Pedagogy for Writing with Cameras

After spring break, my first-year composition (FYC) students will take the digital leap from writing to generate ideas and individualized processes to digital storytelling (read “Beginning the Digital Storytelling Process in FYC“). They have integrated images and videos throughout their #WalkMyWorld submissions (read “#WalkMyWorld in College Composition“) and their blogs, but the upcoming digital storytelling project requires them to manipulate various literacy spaces, including images, sounds, and texts. We’ll start with a thorough recap of imagery in composition then discuss the history of rhetorical ploys used in mass media. We will also highlight the important role that images have played in compositional studies. Writing with cameras is not a new concept, but the excitement for them will be new – I enjoy this bit of oomph cameras give the writing process and our classroom.

Writing with cameras is not new.

In Jason Palmeri’s “Remixing Composition: A History of Multimodal Writing Pedagogy” he notes 4 tracks of pedagogy that writing with cameras have historically followed and that can also be emphasized in composition courses to enhance multiliteracy skills for writers. I’ll use the following as a synopsis of writing with cameras within my class too.

4 tracks of pedagogy for writing with cameras.

(1) Writing with light. Photography can help students develop a heightened understanding of the importance of point of view. Light is used to compare and contrast scenes and subjects, calling into question universal themes that have often addressed broader social and political concerns.

Photo by Nathan Brasher

Point of View

(2) Shooting composition. We will develop multimodal pedagogies that attend closely to the similarities and differences between composing with words and composing with images. Nonetheless, writers will produce knowledge rather than simply receiving knowledge. Making media involves different activities than consuming media. We’ll explore both.

Triangular Composition

Triangular Composition

(3) Double exposure. We will be demonstrating ways that experience with cameras can develop transferable understandings of invention, arrangement, and style that student writers can apply to alphabetic writing.

Depth and Dimension

Depth and Dimension

(4) Critical consciousness. Writing with cameras can offer a powerful and timely pedagogical vision for collaborative employment. Writers can use image production as a way to uncover and transform unjust power structures – the same type of rhetorical twists we ask them to make in essay drafting. Highlighting those spaces of discovery, or those moments where writers discover their unique viewpoints (voices), will help them understand how to do the same when writing with words.

Critical Consciousness

Critical Consciousness

As FYC writers conclude image production through writing with cameras, I want them to understand that compositionists have always written with images. Glance at cave drawings. Visit the magnificent chapels depicting biblical stories for illiterate parishioners. Read a picture book. Each used imagery to heighten the awareness of subjects, and that’s the basic concept that I want FYC writers to understand. People are literate in many ways, and writing with images is an important part of our meaning-making from the time we open our eyes.

FYC students will know that whether they are writing with words or with light, they must work to develop a unique point of view. This is why we write! Emphasize details while excluding others by writing with words and light.


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4 replies

  1. What an intriguing and valuable journey you’re setting your students on! When I give students multimedia projects, my hope always is that they’ll be able to use these skills and techniques in other classes–that their other/future profs will be open to the approach. Are you aware if any of your students have been able to use the techniques they’ve learned from you in other classes?

    • That’s the best return on multimodal investment – students have adapted various techniques in their other courses. One student, who was less-than-enthusiastic about integrating technology with her writing, eventually started implementing technology as components of her art studio demonstrations (she is an art major). Those moments, the ones that continue beyond my class, are rewarding because student writers have realized that writing comes in multiple modes for expression.

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