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Composition Forum 44, Summer 2020

Promoting Linguistic Equity through Translingual, Transcultural, and Transmodal Pedagogies

Julia Kiernan, Joyce Meier, Xiqiao Wang

Abstract: This program profile describes how teachers and administrators have collaborated in the design and implementation of a number of linguistic, cultural, and transmodal pedagogical and curricular initiatives. Strategies that writing teachers can implement to best meet the needs of multilingual students across a range of institutional contexts are discussed via a social justice lens. A focused examination of our First-Year Writing program’s layered response to increased international multilingual student enrolment as well as a brief discussion of campus-wide responses are offered to showcase how translingual, transcultural, and transmodal approaches to First-Year Writing can empower students, inviting them to learn from their existing linguistic and cultural funds of knowledge.


For almost a decade, a number of First-Year Writing (FYW) faculty within the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures (WRAC) at Michigan State University (MSU) have been developing and implementing a framework whereby students’ linguistic and cultural knowledge is foregrounded as an asset and expressed through transmodal compositions - that is, via student engagement with and across multiple modes. This work is especially apparent in and through the freshman bridge-writing course Preparation for College Writing (PCW) that precedes the mainstream WRA 101 course required of all incoming students. This article offers a program profile of curricular changes, and describes how these manifested across the course, program, department, and beyond. A central organizing principle of our adoption of a translingual approach is the impetus to create learning environments where students’ linguistic and cultural knowledge is foregrounded as an asset. The profile offered describes and reflects upon each stage of this shift, and discusses how teachers and administrators can work together to create linguistic, cultural, and multimodal opportunities for multilingual students. In sharing these experiences, we offer strategies writing teachers and administrators can implement to best meet the needs of multilingual students across a range of institutional contexts. Before we discuss the changes that have been made, however, it is important to understand the circumstances that have led to this ideological as well as programmatic shift.

Since the 1980s there has been a steady influx of international students attending post-secondary institutions across the United States, and while recent political and economic realities have slowed the enrollment of Chinese students, many universities continue to bring in significant numbers of students from India, Korea, and countries from both the Middle East and South America. These demographic shifts have engendered drastic changes to the cultural and linguistic realities on and off campus, with increased traffic among peoples, languages, and cultures (Canagarajah “Negotiating”; Fraiberg, Wang, and You). Our institution witnessed the most rapid increase in international enrollment during the mid-2010s when, for a five-year period, the percentage of international students rose from 5 to 8% annually. While MSU currently ranks 25th in the nation for international student enrollment (MSU Facts), at its enrollment peak in 2015, it was ranked ninth in the nation and first in Michigan in total international student enrollment (Inclusion). The most recent statistical data reports MSU as home to 6, 260 international students from 140 countries; 12.4% of all students enrolled at MSU are international, with 10.2% of undergraduate students and 20.5% of graduate students being international (Office). The WRAC department, where this research is grounded, enrolls large numbers of international and multilingual students across its FYW program, both in its required FYW course WRA 101, and preceding bridge-writing course WRA 1004, or PCW. These demographic shifts are also marked in our local communities, transforming the cultural and linguistic realities on and off campus—Asian restaurants and grocery stores flourish in the college town; license plates on students’ vehicles are customized to reference linguistic codes and cultural tropes from diverse countries of origin; in and out of classes, students constantly switch between languages, dialects, and distinctly accented Englishes as they engage each other in conversations around academic and social issues; and instructors receive writing assignments completed in various approximations of standard, edited, and written English.

