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The Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics

ISSN: 2472-7318

Mapping as Sense-Making Practice: Embodied and Ecological Approaches to Composition Pedagogy [Example Assignment]

Claire Oldham Griffith,, Michigan State University 
Jeanetta Mohlke-Hill,, Michigan State University

Video Essay | Transcript


The following assignment is a modification of a project from the standard curriculum in Michigan State University’s First-Year Writing course, Writing as Inquiry, which we have both taught the past two years during our PhD program. The original project is titled the Cultural Artifact Project and it uses inquiry and storytelling as methods for students to explore their cultural influences by way of an everyday tangible object. In this inquiry, students are expected to discover and communicate the cultural values that have shaped their experiences as learners.

Our adaptation of this project, which we are naming the "Mapping an Object" Narrative, still continues to use inquiry and storytelling as methods of meaning-making for the following assignment; however, we ask students to use storytelling as a means to inquire where they come from, where they are now, and where they think they are going through a critical analysis of their positionalities and relationships to power. This inquiry begins with students choosing a material object, likely "tangible" but through guided and mindful instruction can also be digital, that they’ve encountered in their everyday lives. They then use this object to develop a story in which they draw upon their own embodied experiences to understand how these things have real material consequences. This goal is to facilitate students locating and situating themselves and their identities within an ecological framework—their relations, communities, institutions, and world at large.

Furthermore, we center this assignment around the idea of engaging students in what we refer to in our video essay as making, unmaking, and remaking. Specifically, students will engage in a process of understanding the values and histories that have shaped who they are now (making) using a critical analysis of power and their positionalities (unmaking) in order to engage as socially conscious participants in their communities and worlds (remaking).


Assignment Prompt

For this project, we’re using inquiry to investigate the values and meaning of an object made by you or someone else. What do we mean by "object" here? Consider the things in the room around you—the things you see, touch, feel, hear, and/or smell. All of these everyday objects influence the ways we encounter and perceive the world around us.

You will begin by choosing one material object that will serve as the impetus for your inquiry into your values and personal history. Don’t worry if you are unsure or don’t know what these values and histories are yet! We will do that work together as a class. It might help to choose something that has been "made" by you or someone you know; however, this isn’t required or necessary to complete this assignment. There are so many stories that can be told from the objects around us that reflect our values and help us make meaning of our experiences and understanding of ourselves, our communities, and our worlds.

Once you have selected your object, we will then put all of our objects in conversation with one another by mapping out where these objects are located, your histories with these objects, and the intersections of our shared and diverging values and experiences. We will also consider the way our bodies have encountered these objects by considering questions like: What are your sensory (see, hear, touch, smell, and taste) experiences with the object? What memories do the object provoke? What feelings emerge when thinking about the object? How does this object relate to your identity? The purpose of this activity will be to help us position ourselves, our experiences, and our identities within our communities and the world at large and consider the role that power and privilege play in this positioning.

Then, you will craft a personal narrative (1000-1200 words in length) that will address these questions, creating a story or stories that reflect on not only the object’s history (where the object is in the world, where it came from, where you first encountered it, and where you imagine it might go) but what this history means in relationship with your own personal experiences, influences, communities, and values. Because, ultimately, while this project begins with an object, the story is about you and at least one important embodied/sensory experience with this object that has shaped who you have been, who you are now, and who you hope to become or continue to be.


Suggested Readings

The following are a few suggested readings that may help facilitate conversations about power, privilege, identity, and language in your classroom. These readings are certainly not a comprehensive list, but they are starting points for scaffolding this project with your students.

Anzaldua, G. (1987). How to tame a wild tongue. In Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza (pp. 53-64). Aunt Lute Books.

McIntosh, P. (1989). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. Peace and Freedom, 49, 10-12.

Young, V. A. (2010). Should writers use they own English?. Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies, 12(1), 110-117.