Our return to the group classroom discussion was a return to the familiar. We are all graduate students and the monochromatic classroom walls and functional furniture feels homey in its own sad way. At the tail end of our workshops, interviews, and hours of transcription, we were ready to settle into theory, something easier to understand sometimes than our own dispositions as novice researchers.
The thing is, we were not the same students who occupied these chairs at the start of the course or even weeks ago. The distance between us and the research theories we study from books had diminished. In our initial discussion we returned to an early conversation about digital technology and the ethical implications of using public discourse in research. The conversation was now less abstract and more personal.
One classmate reminded us of the Internal Review Board’s (IRB) somewhat lenient position on public discourse while we discussed Aaron Hess’ chapter titled “Rhetoric, Ethnography, and the Machine” in Field Rhetoric: Ethnography, Ecology, and Engagement in the Places of Persuasion. We then pondered our own positions on analyzing public technology:
One of our lively discussions was sparked by “Rhetorical Cartographies,” a chapter describing three geographical areas of Omaha and the associative discourse and impressions of each. The authors’ assert that places “are dynamic places-in-process, wherein embodied and emplaced performances select, reflect, and deflect place through the experiences of those who interact with the place” (Senda-Cook, et al 98). This resonated with us in our examination of UWM graduate students and how they contribute to and shape our dynamic campus.
One classmate mused about linguistic boundaries and how certain spaces impose language or linguistic boundaries. We had initially discussed place and even gentrification of places as physical, but she prompted us to think about gentrification of language, asking, “when we try to ‘clean up’ places physically, are we also ‘cleaning up’ language, and If so, at what cost?”
This colonization of language is something we even recognize in some of our interviewees’ contributions. It’s something that we as teachers, professional writers, and graduate scholars have sometimes experienced in our own self-censoring. One classmate stated, “I didn’t have the best education. I went into the military and then to college where I tried to shape my linguistic and community identity. Sometimes I think about what was lost in that process.”
Perhaps it is our own experiences that we see reflected back at us more clearly now. We talked about feeling attached to our participants when we transcribed the interviews. One classmate described her feelings of empathy as she slowed down the voices during the transcription process and heard inflection. “I heard insecurity and struggle in places,” she said. That connectedness made it hard to not jump in and share our own stories of triumph and struggle while interviewing participants. It made us grateful that we were privy to stories and cognizant of our own positionality as researchers. Our initial project idea elicited skepticism, confusion, frustration, and enthusiasm. Now, however messy and imperfect, it finally feels like our own. --WP
We have fourteen weeks of theory resting between our ears. Throughout the semester, we’ve interrogated how language, culture, and race are theorized in the field of composition and rhetoric. Importantly, our understanding of these theories has not been developed in isolation. We did not read tucked away in the library or at our desks over our lunch breaks, only to sit and ponder these ideas in isolation. Each Thursday evening, we convened in a small simple room to talk, to question, to criticize, and to understand. We engaged in rhetoric to convey ideas and relied on literacies to understand our texts and each other. Through our linguistic repertoires, we engaged in a collaborative social process to develop our ideas. We navigated meanings, and hopefully, developed an attuned orientation towards the interaction of race, culture, and the practice of language.
This is where we are, shortly after our penultimate class meeting, in the moment that I sit down to converse with you about our experience. Our professor challenged us before our discussion, “What is theory?”, and an underlying question rose to the surface, “How do we apply theory in practice?”. These questions seemed to shape the conversation during the first half of our weekly gathering.
Echoing and enforcing our ongoing semester-long dialogue, we dug into the theory and practice of translingual approaches to literacy and writing. Drawing upon the words of Bruce Horner, Min-Zhan Lu, Jacqueline Jones Royster, and John Trimbur, one classmate oriented us towards a recurring theme from not only this week’s readings, but also from across the semester. We were reminded that stances of openness towards language and literacy practice require us to view “language differences and fluidities as resources to be preserved, developed and utilized” (Horner et al., 2011, p. 304). This flexible view of language, taking a position that language is an inherently dynamic process rather than a static perfection, allows the space to ponder Horner et al.’s recognition that “we are all language learners” (p. 304). In class there was an acknowledgement that, for some, this is a profound perceptual change to the nature of language. What are the implications of this reoriented perspective, of engaging in what A. Suresh Canagarajah terms “linguistic pluralism”?
