The role of culturally and linguistically diverse students in composition courses

In  Redesigning Composition for Multilingual Realities (2012), Jay Jordan argues in favor of a broader understanding of composition and by revising some of the approaches most frequently employed in first-year composition courses as well as predominant methodologies in ESL classrooms, which resonates with some of the arguments made by Fraiberg in “Composition 2.0” (2010).

Due to the fact that students from all over the world, who have grown up learning specific literacies and varieties of the English language and other languages, enroll in programs in U.S. universities, teaching critical language awareness in composition seems most reasonable for Jordan (20). Moreover, promoting a fair learning experience for all those students involves revising what composition itself means. Jordan claims that the frequently-used term “comp” denotes three other concepts that share the root of the word and that imply challenges for multilingual students . These three terms are “competence”, “compensation” and “comprehension”. According to Jordan, multilingual students have to carry the burden of constantly having to demonstrate their ability to perform specific varieties of English that are more prestigious than their own  to succeed in academic environments (competence),  they must also help their readers and listeners understand everything they say or write, as if successful communication depended only on them (comprehension) and, they have to avoid their “deficiencies” (or differences) as perceived by those who believe in the existence of a Standard variety of English and compensate for them (compensation) (21). In order to revise what composition means today and reorient it to fit the needs of multilingual societies, researches and instructors of composition should understand that these three terms have shaped how we have been teaching so far and thus, take a step forward short-term solutions and conceptualize a broader understanding of composition.

Moreover, and most importantly, Jordan opens “a conversation about what role culturally and linguistically diverse students can play -other, that is, than the role of the always-needy always-student” (21). In this sense, it seems obvious that we should also “re-conceptualize ESL students as fully competent English users” (7), who as stated by Swales may even have a more developed rhetorical and procedural competences than L1 students (in academic contexts):  “those with English as an L2 may still vince minor grammatical and lexical oddities, may be less than fully colloquial in their speech, and may have unusual pronunciation features of various sorts, but, especially if of SR [Senior academic] status, will likely have rhetorical and procedural competences that are considerably more developed than [those of] junior researchers with English as their L1” (Research 57 in Jordan, 62, emphasis mine). Although Swales´s statement has to be read from a sociolinguistic approach and uses expressions that today would seem problematic from a sociocultural approach to writing, it is interesting to quote for two reasons. In the first place, Swales acknowledges that L2 writers can potentially be more aware of rhetorical issues than L1 writers. Secondly, their rhetorical abilities have more weight in composition than “minor” grammatical or lexical aspects, which seem to not impede communication despite its “oddities”. Although Swales is writing from the perspective of a normative language user who is in the position to judge what is a lexical oddity and what is more or less colloquial, he is recognizing that those sorts of differences are not meaningful if the text is rhetorically appropriate.

As a general conclusion drawn from the first two chapters of Jordan´s Redesigning Composition for Multilingual Realities (2012) is that approaching composition from this perspective will help us reframe our current pedagogies to fit multilingual realities and that we composition instructors should encourage “not only more active participation from multilingual English users but also more potentially productive language deliberation” (33).

If the understanding of composition is broaden as Jordan claims, what would the role of remediation writing courses or tutor centers? Once instructors implement the pedagogical approaches Jordan argues in favor of, what would the role of the writing centers be? What sections and types of writing courses should be created, who would attend each of those courses and how would students be placed in them?


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