversation with students regarding rhetoric and research. It attends less to multimodality. A different version of this assignment, one that includes multimodality as part of the process and product of the assignment, might ask students to create a website, designed and composed for other first-year students. These sites would allow students to convey the research they’ve conducted to audiences outside of the program. In such a project, students will continue to cultivate rhetorical knowledge, to incorporate stylistic conventions, and to practice different methods of research, but they will also simultaneously (begin to) develop digital dexterity. In that way, multimodal design becomes a meaningful part of the project and of the entire class. The Celebration of Student Writing, as the third major project, aligns with this “spiral” reimagining as well. There, students share multimodal transformations of their research with a public audience of attendees. The event is the culmination of the program’s core principles. With the revised sequence outlined here students interact with the language and vocabulary of multimodality (indeed, of all of the program’s core principles) over the course of the entire semester reiteratively, recursively, and with increasing complexity.
There are useful takeaways from this example for those who direct writing programs. First, the spiral curriculum invited me (and invites us all to) to consider how we might position all of our program’s core principles or outcomes within each project in the curriculum. For the program in which I work, this strengthens our commitment to multimodality, something that I believe makes the program unique and visionary. Second, the spiral curriculum more accurately demonstrates and reflects what those in writing studies know about learning (to write). The process is messy, oftentimes involving moments of failure (Brooke & Carr, 2015; Yancey, Robertson, & Taczak, 2014) and involves engaging with concepts that can be “troublesome” (Meyer & Land, 2006). A revised graphic presenting the work of the program within a spiral curriculum can articulate and communicate that messiness to students and instructors within the program in addition to audiences beyond. Communicating to the latter set could prove quite useful for WPAs, especially by providing an answer to the ever-prevalent question: What goes on in FYW anyway? Reseeing the curriculum of EMU’s FYWP through the lens of the spiral curriculum equips me to provide answers that do justice to the complexity of writing and to the work of our program.
Here, I have demonstrated the visual-rhetoric potentialities of graphic curricular representations. Those potentialities are twofold. First visual representations of curricula can function generatively, as “available designs” for curricular reimaginings within our own programs, revealing new or currently underexplored areas. Second, they can help us deliver messages about curricula to students and instructors within our program and to other interested stakeholders. In short, they are (in)valuable for their inventional and communicative rhetorical capabilities, especially as resources for those who direct writing programs. Here, I have only explored three possible iterations: the current graphic utilized by the FYWP at EMU, Beaufort’s domains of writing knowledge, and a spiral curriculum. However, I could imagine many more possibilities that would explore not only the curriculum but how students participate within the curriculum and/or how the program interacts with the broader (academic) community.
With this mind, I end this chapter by offering the following guiding questions for those interested in accessing the rhetorical power graphic curricular representations:
- What are the key terms, guiding principles, and/or outcomes of your program?Those involved in the process might begin with the program’s outcomes statement or the WPA OS if the program does not yet have its own, using those documents to guide conversations that will determine what those key terms/concepts/ideas are.
- How do those terms/principles/outcomes connect or cohere the courses in your program? This question considers the ways in which the program might represent the relationships among the courses offered by the program, inviting those involved to see the program’s guiding principles as a through line within the curriculum.
- How do the assignments required or invited by the curriculum manifest those terms/principles/outcomes? Like the example that I offered with multimodality, this question attends to where and how often our principles emerge, revealing patterns and gaps not readily visible within other documents.
- How do all of these things (outcomes, principles, courses, assignments, etc.) constellate? This question asks us to consider the intentionality of program design. We craft learning outcomes of guiding principles; assignments instantiate those principles and outcomes; other materials foster and constrain learning environments. Thinking through the relationships among all of these, visualizing those relationships for ourselves and others, can reveal spaces in which we can strengthen programmatic structure and more effectively communicate that structure to others.
- Not least, how do other programs graphically represent their curricula? The goal here is not to compare programs against one another, but to look at the visual-rhetorical strategies of others as “available designs,” as sources of inventional material for curricular reexamination. For my purposes, thinking through the implications of Beaufort’s knowledge domains and the spiral curriculum revealed areas where EMU’s FYWP can strengthen its commitment to its guiding principles, particularly in the areas of rhetoric and multimodality. These are efforts I hope to participate within and help sustain in the future. Those revisions, too, will become “available designs” for other future possibilities. In so doing, we can maintain a program that is responsive and reflective, seeking always to deliver to students a version of composition that is not only pedagogically sound but visionary.