No longer is language a thing to be tamed, taught, and tested. Rather, it assumes mutable organic qualities we often associate with living beings; growing, changing, responding, and evolving. The translingual approach pushes this concept a bit further. Language cannot be wrangled into a singular truth--because core to its nature is difference. According to Min-Zhan Lu and Bruce Horner, “difference is the norm” (2013, p. 585). In class we pushed this theory towards practice by recognizing that there is not a singular way of speaking or writing. Linguistic practices are not monolithic, and we ought to keep this orientation at front of mind when we work with students. We must create environments where students can draw upon their personal linguistic repertoires not only to navigate, but also to co-create the contextual language practice in our learning spaces. An act Lu and Horner have cited as language sedimentation.
After discussing Jerry Won Lee’s Beyond Translingual Writing we intentionally moved the conversation towards the practical application of translingual approaches. How can we make these ideas work for us and our students? Linguistic agency, the ability of language users to recognize and control their own practice and experience with language, can inform the way we understand our student’s language practices. We can assess linguistic agency by incorporating reflective writing into our curricula, and in conjunction, committing to engaging in dialogue with our students regarding their language production.
Even though we engaged in a rich and rigorous discussion, I still wonder about Won Lee’s linguistic social justice, something we only briefly touched on. Or, what about the relationship between language practices and power dynamics? These might be theoretical questions for the next class to tackle.
It is imperative to note that there is no set of practices, no how-to guide, no tricks of the trade. The translingual approach, is an orientation, not a dogma. Therefore, it serves as a guide that ought to be thoughtfully and lovingly applied in our specific contexts. The embodiment of this orientation in our practice might create a space where students--each in possession of a unique linguistic finger print--can freely engage in the social nature of language, collaboratively constructing the norms of practice.
The Milwaukee Film Festival ran from October 18th to November 1st and included an array of foreign language films alongside its impressive line-up of 2018 indie hits, such as David and Nathan Zellner’s Damsel, award winning documentaries like Bing Liu’s Minding the Gap; and locally based and produced features including Emir Cakaroz’s Riverwest Film & Video.
As a recent transplant from Southern California, I must confess that I underestimated the scope of the Milwaukee Film Festival. And, as a somewhat regular at the Hollywood Arclight and a previous attender of the San Diego Film Festival, I thought I knew long lines and high demand and did not imagine that attending a screening, with tickets in hand, would present any issues. So, I bought pre-tickets for Shoplifters, the latest offering from Japanese director Kore-eda Hirokazu since I had loved some of his previous films including After the Storm and My Little Sister.
Though I knew that Kore-eda is a successful filmmaker (Shoplifters has ranked as the fourth highest grossing Japanese film of the year), when my husband and I arrived to the Oriental theater with an hour to spare, I was shocked by the attendance. The line for the film snaked around the corner, people huddled against the exterior of the adjacent buildings as film festival volunteers politely called out reminders to have tickets ready, fostering a sense of urgency. That sense of urgency soon proved unwarranted for those of us in the second half of the line as the minutes continued to pass and the gusty winds continued to pick up. Murmurs of concern began to rustle throughout the crowd: there was a chance we would not all get in, even those of us who had tickets in hand.
Despite my strong desire to see the film – and to be in the warmth of an auditorium – I reflected on the significance of the moment. Here we were, somewhere in Midwestern America in the Fall 2018 – in this political moment that sometimes seems like it’s leading nowhere but backward, fostering xenophobia and regression – on a very cold day, and people (a lot of them) had come out to see a Japanese-language film about, of all things, class inequities and injustices. And these people were getting pretty huffy at the notion that they might not get to see it! The investment was high.
In English 812 this semester, we have talked a lot about issues related to inclusivity and multi-culturalism as means for combatting regressive and myopic thinking. And as rhetoricians who are exploring how to more equitably teach writing, we are primarily concerned about how to create multi-cultural classrooms that model value for all Englishes. And I often wonder if one of the main routes for doing that – for fostering appreciation of languages more broadly – may be more exposure to foreign languages. People sometimes express dislike for foreign language films, generally citing the reading requirements involved. I often worry that this aversion to foreign language films and other content, no matter what the reason, fits too conveniently into a monolingual culture, one in which English-only speakers can too easily avoid interacting with other languages.
