Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times and Redesigning Composition for Multilingual Realities: A Review Essay Student Narratives

Redesigning Composition for Multilingual Realities began with a similar framing to Transnational Literate Lives: Jay Jordan (2012) provided a rationale for increasing attention to language diversity in the classroom. Citing Paul Kei Matsuda’s observation that notions of a monolingual student body are a myth, Jordan argued for increased attention to the diversity of languages students bring to the classroom. He used the work of writing centers to illustrate translingual approaches to composition. Instructors might include students in conversations about language, and Jordan’s use of student writing samples in this chapter—and later, student survey responses—was his way of doing this throughout the book.

Jordan turned to observations of students’ interactions in the writing classroom to show that students negotiate various uses and purposes of English. He discussed the emergence of communicative language teaching (CLT), which was a pedagogic philosophy designed to move away from skill-and-drill language teaching and focus more on fluid language patterns. The problem with CLT, Jordan argued, is that it holds the native speaker as a standard of perfection. Jordan identified as a speaker of a white, middle-class English dialect, and he acknowledged that he is not competent in many other dialects or varieties of English. He noted that his students are often tasked with shifting cultural lenses and personas in the writing classroom.

Map of the world with slightly faded black lines.In chapter three, Jordan reported the results from his 2004 pilot course at Penn State, which linked native speakers and multilingual students to bring attention to language diversity. This section—where student voices are the primary data—made the strongest case for linguistically diverse pedagogies. Throughout the course, Jordan asked his students to write about their experiences with language and language learning. Students were also assigned to peer review sessions with their assigned groups, and Jordan recalled the interaction between a native-English-speaking student writing about terrorism and Islam and an Arab student providing feedback on the essay, who provided interpretations of the religion and suggested that the essay writer search for Islamic source citations. Here, Jordan emphasized the importance of student collaboration in the research process.

Both collections valued interaction and collaboration. Similar to Jordan's approach, Patrick W. Berry, Gail E. Hawisher, and Cynthia L. Selfe (2012) valued the contributions of student voices; they interacted not only with their participants but also amongst co-authors. Transnational Literate Lives built around the collection of student narratives with an unexpectedly helpful introductory chapter as it grounded readers both in the co-authored discussions themselves and also in strategies for navigating the edited collection. In a move that lifted the curtain on the process behind the finished product of published scholarship, the editors used the introduction chapter in part to introduce readers both to the rationale motivating the co-authored chapter and also to strategies for navigating the edited collection. Readers learned more about the editors’ methodological decision-making process again in a helpful reflective final chapter in which Berry, Hawisher, and Selfe summarized eight key takeaways, or observations, from the project. Among the takeaways is the understanding that the students’ perceptions of technologies were dependent upon the cultural ecologies each experienced. Also of help to anyone interested in learning more about methods is the editors’ musings on four key concepts and methodological practices that informed their ongoing research: Local and Global Ecologies, Transnational Contexts, Literacy Narratives, and Digital Media.


Breaking Down Barriers