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Show, Don’t Tell: Multimodal Story Feedback in a K–1 Play-Based Writing Unit

by Christy Wessel Powell - 2021

Background: With standardization ever squeezing creative curricula in K–1 classrooms, creating time for a play-based multimodal writing curriculum that leverages children’s strengths as storytellers is revolutionary (Wohlwend, 2009; Yoon, 2015). Due in part to accountability policy pressures, print-based writing and verbocentric writing feedback are still often privileged in school curricula. And yet, children are natural whole-body storytellers who will be asked to write and present ideas in all sorts of forms. In order to leverage children’s storytelling strengths, we need to teach writing through multiple modes: This means expanding both writing instruction and the types of feedback offered to writers in primary classrooms.

Research Questions: This study examines two questions: How is feedback being given, and what impact does it have on children’s storytelling? How is play/storying being sanctioned?

Setting & Participants: The study took place in a K–1 classroom in an inquiry-based, project-based school in the U.S. Midwest during a month-long storytelling workshop unit. Participants included two co-teachers and 46 children aged 5 to 7.

Research Design: This qualitative study used ethnographic methods and participant observation.

Data Collection & Analysis: Video data were collected during workshop each day for one month, including minilessons, writing time, and share time, which is the focus of this article. Discourse analysis and a multimodality theoretical lens were used to analyze how children gave one another feedback on their stories through embodied demonstration, gesture, acting, out, or copying one another’s storytelling devices.

Findings: Findings indicate that children’s acting/embodiment, humor/parody, and copying all worked as effective forms of multimodal feedback, which ultimately functioned as teaching for developing peers’ storytelling strategies and skills. However, teachers inadvertently privileged language alone via narration, or language with demonstration in feedback sessions.

Conclusions: Teacher/researcher collaborations should explore ways to reimagine forms of writer’s feedback that include and account for demonstration, copying, and impromptu performance and that, ultimately, open up the definition of what counts as writing at school.  

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 123 Number 3, 2021, p. -
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23621, Date Accessed: 9/21/2021 1:46:14 AM

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About the Author
  • Christy Wessel Powell
    Purdue University
    E-mail Author
    CHRISTY WESSEL POWELL, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of literacy and language education at Purdue University. Her literacy research is rooted in a commitment to understanding and enacting equity in classrooms and communities. Her scholarship focuses on two intersecting strands of inquiry: primary literacy—particularly how teachers use reading and writing workshops and “playshops” in schools as a vehicle for richer curricula—and school equity—particularly the intersections of education reform, media, and advocacy, and how these might be leveraged to support community action toward school equity.
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