But, as the beyond sold-out showing of Shoplifters demonstrates, there is an interest in and a demand for content in other languages and for stories outside of the audiences’ own experiences. This should not be news, but it bears repeating to the larger American film industry that often chooses to shy away from challenging content, and certainly, on the whole, shies away from foreign language content, wanting to avoid challenging or annoying its audience, even though doing so has often proved fruitful. Just think of the generally positive reception to Quintin Tarantino’s 2009 Inglourious Basterds, a film that has an 87% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and earned over $120 million in the U.S. The is noteworthy because the film begins with an extended sequence in French and prominently features French, German, and English throughout along with some sly commentary on the use of different language for various settings, purposes, and audiences. This film, along with films like Shoplifters, is just another example of American audiences’ desire for foreign language content and need for more exposure to it. I think more films like these – both American films featuring foreign languages and various Englishes and foreign-made films – in major cinemas would have a profoundly positive impact on our culture.
P.S. We did eventually get into the movie theater, with about five seconds to show time, a volunteer ushering us to separate seats, two of the last admitted audience members to the dark auditorium. The screen illuminated the room, and for the next two hours and one minute, the packed room was captivated by a quiet, moving, and well-crafted story in a language almost everyone, if not all, in the room did not speak. We listened to the characters’ voices, understanding their stories, with help from the subtitles as needed.
Trailer for Shoplifters:
English for Academic Purposes (EAP, henceforth) at UW-Milwaukee offers ranges of courses for these students for whom English is not the first/only language/dialect. EAP students come from different language and cultural backgrounds and gather as one community with one purpose—to get better at English. However, #uwm812 exposes us to readings that challenges our long-held beliefs regarding this community, especially with regards to student errors/mistakes. Especially thinking about the early readings, for example Mina Shaughnessy’s Errors & Expectations raised intriguing questions student errors produced by Basic Writers (BW). Also, Lisa Delpit’s Other People’s Children also highlights the debate surrounding standard vs non-standard English that gets to the very definition of what should be considered standard English. Both Shaughnessy and Delpit discuss student community who has multilingual and multidialectal language background—something Vershawn Ashanti Young and Suresh Canagarajah also underline in their works.
EAP students’ mistakes can be open for interpretation, or better yet, up for debate depending on who is looking at it or from what angle. EAP teachers from a pure linguistic point of view may see a rather non-standard language form as a mistake while a first-year writing instructor may see it from a rather rhetorical vantage point. Just thinking about the word “mistake” itself, the question is who is missing the take (pun intended) on the apparent student error? Suresh Canagarajah’s piece “The Place of World Englishes in Composition: Pluralization Continued” that we read gives a good example for this complex issue. Canagarajah examines the Chinese student’s “peculiar” use of “can able to” in the same sentence as that makes sense in the student’s first language. However, judging solely from prescriptive grammatical rules of standard English, “can able to” is an error of redundancy since “can” and “be able to” has interchangeable meaning in English.
Now this can be ruled out just as a discreet and individual example. However, my personal experience teaching EAP students at UWM resonates with Canagarajah’s example. During my tenure at UWM EAP, one of my Saudi students pronounced the word “people” as “beoble”. Another student with Arabic language background would pronounce the word usually (with P sound) but write “beoble” when he would write it on paper. Now because of my familiarity with Arabic language, I know Arabic does not really have “p” sound in it. So, these apparent mistakes were rather transfer from their first/other language. Therefore, this community of students who are dynamic in their linguistic repertoire, may produce language forms that is apparently erroneous, but actually stem from their meta-linguistic abilities. Students with more than one language may make apparent mistake that is open for such interpretation. When EAP students make these apparent mistakes, there may be more than just grammatical errors that is happening there.
I am using the word “apparent” here because on face value they may seem like a mistake however, upon deeper reflection, and also possible active negotiation with students these mistakes may come out as another form of language. I am echoing Canagarajah here, “To meet these objectives, rather than focusing on correctness, we should perceive "error" as the learner's active negotiation and exploration of choices and possibilities.” (593). However, does this mean a student never make mistakes or every mistake is some sort of meta-linguistic activity? I do not have a definitive answer to this question. It is complicated to say the least, and students do make mistakes.
So, how do we approach this student community in terms of assessing them? One way to go about it, is to talk with the student in person to find out what he/she was thinking while s/he was languaging. Also, important is more coordination between teacher communities too since teachers from different background may look at these mistakes differently. For example, looking from a language instructional perspective, mistakes may seem just like mistakes. However, teachers of rhetoric may look at these mistakes from a rhetorical standpoint. I am not saying one is better/more important than the other, on the contrary one (language instruction/teaching) can complement the other (rhetoric). Therefore, as much as we need to think about student communities, we should also think about teacher communities too. Teaching and learning both are communal.
