Parallel Composition

For this blog post, I am going to discuss utilizing parallel composition in the classroom. Kevin Leander composed a chapter entitled Composing with Old and New Media: Toward a Parallel Pedagogy for a text book for digital literacies. In this chapter, Leander defines parallel pedagogy as “a way of describing how old and new literacy practices, including print texts and visual texts, may be fruitfully taught side by side rather than the ‘old’ being a precursor to the new or being replaced by it.” Essentially, I am looking at ways we can use technology and digital media with traditional texts in our classrooms.

For this post, I created my own parallel composition product that I could use as a model for my students to explain the assignment to them and as an example for what I expect. At the top of this blog, there is a picture. This picture is actually a book cover that I created using This tool allows you to create book covers or other publications like news letters, flyers, magazine articles, etc. I decided to create a book cover for the novel Night. There were several different avenues I could have taken for this product, but I wanted to do something creative yet simple (but not too simple). I can only imagine you might be asking, how does this reflect parallel composing/parallel pedagogy? (I will come back to this question).

Spark Adobe was the best technology to use for this product because it was very simple to navigate. It was simple but not “easy” if you know what I mean. Sometimes students try to find the easiest modes so they don’t have to try as hard. The great part about this assignment is the students still have to try. They have to put in their own creativity and their own knowledge and meaning from the text in order to create their own product. (I will explain the assignment a little later in this post – stay with me).

Spark Adobe gave me creative freedom with a structure, which is always something I look for in digital tools and platforms. I want to be able to add in my own vision, but it helps to have some support along the way. Some people may see the structure constraints as a negative. I want you to think about your students here. When they are working with new digital tools or creating a new product for an assignment, I believe it helps them to have some structural constraints to help them stay focused and not get overwhelmed. Throughout making the product, Spark Adobe offers different variations of your layout to make it look more visually appealing. This happened to me during my process, and I wound up changing some of the pictures and adding in quotes simply because their suggestions opened up some different creative designs in my head. Now, I definitely believe there are so many other tools and products that can be used for this assignment, and I will be listing those at the end of this blog.

I will never forget my favorite project from high school. My freshman lit teacher (Ms. Bates) had us read Romeo and Juliet. It was an okay story at the time, and even for us way back then, Shakespeare was boring (Now that I am older, I have more appreciation for Shakespeare than I did then). She shook things up. Throughout the reading, she had us write down song lyrics that we were reminded of at different points in the text (I think she thought this would help us with comprehension – which I believe now it did). At the end of this reading unit, we were directed to make a soundtrack for Romeo and Juliet. We even had to design the CD jacket as well. This was the first time (and sadly one of the very few times) we were working with different modes in the classroom to understand, navigate, and work through a text. That was almost fifteen years ago. There are so many options and technology at our fingertips now that parallel pedagogy should be a common practice in our classrooms.

Back to the question “how does this [product] reflect parallel composing/parallel pedagogy?” First, it would be better to understand once I tell you how I would use this in the classroom. Being inspired by Ms. Bates, I asked myself “what would help my students work best through comprehending a text?” I thought about a digital book report, but then I took it a little more broader. I want them to create a digital product of the book. This could be an online book review, book cover, soundtrack, etc. I decided to create the book cover as an example. This assignment does two things: 1) allows the students to work with the text and work with digital media and technology in order to create a product that reflects their understanding and meanings of the text, 2) this assignment incorporates the remediation stance discussed by Kevin Leander: using both text and digital media as a central position to learning and not a battle of resistance between the old and the new.

Parallel Pedagogy can seem complicated, but it really isn’t. There are so many simple yet fun ways to work this in our classroom. One that I love doing is having students create a Tweet that a character from the book would write. They have to stay in the 140 character limit and include at least one hashtag. It is very fun and gets students excited. Parallel Pedagogy and Composition can also aid us in helping students reach the standards. Storyboard That is an excellent way to incorporate both reading and writing standards in a lesson/activity. A sample activity could be: students read a short story or novel. Have them choose their favorite scene and create a story board. Allow them to draft their scenes first on paper, then let them move on to putting it together using Story Board That. This allows students to show their understanding of plot, themes, characters, etc. while also building on their writing as well. As this post is coming to a close, I have to ask: Why is parallel composing/pedagogy important in today’s classrooms? Essentially, we are living in the digital time. It is important to find the balance between traditional texts and writing with the newer modes of texts and writing.

Advice For Teachers:

  • Do not limit yourself: the idea of Parallel Pedagogy may seem like you have to make grand connections or use complicated tools. NO! This is about teaching new and old literacies side by side. For example: Showing clips of Antigone while reading the text, having students create their own digital products after a reading or writing assignment. See a great example on this blog post (watch the video on the blog post).
  • Think of creative compositions you would want to do.
  • Think about your students’ interests.
  • Check out Teacher Pay Teachers for some really interesting ideas that integrate Parallel Pedagogy.
  • Other example projects students could do: digital presentation (prezi, Sway, etc.), Digital writing (blog, vlog, article writing, critical writing, etc.), Character Tweet or Book Review Tweet, Music Video, create their own Movie scene, video commercial, the possibilities are endless. Google is your best friend here. Search what other teachers are doing and you will be surprised at how quickly ideas and modifications pop up in your head.

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