• Matthew Davis
    University of Massachussetts Boston
  • Kevin Brock
    North Carolina State University
  • Stephen J. McElroy
    Florida State University


These three sites of composition—two undergraduate courses and a multiliteracy center—offer insights into the manner in which students invent and make use of the available means of composing to achieve their goals. For each of the cases here, the determinations of “available means” were locally situated and often highly individuated. In the first case, Natascha used particular aspects of design and genre, from her blog within her composition course - not always with a successful outcome: for example, while she understood quite well the design conventions of informative websites, she struggled to synthesize arguments within an academic literature review. In the multiliteracy center students took advantage of avenues of assistances as means of composing, receiving support and guidance in making decisions about the use of particular technologies and coming to see their own composing in new, clearer ways. In the course focused on coding, the students were constrained in their efforts by the need to understand how code worked (on a general level and to make their particular programs run); however, this constraint also allowed those students to play with the code and learn about how it enabled or restricted specific activity on the part of the running software and on the part of the user thereof.

As composition teachers our task is to engage student authors in rhetorically- and critically-aware composing practices, keeping in mind the reality that the way we construct the contexts of composing influences how students acknowledge and make use of kairos and invention in their texts. If we mean to engage students in recognizing, learning to use, and applying successfully their knowledge of particular means of composing, it is imperative that we expand the scope of what our definition of “available means” can entail. Word, image, sound, visual layout, composing infrastructure, individual abilities and histories, and even markup or code languages all have the potential to influence—at a significant and fundamental level—the rhetorical invention, arrangement and delivery of their composed artifacts. Just as we want students to learn how to engage particular audiences for particular purposes, even beyond the realm of “academic writing,” so too do we want students to be capable of responding to the widest potential range of exigences they encounter. Additionally, we often want students to develop the ability to articulate that capability. And so we should think with students: about the affordances they recognize in the technologies they choose to use; about what constraints lead them to choose those technologies; and about the rhetorical action implicit in the particular modes through which they communicate to their audiences. And we should not forget to ask which constraints they assume are unavailable for experimentation, given the construction of assignments, courses, curricula. To address these, we must change how we articulate the possibilities available to students in any given case, and to experiment with means that may not be initially apparent or accessible, in order to learn how to make use of those means.