This week’s readings were Rebecca Lorimer Leonard’s “Multilingual Writing as Rhetorical Attunement” and A. Suresh Canagarajah’s “The Place of World Englishes in Composition: Pluralization Continued .” Both authors work with ESL / TEOFL and multilingual teaching & writing. Below are some highlights from both the articles and the class discussion.
The class discussion centered on fostering strategies and values to teaching multilingual writing and speaking. The general concerns were basically how to serve students to the best of their ability, and how teachers may want to consider different approaches and what do teachers value when it comes to language learning and composition in the classroom.
Pluralism and Space
Canagarajah supports a “pluralizing composition” (p.587) or the co-existence of approaches between multilingualism and monolingual standards. He explains, “they compel us to think of English as a plural language that embodies many norms and standards” (p.589). Primarily, what new strategies or approaches can teachers provide which students can use in their writing and speaking now (‘pedagogy of space’ as he puts it) rather than over a period of time as proposed by Elbow’s two-pronged approach (p.598)?
Key Highlights from the Class Discussion
Rhetorical Attunement & Sensibility
Lorimer Leonard explains “how writing across languages and locations in the world fosters as rhetorical attunement: a literate understanding that assumes multiplicity and invites the negotiation of meaning across difference” (p.228). She also states, literate repertoires are not static (p.228), and language learning is interactive, engaging and it entails language negotiation. She further explains, “one way to think about this difference —monolingual writers hear a note; multilingual writers hear a chord” (p.244).
Other Highlights from the Class Discussion
A side note: Although I was a little intimidated in taking this class and since I do not come from an English composition and teaching background, I wanted to give a shout out to the instructor and the classmates for the sharing of their thoughts, and experiences on Rhetoric and Composition.
Best wishes to all of you in both your teaching and academic careers.
In English 812 this week, we created timelines of the major events and concepts in writing and English pedagogy that we’ve read about and discussed over the last few weeks. Interestingly, some of us brought larger social movements into our timelines, illustrating the effects of cultural context on pedagogical trends. These timelines helped us to track the ways in which the approaches to teaching English have evolved and fluctuated in tandem with these larger social movements.
We then shifted our focus to the book Language Diversity in the Classroom (2003), which was written in part as a response to surveys conducted by the CCCC and NCTE. These surveys revealed a disconcerting lack of teacher knowledge about language diversity. This book sought to fill in some of those gaps and provide a platform for discussion among scholars in the field.
On Erasure and Forgetting
Some of us raised the specific issue of teaching in the field of English as a Second Language (ESL) and questioned if the field has or has not changed in terms of approaching English as a “global language.” In Language Diversity in the Classroom, Victoria Cliett explains that English teachers should not focus on “a solely domestic concept of ‘standard English’” as to do so would put the field at a disadvantage in the global community (67). Cliett goes on to discuss the Honolulu conference which, in 1978, “produced a formal statement…that affirmed the need to continue inquiry into the development of English as an international language,” essentially calling into question the primacy of Standard American English (68).
To this end, a group of student teachers were studied to determine what effect knowledge of World Englishes would have on their attitudes and pedagogies. These TESOL masters students were provided varying levels of instruction on World Englishes and language diversity; the results, not surprisingly, demonstrated that teachers who had exposure to more, and more complex, instruction on language diversity had indeed developed more nuanced perceptions of students and their varying languages.
All of this 1970’s studying of and pushing for an increase in language diversity training for student teachers raised the question of why this largely doesn’t seem to be happening even now in 2018. It is concerning that so much work and thought has been put in on this subject, yet the average English educator in America may still not be receiving training on language diversity. The work of decades passed seems to go largely unrecognized, and sometimes erased, in the larger field.
That said, more small change may be occurring than we realize. For example, there is at least one course – titled Language Acquisition for Children of Diverse Backgrounds – that is focused on linguistic diversity as part of UWM’s teacher training program.
The concept of work erasure was once again raised with the discussion of the CCCC committee’s compiled materials for teachers, a project the team worked on for four years in the 1980s, but then decided not to publish. The ultimate choice not to go forward with the work was in response to the diminishing conversation about language diversity in the classroom at the time.
Another 1980s event that is discussed in Language Diversity in the Classroom is California’s passing of the English Only law. California was the first state in the nation to pass such a law in modern times and it is explained that the state was targeted for this action as a result of its very diversity. We discussed the ways in which this targeting can be read as a form of racism and an attempt to silence home and family languages and diminish cultures.
