Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times and Redesigning Composition for Multilingual Realities: A Review Essay Englishes in the Classroom

The students who populate our composition and writing courses bring rich histories and robust literacy practices with them, as we have learned from studies on writing transfer. Multilingual and transnational students introduce additional layers of literacy and, as such, demand pedagogies that are not only welcoming of diverse histories and practices but indeed responsive to them. Patrick W. Berry, Gail Hawisher, and Cynthia Selfe’s (2012) Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times and Jay Jordan’s (2012) Redesigning Composition for Multilingual Realities provide two book-length explorations of multilingual student writers’ literacies. Both collections set out to explore the transnational, diverse language histories and experiences that students come to the classroom with, or in the words of Berry, Hawisher, and Selfe (2012), the “cultural, linguistic, and communicative complexities” (Introduction section, para. 4) of the writing classroom and beyond. Additionally, and more broadly, these projects provide compositionists examples of robust methods for creating pedagogies responsive to the needs of early 21st-century learners.

Map of the world hand-drawn in bold black lines Transnational Literate Lives presented a collection of 13 digital literacy narratives. These narratives were produced by 13 transnational students and were intended to illustrate, from the students’ own perspectives, how, when, and why they came to use various digital technologies and modalities including alphabetic text, photographs, video and audio clips. Berry, Hawisher, and Selfe's nuanced interview research methods repositioned each of their thirteen participants as collaborators in the project. Unlike traditional interview-based scholarship that positions interviewees as research subjects whose experiences get interpreted and represented by the researcher, the editors instead purposefully positioned their interviewees as co-authors of their respective chapters.

Students produced their own narratives, which Berry, Hawisher, and Selfe organized in five themed chapter-length discussions.“Digital Literacies, Technological Diffusion, and Globalization” introduced readers to the 13 co-authors, their countries of origin, and the “lifeworlds” of each co-author. This introduction to participants is placed into conversation with current scholarship on communicative technology trends. In “Digital Media and Transnational Connections,” readers heard in detail from the first four co-authors about their individual digital literacy histories and habits. Here emergent modes of literacy and discourse were shaped by movement and interaction between cultures. “Cultural Designs for Writing Digitally,” “Acts of Translation in the Academy and across National Boundaries,” and, lastly, “Global Digital Divide: From Nigeria and the People’s Republic of China,” added to the amalgam of student histories. Each of Transnational Literate Lives’ five body chapters engaged readers by allowing the study participants to speak for themselves. We heard from the students directly; we saw the students’ self-selected representations of significant moments in their personal histories through various digital technologies both inside and beyond the classroom.

Student Narratives