In examining these shifts via a social justice lens, we align with Bell (2016) who contends that social justice enables the “full and equitable participation of people from all social groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs” (3). Moreover, “democratic and participatory” pedagogical approaches are notable in their respect “of human diversity and group differences, and inclusive and affirming of human agency and capacity of working collaboratively with others to create change” (Bell 3). In rhetoric and composition, this approach is particularly evident in multilingual scholarship manifesting in CCCC’s statement on Students’ Rights to Their Own Language (SRTOL), which calls for the realization and recognition of the many languages students possess via three primary objectives: a heightened consciousness of language attitudes, a promotion of linguistic diversity, and a dissemination of responsive pedagogies. These objectives, which have regularly been taken up in the redesign of our PCW course, are central to translingual scholarship, where the adoption of a “translingual norm” moves away from a monolingual baseline (Horner, Language Difference) and, instead, encourages teachers to “engage students in exploring…what they care to advance about the people, language, and cultures in which they are identified and may identify, and how and why and when to do it” (Lu and Horner 600). At our own institution, social justice can be seen as regularly informing the teaching of writing (though social critique is often more implicit than explicit). In the PCW course discussed herein, social justice serves as a method and process; coursework is framed within a translingual lens that views language(s) as matters of ongoing negotiation. This approach situates students’ languages (and cultures) not as “discipline” but as “relational” (Winn 219)—not as a set-up for correction (grammatical and otherwise), but as an opportunity for students to embrace the linguistic and cultural diversity they bring with them to the writing classroom. Many of our approaches also engage students in multimodal composing practices. As Canagarajah reminds us, “[p]eople [in the communicative process] use all the resources at their disposal…such as objects, gestures, and the body, for meaning-making” (TESOL 450). In this way, multimodality is taken up by students at various times in the course as we assert the value of multimodality in communication across and of difference. The following sections outline how and why our department worked to develop a number of pedagogical practices that strive to create spaces for linguistically and culturally diverse learners.

Program Context


While most domestic (and some international) students at Michigan State University take just one required FYW course, WRA 101: Writing as Inquiry, a significant proportion of international students place into PCW based on prior scores such as the TOEFL, SAT/ACT, and MSU’s own English language assessment. That said, some international students, especially those who have attended U.S. high schools, may place directly into the WRA 101 course. Following Asao’s call for more inclusive assessment measures, MSU program administrators recognize the constraints of these procedures, and have moved toward directed or informed self-placement, only to face significant institutional barriers (see account in Fraiberg et al.).

The ratio of PCW to WRA 101 sections is roughly 1:12 every academic year; both courses are housed within the FYW Program, which is a branch of our larger writing department. Annually, more than 300 sections of WRA 101 courses are staffed with graduate teaching assistants, non-tenure track instructors, and tenure track instructors; around 25 sections of PCW are staffed primarily by non-tenure track faculty who also teach WRA 101 (a typical teaching load is 2 PCW sections and 1 WRA 101 section){1}. Prior to teaching PCW, instructors are required to teach WRA 101, participate in a week-long pre-term orientation, and receive weekly mentor check-ins{2}. Consequently, PCW teachers are well positioned to offer instruction that prepares students for WRA 101.

In terms of its students, PCW consists primarily of first generation, heritage language, and English language learners, the majority of whom are multilingual. Indeed, international and multilingual students make up as much as 80% of the students in PCW. Typically, only two to three students in each section (course cap: 24) are from the U.S. and bring distinct linguistic backgrounds and expertise: African American Vernacular, Somalian (children of refugees), and Spanish (through our institution’s Children of Migrant Workers program). Thus, PCW is regularly a site of linguistic and cultural richness.

In 2013, multiple discussions took place in the FYW Program’s Advisory Committee about what came to be called “the problem of PCW.” At that time, the course was taught primarily by non-tenure track and, occasionally, graduate instructors—most of whom had little if any English as a Second Language (ESL) training. Moreover, PCW had no distinct learning outcomes from those of WRA 101, which at the time emphasized Reading, Writing, and Research (as we will discuss, these goals were shifting).

While the linguistic realities of the PCW classroom reflected linguistic heterogeneity as the norm (Canagarajah, The Place; Hall), the institutional context surrounding PCW was seated in monolingual and deficit ideologies and pedagogies. Its curriculum, for the most part, replicated assignments used in the mainstream WRA 101, with two additional contact hours worked into the course to allow more time for completion, additional instruction on grammar and mechanics, and multiple opportunities to “rehearse” for the same assignments expected in WRA 101. Moreover, given the extra contact hours and the challenges of teaching diverse learners, some instructors had come to see PCW as “punishment.”

In order to respond to these concerns, a subcommittee drafted a report based on research of how other programs treated such courses, which was issued back to the FYW Program’s Advisory Committee. With the approval of the then-director of the FYW Program, two subcommittee members wrote and received a grant from the Office of Inclusion and Multicultural Initiatives to facilitate a two-year project whereby a group of six non-tenure instructors met monthly with two program administrators to re-imagine how PCW could best serve its diverse learners. During this period, the group invented and shared assignments that re-conceived the PCW course, which organically shifted toward a translingual and transcultural lens; members discussed related research and collaborated to shift the course from a deficit- to asset-based model. In addition to holding several faculty workshops, the group eventually joined other faculty members in an all-day “PCW Retreat” facilitated by the FYW director. The group’s work and the retreat evolved into since-revised course outcomes, strategies, and goals that now center students’ languages and cultures as assets for learning and sites of inquiry.

