April 5th reading: Jay Jordan’s Redesigning Composition for Multilingual Realities

It’s been a few weeks! Looking forward to seeing you all and talking about Jordan’s text. Please come ready to share your audio essay with us in its current form. We will do a mini-workshop on these. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this week’s readings!


dr. c

Jay Jordan’s Redesigning Composition for Multilingual Realities
Deep reader(s): Dylan and Lauren
DUE: Audio essay (play draft in class)

Treats: Adam


6 thoughts on “April 5th reading: Jay Jordan’s Redesigning Composition for Multilingual Realities”

  1. This book spoke volumes to me as both a composition teacher and a student of composition and rhetoric. As the title suggests, Jordan is writing to bring a call for action for the need to “redesign” many aspects about the composition course. It is not enough to react to “the situation” of multilingualism in the classrooms; it is not enough to admire and respect its presence; as composition instructors, students, and even WPAs, everyone must understand that the population of multilingual learners is rapidly expanding. With this expanding population of second (or even third and fourth) language learners, the composition field must acknowledge what it means when instructors address “errors.” As Jordan states: “While more and more scholars and teachers of writing are demonstrating a willingness to question assumptions about language—and the role of English in particular—we also realize that those questions lead to practical problems ranging from disciplinary locations of writing all the way to how to read a sentence…” (4).” These problems I have run into myself as a first year composition teacher. I have a student whose first language is Korean. She not only struggles to understand my “corrections” but I also struggle to understand her “errors.” Similar to Jordan’s approach to these errors, I find it problematic to tell this second language student that her comma is in an inappropriate location. Rather, I find it more beneficial to approach her struggles with a content-based approach. She is a great writer and a smart student. Her inability to successfully convey her thoughts in Korean to her papers written in English deprives her of showing me what I believe to be her full potential. The language barrier does not represent her failure to write; it represents a failed, multi-faceted approach to engage students and teachers with tools to gain “good” writing. Especially with multilingual learners, the definition of “good writing” becomes even more difficult to define. Jordan’s book helped me take a step back and encouraged me to rethink my classroom approach with students who are learning English as a second language.


  2. This book has helped me to rethink several of my ideas about multiculturalism, other languages and cultures in the traditional American classroom, and how to effectively integrate these differences to better serve nontraditional students. For example, while I previously thought of language in these terms myself, the book rightfully questions terms such as “native” and “first language” speakers compared to “second language speakers,” as these terms imply more concrete knowledge than they actually entail. That is, calling one student a native speaker and another a second language speaker quite clearly describes who should have more or less mastery of the language; yet these terms say nothing about the actual individual mastery of the students, and ignore the fact that a second language speaker’s knowledge may exceed that of a native speakers in certain respects. For example, Jordan describes how he and his wife knew more about Polish grammar than their native speaking friends, but found themselves unable to communicate as easily or effectively in practice. Our current terminology regarding students’ lingual backgrounds and mastery glosses over these intricacies, painting an imperfect picture of what can be expected of them, how their mastery can be improved, and how they can be fairly evaluated based on their current ability.

    These issues tie into existing issues with how students are evaluated in public education. A typical academic essay, for example, may be subject to the “five-error rule,” where five grammar, usage or punctuation mistakes automatically results in a grade deduction. Clearly, this approach would be disastrous for a non-native speaker who has not mastered the cosmetics (for lack of a better word) of the language, and punishes them for their inconsistency in this respect rather than properly evaluating their ability to communicate. A non-native speaker may make these mistakes without truly compromising their intended meaning; and that parameter alone would make for healthier evaluation than simply identifying mistakes.

    Overall, Jordan helped me to realize that we must reconsider how we describe and evaluate non-traditional students that enter our standardized public education system at a disadvantage. More appropriate terminology and methods of education and evaluation will help equalize these students’ potential to succeed without undermining their cultural differences.


  3. I found the section “Competence Neat and Messy” in chapter two to be incredibly interesting. The distinction between language and communication and the points that Jordan includes about Chomsky and Hymes’ work was enlightening. Having had no teaching experience with second-language leaners (or any teaching experience, really), I didn’t think of many of the distinctions that Jordan includes. He writes, “Broader than language…communication comprises code, participants, an event in which they are situated, a channel, a setting, a form or shape to the message meaning conveyed, and a message or meaning (13)” (Jordan 54-55). It is Jordan’s next sentence in which he regards all of this to become “context” that really helped to situate the idea of communication, for me. While language is indeed the vehicle that helps drive home all of meaning and its potential, it is impossible for language to create and uphold meaning if those speaking it are unaware of the other factors that Hymes includes here.

    Earlier in this section–two paragraphs above–Jordan summarizes Chomsky’s points about the distinction between language and communication. He notes, “Chomsky recognized the logistical problems of studying such internal grammars, but he theorized that their existence bridged the yawning gap between laboratory-observable experience and human language production” (54). Having been in classes with second-language learners, there does appear to be a discrepancy between grammar practice and the ability to translate it into “language,” both written and spoken.

