Multimodal Literacy Narrative
This project was inspired by The Joy of Reading and Writing, Superman and Me, a personal narrative by Sherman Alexie talks in which he describes experiencing the initial act of reading through his visual understanding of text as sectioned space:
“I first understood, with a sudden clarity, the purpose of a paragraph…I realized that a paragraph
was a fence that held words…The words inside a paragraph worked together for a common
purpose….I began to think of everything in terms of paragraphs. Our reservation was a small
paragraph within the United States. My family’s house was a paragraph, distinct from the other
Alexie goes on to describe comics as “three dimensional paragraph[s],” except that these contained
both text and image. As a writer who uses both image and text myself, I was especially interested in
the ways framed space influences literacy, and thus crafted a project that might be in conversation
with Alexie’s concept of “fences that hold words.”
I focused my own narrative on the various boxes presented to modern students learning to
write—specifically, notebook paper, and then digital word processing programs. I’m interested in the
transition that students of my generation experienced when middle schools first brought introduced
programs like MS word as a required literacy for students who had first drafted on paper.
Simultaneously, these same students were exploring the early internet—another word processor
providing framed space for text to be composed in through search engines, chat boxes, and online
documents. I’m most interested in the contrast between these venues for digital composition, and how
the shape and design of the frame affected the text these students were invited to compose. I think it’s
likely that students working in a number of digital venues were prompted to write in very different
voices on the same computer screen—but equally as likely that this leads them to be less aware of how
space influences their language. As a person of this generation who is now a teacher (sponsored/sponsor), this question has prompted me to work and then teach in a multimodal
My rhetorical goals are as follows:
1. To use media to convey the visual progression of word processing that students of my generation
went through during the introduction of digital word processors into the classroom.
2. Utilize sound effects, music and a recorded voice to demonstrate narrative progression in many
media, and use visuals to demonstrate the visual progressions the audio describes.
3. Convey the way thinking spatially happens in terms of rhetoric affects language and communication.
4. Craft a narrative that uses story to drive ideas about space and communication.
It seemed to me that visual media illustrating the idea of framed text was especially important
to this project, but I also wanted to produce a narrative that privileged language as a means of inviting
the reader in. So I recorded detailed scene-based descriptions alongside more complex analysis of
spatial composition in an audio file that included sections of the song “Little Boxes on the Hillside” to
prompt my viewer to think about what a box does to prompt writing, and how it alters the writing
produced. I am pairing this audio with images of text frames to assist the viewer in visualizing the
spaces I discuss.
Thank you for your time.