Revised goals led to curricular changes, which now invite students to engage in sustained examinations of linguistic and cultural differences across a variety of material conditions and contexts. In PCW, students’ languages and cultures become both the subjects of inquiry and the means by which they map themselves within the larger institution. The revised curriculum encourages open-ended, negotiated semiotic performances that play an important role in diverse learners’ academic and social lives. The following paragraphs discuss the asset-based assignments for PCW and the ways that subsequent PCW pedagogical frameworks differentiate from those of the mainstream WRA 101.

PCW Projects and Pedagogical Goals

As stated above, originally there were no distinct PCW course goals, pedagogical aims, or projects that differentiated it from the WRA101 course that followed. Shared outcomes and assignments positioned PCW “under the umbrella” of the larger FYW program. While structurally this position remains in place, PCW now has distinct pedagogical emphases that distinguish it from the mainstreatm WRA 101. We will begin with a discussion of PCW assignments, and then describe how they informed distinct theoretical and curricular articulations of PCW best practices and outcomes.

The WRA 101 course has a common curriculum of five projects that all of its teachers use: respectively, a Learning Memoir, a Cultural Artifact Literacy Narrative, a Disciplinary/Professional Literacies Project, a Remix Project, and a Reflective Learning Narrative. All five projects involve extensive drafting, peer reviewing, and revision, and all incorporate ongoing reflection on the students’ learning-in-process. These assignments occur within the program’s overarching learning goals that emphasize students’ stories and reflections as key to their learning. Overall, the curriculum is shaped by three overarching concepts: Inquiry as a recursive process of posing, following, and addressing questions; Discovery as making new knowledge through processes of inquiry; and Communication as purposeful engagement of the self and others through the products of inquiry and discovery. Rather than emphasizing the genre of the traditional academic research paper, then, the FYW program recognizes the importance of the students’ learning, practicing, and articulating tools and strategies that they may use in multiple and highly varied in- and out-of-school situations.

Whereas such principles manifest in current PCW curriculum, they originated as a shorter version of WRA 101, with PCW teachers directed to teach four of the five assignments at a slower pace. As a result, PCW instructors often referred to the course as a “pre-peat”—a class that replicated and repeated the assignments of WRA 101, and pedagogical conversations often centered on which of the five projects could be omitted. One direct outcome of the pilot program was therefore a changing mindset that no longer perceived PCW as a “pre-peat” course, but as a space to devise new assignments that productively connected to WRA 101 core curriculum and purposefully centered students’ languages and cultures.

As currently constituted, post-pilot, the first half of PCW highlights the students’ languages and cultures as the very means by which the programmatic objectives of Inquiry, Discovery, and Communication are enacted. PCW explicitly frames students’ languages and cultures as sites of inquiry and resources for learning—a perspective that informs recently developed language for the program’s web site (WRA 1004/0102). That is, PCW draws upon students’ “communicative repertoire (languages, codes, discourses) as resources for their learning, writing, and integration into MSU and academic cultures” (WRA 1004/0102). Whereas WRA 101’s first project (the Learning Memoir) defines “learning” in broad terms, the PCW class specifically highlights this learning in terms of the students’ languages and cultures; early assignments call on the students’ cultural knowledge, whether that be in the form of a story of cultural dissonance, examples of transnational learning, or their perspectives of a citizenship that is simultaneously local and global. In PCW, the Cultural Artifact Narrative is often extended to encourage cross-cultural conversations about objects and to invite reflections on learning obtained from such transnational exchange. At least two PCW teachers engage their students in the formation of “Culture Circles,” whereby the students present aspects of their home cultures and languages vis-à-vis dress, object, story, image, and so on. Such activities highlight the complex, ongoing processes of moving between multiple languages and cultures, of negotiating the means by which to explain aspects of one’s home languages and cultures to others differently situated. One teacher has her students share “Pick Me Up” lines from their home cultures for comparison; another invites sharing of cultural idioms or key words. In each case, students claim ownership of their “home” knowledge and leverage such expertise to facilitate communication with an audience with varying degrees of understanding. These very acts, which were enabled by the pilot, invite the dynamic configuration of linguistic and semiotic tools when communicating across linguistic and cultural differences.

