How to translate theories about interculturalism and linguistic diversity into practical pedagogies for composition courses

In chapter 3 “Composition: Outdated Assumptions to New Architectonics” , Jay Jordan describes some of the outcomes of the collaboration between a first-year composition course for users of mainstream English and a composition course for second language users. The students´ interactions in peer-revision assignments showed how both groups were developing awareness of cultural and linguistic diversity as well as the competences described in the previous chapter, namely (105):

1. “Book” knowledge of English grammar

2. Lexical and syntactic innovation

3. Linguistic and/or rhetorical resistance/accommodation

4. Cross-cultural information/critique

5. Meta-task orientation (meta-discursive sensitivity and group dynamic sensitivity).

Moreover, students´comments demonstrate that these types of interactions in which both the writer and the reader engage in critical reflections and learn from each other actually take place in real life very frequently. As Jordan puts it, “this interaction between Penn State ESL students and non-ESL students was one of the many that we will have to deal with when going out into the real world after college and beyond” (111) and students themselves were aware of the fact that “they had done this before (…) before, but they had not been asked to do it as a legitimate educational activity”, therefore, students had not had the chance of seeing “the value of negotiating differences for their own learning as users of language or rhetors” (112).

As a first-year writing instructor myself, I wonder how to develop the competences above mentioned if most of the students in the class are users of mainstream varieties of English. Although they have the opportunity to interact with me, a second-language user of English, my role as the manager of the course does not allow for the same outcomes described by Jordan for several reasons. First, it is materially impossible that I meet multiple times throughout the semester with each of my students to interact with them and scaffold their cross-cultural leaning. Moreover, if I based the curriculum of a general composition course entirely on cross-cultural issues, my ethos as an instructor will be affected and thus, my authority in the classroom and my students´performances. Finally, I have to meet other course requirements and time is money in a 16-weeks course.

However, I have tried to develop students´cultural and linguistic awareness by bringing other forms of diversity to the classroom. For example, I always include multilingual readings in the syllabus and students do research on a variety of multilingual genres. Moreover, my students are asked to write self- and community ethnographies and to focus on language use in specific rhetorical situations, which relates to Jordan´s call for “discovery” approaches to writing (135). Therefore, although I do not based my curriculum of first-year writing in overt cross-cultural aspects, students are exposed to the idea that diversity permeates all genres since the beginning of the semester. As Jordan explains, students should understand that “negotiating cultural and discourse communities is a desirable skill for all students, regardless of language background” and thus, it is very important to normalize this idea with the first assignments they are asked to complete.

As a personal  research project, I would like to investigate whether or not the competences mentioned by Jordan may be developed by other means (such as the use of multilingual genres).

Interactions between ESL and  “native”users (as shown in the picture) seem to promote “rhetorical listening (…), a practice that requires co-rhetors to avoid the extremes assuming that they are just like each other or that they are incommensurably different” (123), but do we engage in the same type of rhetorical listening by just interacting with genres rather than with the people who produce those genres?


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