Talking, Sketching, Moving: Multiple Literacies in the Teaching of Writing

By Martins, David | Composition Studies, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Talking, Sketching, Moving: Multiple Literacies in the Teaching of Writing


Martins, David, Composition Studies


Talking, Sketching, Moving: Multiple Literacies in the Teaching of Writing, by Patricia A. Dunn. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook, 2001. 192 pages.

In Talking, Sketching, Moving, Patricia Dunn challenges Compositionists to take seriously the multiplicity of channels for doing intellectual work in the writing classroom. She implores us to utilize physical, spatial, visual, representational, oral, and collaborative methods-in addition to writing activities-to teach students writing. Failure to do so, Dunn argues, perpetuates social injustice: "Using multiple ways of knowing also addresses a pedagogical injustice that is both systemic and local. Throughout most of the educational system, and especially in writing classes, students are forced to use linguistocentric tools to perform virtually all intellectual tasks" (8).

In her introduction, Dunn describes her book as an argument. She sets the scene with a critique of ideological commonplaces she identifies in Composition, but is careful to be overtly self-reflective about her own pedagogical commitments and beliefs. In describing her sense of responsibility as a writing teacher, for example, she explains her aim "to help [students] approach present and future writing tasks, in or out of college, with confidence, skill, rhetorical savvy, and yes, some healthy skepticism and critique about what our culture seems to value" (7). Dunn asserts that using a "multi-modal pedagogy" is her "main contribution against hegemony [because it] challenges the unaddressed privileging of those who use written words well, and the conventional discrimination against those whose talents involve other representational systems" (7). Pedagogically speaking, then, Dunn argues that using such an approach helps writing teachers grant to more students access to the power of words, and not using such an approach harms students who don't already have access to that kind of power.

Dunn's argument is three-fold. First, as a field, Composition has failed to address adequately our bias toward textual ways of knowing. Second, when compositionists cite theorists from other fields who address multiple channels to knowing, we selectively emphasize the aspects of their work which best fit with our own textual biases. Third, following Paulo Freire, to offer students a pedagogy which might deliver on Composition's goal to help students gain linguistic power, we must expand the field's efforts to accommodate different ways of knowing through an enriched praxis. Ultimately, she makes these arguments in order "to advance a course of action in Composition and English Studies" (4). And, although it is not clear from this book what this new course of action might entail for our theoretical and research agenda, Dunn provides a rich pedagogical practicum (three full chapters) for the types of practices such an approach would enjoy.

Chapter 1, "Challenging Theories of Knowing," is Dunn's rhetorical salvo in the debate about Composition's theoretical privileging of "word-based epistemologies." Based upon an analysis of Victor Villanueva's Cross-Talk in Comp-Theory, a popular anthology of foundational articles in Composition Studies, Dunn begins the chapter with the following claim:

Generally speaking, Composition believes that writing is not simply one way of knowing; it is the way. In Composition theory courses, readings attest mostly to writing's benefits. That commonplace may be what makes it so difficult for us in Composition to see word-based epistemologies in any way other than liberatory and promoting social justice. (15)

Dunn proceeds to critique such commonplaces -"the primacy of language" and the "social construction of knowledge" -on the basis of their linguistic biases regarding the construction and expression of language. It is not, however, that Compositionists have failed to acknowledge other ways of knowing, but that as a field, we have not "fully pursued or taken seriously" the implications of alternative ways of knowing for our research and pedagogy. …

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