To enact asset-based pedagogy, the curriculum also features projects such as a translation narrative assignment, which invites students to translate cultural stories and scholarly articles from their home languages into English, compare their translations, and reflect on translation choices and processes (Kiernan, Meier, and Wang Negotiating Languages; Kiernan Translation). In so doing, students are encouraged to critically examine their semantic, syntactical, and grammatical choices as tied to cultural sensitivities and informed by audience expectations. In a related writing theory cartoon exercise, teachers invite students to construct “visual metaphors”of their processes, spaces, and experiences with translingual and transcultural negotiation. Constructing written and visual metaphors of their traversal across multiple languages helps students to generate insights that reveal the material, cognitive, and affective dimensions of their literacy experiences. One Chinese student, for example, leverages such reflective moves to consider the importance of unpacking the “hidden meanings” of language and the need to adjust her writing practices when addressing a western audience.

I was asked to write a sad love story once. I remember I described a scene in the beginning [of the essay], a man standing in a daze facing a loquat tree. This was a successful [strategy] to catch the reader’s attention in Chinese, but it would never work here.

In her narrative, she comments on the rhetorical tradition that informed the deep cultural meaning of the loquat tree, which is a commonly accepted symbol of sorrow and is repeatedly referenced in literary and everyday contexts. Translating the story for her American peers compelled the student to unpack the meaning of the trope and to revise her way of using it. For one thing, while referencing the trope without indicating its source suggests one’s erudition in China, articulating the idea for a Western audience requires much explanation and proper citation. In making such revisions, students’ own movements across languages become both a site of inquiry and subject of analysis. Thus, while the PCW course remains under the umbrella of FYW, students in the “bridge” course consistently employ their home languages and cultures as the means by which reflection and learning occurs.

In the second half of the semester, PCW teachers move their students to assignments that involve investigations into various aspects of MSU culture and language (i.e. common acronyms, campus sites, student clubs), with the intent to help students connect what is familiar to what they now perceive as the often strange social, academic, and disciplinary practices on our campus. Here, PCW students engage in projects that mark their transition to MSU in terms of their relationships with various campus communities, languages, and cultures. Examining specific aspects of linguistic, academic, and disciplinary cultures at MSU, students work to create a “MSU dictionary,” an info-graphic that names, unpacks, and defines the plethora of acronyms and abbreviations that inform MSU’s linguistic registrar; they conduct in-depth participant-observer ethnographic studies of a MSU club or student organization; they use survey, interview, observation, and on-line research to learn about MSU sites (for example, the Dairy Story with its rich history in MSU’s agricultural past; the bell tower with its lore of student romance). They attend campus events, engage in multiple field trips, and/or share their home languages and cultures with local schoolchildren (Meier, Multimodal). More importantly, sharing what they have thus learned about MSU culture with peers ensures not only that these students hone their own speaking and listening skills, but also that their audience develop new understandings of the university. In the process of hearing their peers’ stories about MSU, they develop their own understanding of the MSU campus and relationships to it. Indeed, such activities became a site to hear stories about students’ transitions, as they gain new understandings of university resources, and reflect in turn on their ongoing translations between languages and cultures, between knowledge and expression, between self and audience. Overall, such assignments also help bridge PCW students to WRA 101’s Disciplinary/Professional Literacies Project, where students examine the specific “cultures” of their intended major or discipline. Reflecting back on this class assignment, one PCW student wrote (typically) that: “I not only learned how to do citation correctly but also am more familiar to [sic] MSU culture,” while another commented: “The MSU culture researching was a [sic] interesting project in our schedule. As a spartan [sic] of MSU, we should learn more about our mother school.”

Such pedagogical moves encourage the leverage of students’ full rhetorical repertoires. Indeed, the most recent program iteration of PCW course goals now include a recognition of the key role multimodality and other forms of communication play in PCW, as the very processes through which student learning happens, translingually and transculturally. Thus, where multimodality emerges in the WRA 101 course primarily in the form of a single assignment (the Remix Project), it pervades the PCW course. One PCW student described the challenge this way: that in talking about his own culture to others, he recognized that

[O]bviously we needed to explain and picture the places, traditions, foods and feelings of our homes. Each of us really wanted the rest of class to understand how specific things are done somewhere or the meaning given by a culture to something (emphasis added).

