DWAE – Wierszewski’s “Something Old, Something New”

Wierszewski, E. (n.d.). “Something Old, Something New”: Evaluative Criteria in Teacher Responses to Student Multimodal Texts. In H. McKee & D. N. DeVoss (Eds.). Retrieved from http://ccdigitalpress.org/dwae/index.html

“During these 30 years, scholars of composition and rhetoric have led the way, first in introducing computers into classrooms and developing robust pedagogies for computer-enhanced instruction, and second in learning how best to assess writing development.” – Andrea Lunsford, Introduction to DWAE


Emily Wierszewski (Link for E-Portfolio)
Emily Wierszewski
(Link for E-Portfolio)

In “Something Old, Something New,” Wierszewski presents case studies of eight teachers who have drawn upon and supplemented traditional writing assessment criteria in order to evaluate multimodal texts.  Based on criticism by Richard Haswell of the field’s current publishing trends regarding “favorite practices,” including multimodality, especially as defined by academics such as Kress (2003), Wysocki, Johnson-Eilola, C. Selfe, & Sirc (2004), and members of the London Group (2000), Wierszewski argues that empirical study to this point has concerned itself largely with assessment methods that might be described as transformative, borrowed, or perhaps augmentary.

However, the nature of this change in assessment means that it has happened in a largely undocumented, exploratory space – as such, Wierszewski performs a study to resolve this void, noting that, “we know precious little about teacher practices in assessing multimodal work, including to what extent print, modified, or ‘new’ kinds of criteria are, in fact, present in those practices.”

To this end, Wierszewski asynchronously interviewed eight anonymized writing instructors (3 TT, 2 Non-TT, 2 Graduate Fellows, and 1 Graduate Associate), with varying levels of experience (from 3-36 years – calculated mean of 17.4, median of 11) and from three different institutions, about their assessment practices, assignment structures, and source text types.  She then coded evaluative comments into two types according Connors and Lunsfords’ (1993) evaluative print criteria and novel forms from the “multimodal corpus” of assessment responses and comments – including comment types such as “creativity,” “idea development,” “multimodality,” “movement,” and “technical execution,” providing examples from each response type from specific respondent’s assessments.


The general takeaway from Wierszewski’s results is that the teachers studied have not profoundly changed the ways in which they respond to, assess, and evaluate multimodal texts, though she does not that teachers with more years of experience teaching multimodal texts tend to skew towards a much higher percentage of multimodal-type comments.

A Brief Analysis and Questions

As argued by Wierszewski in the “Conclusion” section of her report, “the finding runs counter to the cautions of scholars […] who argue that teachers ought to move away from a focus on print-based media.”  However, I see very little “should” or “should not” or “running counter” here, and a strong presumption that because a practice is widely practiced or accepted, it is inherently a valued (or valuable) evaluative approach.  What we do unquestionably see here is that, even when instructors are descriptively practiced, and interested in rhetorically progressive readings and textual approaches, they still revert back to prescriptivism, and to directive models of response – meeting expectations of feedback models laid out well before the advent of multimodality by scholars such as Knoblauch and Brannon (1984), and Straub (1996).

That said, I do think that research of this type is a necessary first step in moving towards a more comprehensive knowledge of the nature of – and need for – better assessment protocols for multimodal/digital texts.  At its foundation, Wies

To this end, I put a brief quote from Andrea Lunsford’s introduction to the text in the pull quote above.  Is the issue precisely what Lunsford states?  Did rhet/comp instructors and specialists put the cart before the horse, first inserting multimodality into the writing curriculum, and then only addressing assessment concerns years after the fact?

When studying these challenges of assessment from a networks aspect, in what way do we view medium and genre as nodes within the composition network?  To what end might they be considered as edges?


One thought on “DWAE – Wierszewski’s “Something Old, Something New”

  1. I was interested in this research because I had very little idea how different teachers might assess multimodal writing, and, as you point out, this is a very reasonable and tangible first step towards finding out. I’m not sure I agree, however, with the idea that these teachers are falling back on prescriptive tactics. To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they were dealing with language much at all. Looking at arrangement, organization, audience, and so on are more important overall and arguably even more important in multimodal contexts, but I would argue that students still need particular mentoring on using language appropriately in diverse contexts, so the limited amount of attention placed on grammar and sentence structure seems quite reasonable. Many of the other terms in the list are not actually limited to verbal behavior–to traditional writing–exclusively, so I guess I think these teachers are making a reasonable start at addressing multimodal texts. That being said, I am glad teacher responses are being researched because there are no doubt better practices than these early attempts. Doing the research should push the conversation in productive directions.


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