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Multimodal composing can activate literacy practices and identities not typically privileged in verbocentric English classrooms, and students’ identities as particular kinds of learners (e.g., “visual artist”) may propel—or limit—their engagement in classroom work, including in multimodal composing. Although researchers have studied the ways multimodal projects can evidence literacy learning and have argued that identity is negotiated, improvisational, and hybrid, they have offered few sustained analyses of the processes by which identities evolve during and across multimodal composing tasks. By examining how students position themselves and one another as particular kinds of learners over time, researchers can better understand the ways in which multimodal tasks help students explore new skills and roles or reify old ones. Drawing on an approach to discourse analysis from the linguistic anthropology of education, we trace the pathways of three 12th graders’ learner identities across two events as they worked in a group to compose visual responses to literary texts for their English class. We examine how one student’s robust identity as an artist emerged in tandem with the devaluing of other participants’ artist identities. Seven weeks later, these positionings led her to act as the painting’s primary author and other students to act in increasingly perfunctory ways. We call for teachers and researchers to consider how students’ identities—interacting with factors such as the teacher’s expectations for group work and the affordances of particular media and materials for collaboration—drive students’ participation in and ownership of multimodal compositions.


Copyright 2017 by the National Council of Teachers of English. All rights reserved.

Original Publication Information

Chisholm, James S. and Andrea R. Olinger. "'She’s Definitely the Artist One': How Learner Identities Mediate Multimodal Composing." 2017. Research in the Teaching of English 52(2): 122-155.