Not surprisingly, then, multiple PCW project assignments incorporate visual and other semiotic signs from the students’ own cultures (students wish to “picture,” or make visual, their knowledge to others).

Surfacing across such pedagogical moves are core values true to the PCW curriculum: that “students’ languages and cultures are assets, and that students draw on multiple means—embodied and multimodal—to communicate culturally and linguistically complex ideas and experiences{3}. Centering students’ cultural knowledge and rhetorical repertoire prepares students for WRA 101, which similarly pursues a reflective move cultivated there. That is, as WRA:101 students enact such practices as proposing, drafting, peer reviewing, goal-setting, and revising, they engage in sustained reflection on their learning as writers and language users. As both courses emphasize revision in light of audience expectations and experiences, PCW, in its focus on analyzing, unpacking, and strategizing one’s own language and cultural experiences, provides multiple venues for writers to strategically shape the text in response to linguistic, cultural, and disciplinary differences. It is through such intertwining of pedagogical principles that PCW serves as a unique space to facilitate students’ transition to the language and academic practices expected in FYW.

Such values are iteratively articulated through an internally hosted resource center consisting of Wiki pages that feature assignments, activities, and different ways of sequencing course events, and more recently on the newly developed program website (WRA 1004/0102) which now emphasize three key pedagogical strategies that fall under the larger program goals of Inquiry, Discovery, and Communication:

  • Drawing on students’ languages and cultures as sites of inquiry and resources for their learning.

  • Using writing and multiple other forms of communication (multimodal, embodied, reading, speaking, listening) as means to identify, understand, and place the “self,” and to communicate that knowledge to others.

  • Fostering the students’ introduction to, and integration into, MSU cultures.

A (Trans)modal Turn

In positioning languages and cultures as sites of inquiry and resources for learning, PCW regularly engages with pedagogies informed by multimodality. Many assignments ask students to examine, share, and explain their linguistic and cultural knowledge to others in the class via a multimodal approach. Throughout the course, PCW instructors invite students to use multiple modes of communication—visual (i.e. cartoons, children’s books, drawings), audio (i.e. song, music sharing), and gestural and other embodied performances (i.e. skits, games)—to communicate their ideas. At least one project has students ‘translate’ an earlier project into another mode (i.e. video, song, dance, comics, poster, interactive game, and so on); in turn, most students then share one of these multimodal products at the program’s end-of-term FYW Conference that is now for all students, PCW and otherwise (discussed below). In expressing this knowledge, students hone their abilities to communicate across linguistic, cultural, and modal differences—a practice that repeats throughout the term. Focusing on the claims and evidence that they can provide about their home languages and cultures via a variety of modes allows students to consider how to best support and make visible their ideas to peers and instructors who are differently situated.

In PCW, multimodality becomes an ongoing means for discovering meaning and constructing knowledge. That is, assignments expressly acknowledge that people use all semiotic means at their disposal when communicating. This shift aligns with arguments that support “modality and semiotics [as] central components of the translingual approach” (Kiernan Multimodal 304). As Canagarajah puts it, in his expansion of the trans- prefix, “the ‘trans’ in translingual…also perceives communication as going beyond words and other semiotic systems (such as sound, visuals, graphics, body, and ecology) in creating meaning” (First-Person 450).

Nowhere is the presence of multimodality more apparent than in the program’s robust FYW Conference, which began in 2014. Involving some 20 FYW teachers and 600+ students each semester, the conference features multimodal products that FYW students—from both PCW and WRA 101—have made throughout the semester. For example, student presenters often embody their home cultures not just through symbolic representation (i.e. video or poster) but through dress (i.e. a Mexican American student wearing her traditional dress for the Day of the Dead), action (i.e. a student demonstrates a breakdance move that he learned as a member of the school club); and food (i.e. a student hands out candy typically eaten during the Chinese New Year). Such instances of embodied culture exemplify Roswell and Pahl’s artifactual framework for literacy education, where connections across tactile and auditory objects motivate student learning through bridging experiences. These examples illustrate how the conference is guided by a fruitful convergence of the translingual, transcultural, and transmodal; student presenters and audience members often comment on the extent to which multimodal presentations make visible cultures, cultural practices, and rhetorical strategies that might not otherwise be as evident in other academic and non-academic environments.

