Guest Post from Richard Andrews, Dean of Faculty and Professor of English at the Institute of Education, University of London. Richard Andrews is also co-author of our newly released Developing Writers: Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age.
In Developing Writers, we use Richard Andrews’ concept of framing from his book Re-framing Literacy: Teaching and Learning in English and in the Language Arts to characterize aspects of writing in the digital age. In celebration of the release of our co-authored book, I asked Richard to introduce us to the concept of framing as applied to writing.
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I’ve long been interested not only in the verbal arts, but also in the visual arts and how the two interrelate. So book illustration, art with words (the work of Kurt Schwitters, Roy Lichtenstein, Barbara Kruger and others), and the complementarity and tension between word and image have all been areas of intellectual interest as well as enjoyment.
A step back from immersion in those two modes suggests that framing is a concept that is worth exploring in terms of communication.
By framing, as opposed to ‘frames’, I suggest a move away from genres and genre theory, especially where they are taken to refer to ‘text-types’. That useful tradition, looking back to the 1980s and 1990s, established that frames were a helpful scaffold in helping young writers to learn the art of composing. However, in reifying the act of framing into ‘frames’, a rigidity was introduced, seen as its worst in worksheets for particular genres where the structures of the genre were laid out—all the emergent writer had to do was fill in boxes or sections of the text-type template. Another self-defeating rigidity has been seen in fossilization of the processes of written composition.
In Re-framing Literacy (New York: Routledge, 2011) I put the accent on the act of framing. That is to say, although there might be some off-the-shelf frames which emergent writers would find helpful, the more purposeful act is to create the frame yourself. Framing is therefore a rhetorical act, considering who you are communicating with, what you want to say, how to do it and why. You have to negotiate and understand the frame in order for the communication to be successful.
So, stepping back into the visual world for a moment, many lessons from the way artworks are framed can apply to the act of writing.
First, visual artists identify frames in a number of different ways:
- in heavy wood or metal, designed as much to protect the work physically as to frame it from the rest of the world;
- by framing the work internally (e.g. in the combination of word and image on a page, in cartoons, comics, and medieval illustrated manuscripts);
- by deliberately blurring the frame;
- by using polyptical devices (mostly commonly seen in diptychs and triptychs, but often in multi-panelled works too);
- and by letting the work frame itself.
Second, by the way that a stage is separated from the audience, thus bringing together the visual, tactile and physical properties of movement in order to create a play, a dance work or some other performance.
Third, by transgressing the frame: for example by a visual artist projecting his or her work beyond the frame; or by a performance artist crossing the invisible boundary between stage and audience.
These are just some of the ways that the framing analogy can be used to think about and practise writing. In moving the act of composing in words from a pre-set activity, using existing frames, to a more creative activity in which the frames are negotiated, played with, transgressed, and broken, the writer is liberated to make meaning and to communicate with others in a more conscious, appropriate and meaningful way.
Communication is thus designed for purpose. It no longer has the feeling of empty ritual—or mis-communication, when the frame one person brings to a communicative moment is different from, and non-compatible with the frame that another brings.
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We’d love to hear from you:
- In practice, how could you introduce and engage your students in framing?
- What activities could be created for frame-playing: negotiating, transgressing and breaking?
- How can we facilitate students’ awareness of the rhetorical contingencies of framing?
- How do you teach the existing frames (that teachers are often accountable to teach and students must learn) in a way that keeps the act of writing meaningful?
- How do you address the frames required in high-stakes assessment?