The Politics of Remediation: Basic Writing Beginnings

Basic Writing at CUNY

Basic Writing and Maintaining Standards

The Politics of ReMEDIAtion: Evolving Standards and the Politics of Curricular Change

Development of a Multimodal Standard

Politics and Ideological Clashes

The Politics of ReMEDIAtion Meets the Politics of Remediation: Basic Writing in the 21st Century Academy

Staking our Claim






The Development of a Multimodal Standard: 1970-2005

From Consumers to Producers of New Media:

NCTE has long paid heed to the significant role that multimedia communications have on reading and composing through resolutions that anticipate or acknowledge the ways in which digital media and technology could reshape what we consider “basic” literacy skills and thus change minimum expectations for students and teachers. Early on, these documents focused on students’ reception of various forms of new media. An early example is the 1970 “Resolution on Media Literacy.” This NCTE document resolved that the organization would begin to “explore more vigorously the relationship of the learning and teaching of media literacy to other concerns of English instruction,” and two years later, the “Resolution for Preparing Students With Skills for Evaluating Media” (1972) expanded this promise with a proposal “that colleges and universities prepare prospective and current teachers for the task of developing in their students evaluative skills for these media.” The call to instruct students on how to evaluate media was repeated in the 1975 “Resolution on Promoting Media Literacy.”

During the 1980s, the focus of the conversation shifted from teaching students to be critical consumers of media and began to emphasize students’ own uses of technology. In an effort to promote this new agenda, NCTE resolved to “provide leadership in defining legitimate uses of the computer by encouraging research and by disseminating information about the role of computers in the English language arts curriculum” (1983), and as the Internet became accessible to more and more students and teachers, NCTE issued a position statement asserting that “Teachers and school library media specialists have a professional responsibility to work together to help students develop the intellectual skills needed to identify, evaluate, and use information sources to meet students' educational goals” (1995). Here, as above, although NCTE was proactive in its efforts to alert teachers to their changing responsibilities alongside the emergence of new literacies, the focus remained on reminding teachers that students must be taught to be effective consumers of media.

Producing New Media as a Step Toward Social Equity:

Beyond the realm of official NCTE documents, a shift from students’ reception of digital texts to the possibility of students composing with digital and multimodal texts began in earnest with the The New London Group’s (1996) oft-cited “A Pedagogy of Muliliteracies: Designing Social Futures.” In this seminal document, The New London Group argues that “what we might term ‘mere literacy’ remains centered on language only,” while “a pedagogy of multiliteracies, by contrast, focuses on modes of representation much broader than language alone” (p. 64), an argument that also points to the need for communicative exchanges to be socially situated and carefully considered in terms of the identity of the composer. If, as Trimbur argues, literacy crises are deeply embedded in cultural hegemony, The New London Group’s early work on student production of multimodal texts pushes back by demanding that faculty help students to create meaning that is in line with a social context and the identity of the author.

Warnings against the proliferation of cultural hegemony became increasingly common in scholarship that focused on the intersections between technology and composition studies. In her CCCC Chair’s Address, for example, Cynthia Selfe (1999) warns that chief among the “perils of not paying attention” to the changes that new forms of communication bring to the work of English teachers is the perpetuation of a system that “enacts social violence and ensures continuing illiteracy under the aegis of education” (p. 415). Selfe points to initiatives put forth by the Clinton-Gore administration that emphasize “the use of computers for the purposes of calculating, programming, and designing,” as well as for “the purposes of reading, writing, and communicating” (p. 417), and she argues that literacy educators must move beyond teaching students to be consumers of technologies and urge them to think critically about multiple uses of these technologies (p. 432).

By the early 2000s, it becomes clear that the field had taken seriously Selfe’s warning about “the perils of not paying attention,” as digital media and multimodal compositions and literacies became increasingly common topics in scholarly books and journals. In 2003, Gunther Kress adds his voice to the conversation, arguing that the ability to compose in multiple modes will “produce far-reaching shifts in relations of power” (p. 1), suggesting that the ability of a user to “write back” to a text (p. 5) will begin to break down some of the hegemonic structures that Trimbur’s work alludes to.  In that same year, NCTE began to reframe its own discussions of media and technology in order to emphasize the production of texts, rather than simply encouraging teachers to train students to be critical consumers of media. The “Resolution on Composing with Nonprint Media” (2003) makes a clear and compelling argument for composing with new media:  

Young people are composing in nonprint media that can include any combination of visual art, motion (video and film), graphics, text, and sound—all of which are frequently written and read in nonlinear fashion. We affirm, in our theory and practice of teaching English language arts, that reading and writing are ultimately different but inherently related aspects of the same process of meaning making. Why, then, would we treat the reading and writing of new media texts in any different manner? With multiple opportunities for student expression in the English language arts classroom, these nonprint media offer new realms for teachers of composition.

That same year, Mary Hocks (2003) writes of her work on visual rhetoric and design, “With access to digital technologies increasing (or simply assumed) in our college writing courses, interactive digital media have increasingly become part of what we analyze and teach when we teach writing” (p. 631). Hocks draws from Kress in order to argue that teaching students to design rather than simply critique new media texts is necessary in times of “intense social change” (p. 644). In a section on pedagogy, Hocks expands on this point with a concrete example how a group of students drew from their identities as “individual Black women” to create an activist project about whether non-Europeans should be cast in adaptations of Shakespeare’s work. This example of “writing back” is realized via a digital media project that drew from multiple modes of expression, therefore supporting assertions made by Selfe (1999), Kress (2003), and Hocks (2003), which suggest that digital composing provides an avenue for disrupting hegemonic norms.

A year later in her CCCC Chair’s Address, Kathleen Blake Yancey (2004) highlights what she termed as a “tectonic change” in writing (p. 298), noting that “Never before has the proliferation of writings outside the academy so counterpointed the compositions inside. Never before have the technologies of writing contributed so quickly to the creation of new genres” (p. 298). Although composition studies—and basic writing in particular—had long since begun to focus on the significant influence that students’ non-school literacies would have on their academic success, very little of that work before 2004 focused directly on the role of students’ non-school digital literacy practices. The turn towards non-academic digital literacies that Yancey invites is yet another step towards disrupting the print-based, alphabetic literacies that academia so highly values.

A close look at several other pieces from 2004 clearly indicate that a “tectonic shift” was taking place within the broader field of composition studies. Until this point, scholarly conversation held that new media composing was both interesting and necessary for effective global communication, but here, the argument begins to extend further to suggest that, in fact, students who do not demonstrate these skills will be at an academic and social disadvantage.  At the same CCCC meeting that saw Yancey’s address, the NCTE Committee on Teaching, Learning, and Assessing Writing in Digital Environments approved a statement which acknowledges the very phenomenon that Yancey describes, noting that  “the curriculum of composition is widening to include not one but two literacies: a literacy of print and a literacy of the screen” (CCCC Committee, 2004), and later that year, Gail Hawisher, Cynthia Selfe, Brittney Moraski, and Melissa Pearson (2004) argue that, “if students cannot write to the screen—if they cannot design, author, analyze, and interpret material on the Web and in other digital environments—they may be incapable of functioning effectively as literate citizens in a growing number of social spheres” (p. 642). In 2005, NCTE approved a “Statement on Multimodal Literacies,” followed three years later by the “NCTE Framework for 21st Century Curriculum and Assessment.” Each document includes a specific set of pedagogical implications for teaching students to create new media compositions.