    Again–for me, as someone who doesn’t teach–this is all very interesting and makes me think about the ways in which I would use this information if I were in a classroom. It also makes me quite aware of how I would struggle if I tried to pick up a second language. The idea that the context of a language may be equally–or even more–important than learning just the grammar, structure, and vocabulary of a language is something that is going to stick with me. Knowing that it would be impossible to fully understand a language without the communicative intricacies that go with it is even more apparent after reading this chapter and Jordan’s analysis of Chomsky and Hymes’ work.


  4. Several aspects of Jordan’s introductory chapter greatly interested me. The first thing that stood out is the quote that readers encounter when they first open the book. In it, one of the author’s former students remarks “Polish was my first language, but English is my first language” (Jordan 1). This seems to me to be a very succinct introspective into the way that ESL students encounter predominately English-speaking classrooms. Many of these students live multilingual lives, utilizing English in school while still being immersed in a native language at home or in the community. I interpret this student to mean that although they have gain proficiency in using the English language, they are still considered to be English language learners. For me, it calls into question at which point we stop using this term for students. In my classroom for example, I have students that have been in the school system for most of their school career, but are still classified as “ESL Students.” Jordan makes are good point that “Calling some English users first language or native and calling others second language cannot account for this student’s experience” (2).
    I also found interest in Jordan’s introductory comments on multilingualism in the composition classroom. It seems strange to me that ESL composition and “regular” composition are separate entities. Although it may be initially necessary, are we not creating a disconnect by separating these two? I would think that this disconnect would be especially prevalent once competence in the English language is achieved. If these two fields of study do not have the same objectives or aims, the more proficient a student becomes in the language, the more disconnected from “regular” composition they would likely be. It seems to me that the important question is not should composition include multilingualism, but how can we include multi, or translingualism in composition. Without even delving into Jordan’s book that “attempt[s] to take seriously the charges to advance crossdisciplinary understandings of multilingualism and to develop specific pedagogical approaches to it” (4), it seems that the content of the book is of the utmost importance to ensure that all students, no matter what their native language, have the chance to be equally successful.


  5. The consideration of composition as a feminine course and writing centers as feminine spaces was interesting to me. A division between “service” and “theoretical” courses labeled as feminine and masculine is starting to diminish, but Jordon argues, “Composition clearly falls into this division on the feminine side, as a nurturing introductory course” (29). The introductory writing classroom can be nurturing, but I would also argue at some institutions it can serve as a gatekeeper and even a high-stakes course. Along this line of argument, though, if composition classrooms are feminine, then writing centers also become feminized spaces. Writing centers may serve as more helpful spaces than composition classroom themselves for the individualized instruction and the supplementary out of the classroom time. L2 learners are often directed to writing centers, but writing centers can be “spaces where students’ cultural and linguistic differences can be more fully explored than composition classrooms allow” (28). Some instructors may try to pass students off to writing centers to avoid the difficulty in spending extra time with L2 learners, changing pedagogical practices, or giving extra written feedback. However, time spent with a writing center tutor may be the one-on-one extra time some students need to flourish. Students do not always receive feedback and lessons only applicable to the specific assignment and can benefit and hope to increase the level of transfer to other writing as well. This depends on the effectiveness and education of the tutor, of course. It may seem difficult or less important to explore multilingualism in composition classrooms if only a couple of students are multilingual. What obligations do we have in the classroom to include multilingual approaches? How much does this depend on the class population every semester?

    If writing centers became “masculine” spaces, how would it affect multilingual, L2, and multi-dialectical learners?

    Do writing center tutors receive education on tutoring L2 learners? Should they receive more instruction on tutoring these students?


  6. One issue that resonated with me specifically in Jay Jordan’s book was the topic of writing centers and their role in either containing, or exploring linguistic diversity. Jordan discusses how writing centers have been viewed as a location for “quarantining and/or inoculating students” whose languages differ from what is academically acceptable (27). He identifies, however, that he views writing centers as a place where students can explore their language diversity and tutors can encourage these differences. When I was training to become a writing tutor in my undergraduate studies, I was taught to embrace these language differences, however, one issue I have always encountered is “how” we encourage these language differences when students often come in requesting to “fix” formal grammar. As an undergraduate tutor, and even now as a graduate tutor, I feel uneasy walking into sessions where I know language may be a barrier, and where expectations may be unclear—not because language is an issue, but because it is a great responsibility, and a sensitive subject, when approaching the intricacies of another person’s language. Often, I feel like writing tutors are not trained extensively enough to work with multilingual English language users, and though they may be able to create a productive dialogue with the tutee, they often struggle with how to adhere to the professor’s guidelines, while simultaneously collaborating with the students. While Jordan may encourage composition teachers to perform an intercultural practice, this type of learning environment will not transfer from class to class. Therefore, in the writing center, it is difficult to create a successful dialogue for multilingual students when their linguistic diversity in composition may not be encouraged across the board.

    Thus, how do we as tutors, and educators, encourage a space for linguistic diversity when it challenges the requirements of our fellow educators?

    In first year writing courses, which often incorporate formal English assignments, how do professors make use of intercultural assignments that address (no, ENCOURAGE) linguistic diversity?


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