Thinking in New Ways: Think Tank session
To delve into the subject of tangible classroom changes, we held our own think tank session to begin breaking open our own perceptions of teaching and learning. To do this, we thought about classroom spaces, where learning occurs, activities for learning, assignments, means of giving feedback, and what we perceive as positives experiences of language and culture. We placed these concepts alongside the goals of dialect equality, awareness of language diversity, contextually-responsive pedagogies, and rhetorical effectiveness.
Some of the key points from our think tank included:
There are many additional books on the value and intentional use of varied dialects. Code Switching: Teaching Standard English in Urban Classrooms by Rebecca S. Wheeler & Rachel Swords and Code-Meshing as World English (Vershawn Ashanti Young & Aja Y. Martinez) are two such works for further reading.
In this week’s class, the main focus of our discussion was UWM's initiative to become a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI). HSIs are colleges and universities where the population of Hispanic students enrolled comprises 25% of the institution’s total enrollment. According to UWM’s press announcement about its upcoming initiative, HSIs “are eligible for funding to support student recruitment and retention, faculty development, community outreach and more.” The announcement is, as you’d probably imagine, full of buzzwords and quotes from university officials that work as perfect sound bites to drum up excitement for this next chapter at UWM.
Excuse me if I sound bitter—it’s not that I don’t think this initiative sounds exciting and rife with opportunity. It’s just that I’m often wary of such announcements due to the fact that, more often than not, these initiatives are deployed only on the surface level—meaning that they make for great PR, but don’t actually do much to serve the communities they’re claiming to assist. My classmates seemed to share my apprehension. The term “tokenizing” was woven tightly into our conversation. By targeting a group specifically, even with supposedly positive intentions, are we not merely reminding that group that they are the “other”? How does a university truly and effectively serve these students while simultaneously working to ensure that they are actually being helped, not just singled out in order to check off some boxes?
While our class is certainly not a group of experts, and it is impossible to find concrete answers to these questions within the course of a few hours, we did manage to come up with several ideas that we felt would assist our or any university in its journey to becoming a true Hispanic-Serving Institution—or, ideas that would serve any institution in becoming more inclusive and effective, whether they hold the title of HSI or not. (Disclaimer: although this blog post is my own, these ideas are the result of a class-wide discussion, and I by no means want to take sole credit for them). Here’s the list we compiled:
1. Diversify curriculum and faculty. It’s hardly a secret that the mainstream curriculum at most colleges and universities abides by a very specific tradition—that of white, Western males. In UWM’s announcement about the plans to become an HSI, Chancellor Mark Mone said that these efforts “will benefit all students through a learning environment that prepares them for today’s world.” If we truly want to prepare students for “today’s world,” then it is vital that they be exposed to voices both within and outside of their own communities, both through their coursework and their institution’s faculty.
2. Incorporate public texts and linguistic diversity into classrooms. While it’s certainly important for students in higher education to engage with academic texts, we must recognize that not everyone who has important stories to tell or is doing critical work within their given field is going to be releasing their work through that medium. Just because someone does not use an arsenal of sophisticated vocabulary or isn’t getting published within a prestigious journal does not mean that their work should go ignored. Further, this sort of work is not necessarily what resonates with all students. Instructors should work to find a variety of voices distributing their work in a variety of ways—perhaps through blogs, various forms of social media, and other public forums—to spotlight voices that may otherwise go ignored in academia.
3. Change terms, not just content. Many students are not only unfamiliar with traditional academic vernacular, but also run the risk of feeling alienated in the classroom due to this unfamiliarity. Instructors should work with their students to figure out what sort of vernacular their students are comfortable with, incorporate it into class discussions, and help students to most effectively utilize it within their work (while treading lightly, of course, so as to not become appropriative). This may sound like a tall order, and we’re not calling for the common vocabulary of academia to change overnight—just a simple willingness on the part of instructors to acknowledge the vernacular their students are comfortable with is a good start.
4. Be comfortable with the fact that you’re not always the expert. Bringing different voices into the classroom and encouraging students to embrace their own vernacular and language means that instructors will often have to step out of their comfort zone. We cannot be afraid to allow the dynamics between instructor and student shift a bit—sometimes, they will be the expert and teacher, and we will have to defer to their expertise.
I’m sure this list could go on—in fact, it should. These are merely a few idea of how the university could and should go forward as it works to achieve the title of HSI.