While the conference did not originally involve PCW students, it does so today, and in fact, this involvement is robust (7 of the 9 PCW teachers actively encourage their students to participate in the conference, compared to only 1 in 5 of the WRA 101 teachers), which gives the conference a distinctly international and cross-cultural flavor. Moreover, in 2016, when the conference planning team did an assessment of the conference (by reading, assessing, and coding some 500 student survey responses), they were astounded to discover that what students most appreciated was not the opportunity to learn and practice skills in public speaking (as had been assumed), but experiences of listening and learning from linguistically and culturally diverse peers —a finding that was true for all participants. Data suggest that the multimodal, embodied, and artifact-based student presentations helped to make visible linguistic and cultural experiences across lines of difference, supporting the notion that incorporating multimodal projects, presentations, and cultural artifacts encourage students—domestic, international, monolingual, and multilingual—to see and hear diverse perspectives, languages, and cultures (Meier, Gannon, Caesar, and Medei Translingual Pedagogy).

Actualizing a Translingual, Transcultural, and Transmodal Approach

As a result of shifts in mindset, assignments, and learning outcomes, PCW faculty have developed a number of pedagogical tools to support students’ sustained examination of language and culture, often through multimodal means. In other words, we are now enacting and sharing aspects of translingual, transcultural, and transmodal pedagogy beyond the PCW course; the intersections of these pedagogies are described throughout this section. Elsewhere (Meier, Wang, and Kiernan, forthcoming; Kiernan, Meier, and Wang Translation; Meier, Multimodal, Embodied; Wang, Tracing, etc.) we have described how faculty have explored and implemented pedagogies that invite students to complicate language differences across material conditions and contexts, to recognize negotiation across languages and modes as the norm, and to develop a meta-awareness and a meta-vocabulary for describing and strategizing the consequent rhetorical moves. These publications are particularly attuned to teacher training by disseminating best practices from translingual and transcultural pedagogical innovations. Below, we describe how such teacher inquiry has turned into professional development initiatives in the form of pedagogical workshops, international teaching exchanges, and pre-service teacher mentorship.

Program workshops. As mentioned, our department regularly offers peer-run workshops where faculty lead focused pedagogical discussions. These workshops generally take place twice a month, and alternate with other faculty commitments such as departmental meetings. To date, many PCW instructors have shared their approaches with WRA 101 colleagues through workshops that feature many of the specific assignments discussed above. Other times, the workshops feature pedagogical perspectives, such as when a faculty member led a discussion of the “same and familiar” framework used to facilitate linguistically and culturally rich discussions as well as an assignment that embodied this approach. Other workshops focus specifically on the challenges raised by the large numbers of multilingual international students in our classrooms. For example, after one of our teachers spent a summer month teaching in China, she offered a workshop that shared her experiences, specifically, her “outsider” insights about Chinese language and culture that subsequently informed her PCW teaching.

International teaching exchanges. PCW faculty have also taken part in a number of international teaching exchanges. The exchanges involved writing teachers who were on-campus as part of an international exchange to meet with our department and speak with FYW teachers about key differences between U.S. and Chinese systems of education and methods of teaching writing. For instance, visitors from the campus’ Confucius Institute{4} offered a workshop for FYW instructors, in which they taught them how to pronounce their Chinese students’ names, along with some key phrases in Mandarin. Additionally, working with MSU’s Visiting International Professionals Program (VIPP) and the Center for Applied Inclusive Teaching and Learning in the Arts and Humanities (CAITLAH), PCW faculty held three cross-cultural teaching exchanges: Teaching Reading and Writing, Language and Literacy Education Around the Globe, and Language and Literacy Education. These sessions took place outside the department with visiting Chinese scholar-teachers, and were open to instructors from across campus. These sessions took on a variety of forms, including round-table workshops and conference-style presentations with discussion, some of which can be found on CAITLAH MSU’s YouTube Channel. In addition, the FYW program arranged for three of these Chinese scholar-teachers to speak on cultural aspects of Chinese educational systems and methods of teaching writing at one of the regular Friday workshops. Finally, a number of PCW teachers met with international colleagues outside of class time to discuss teaching methodologies and approaches.

Pre-service teacher mentorships. For several years, our department partnered with the School of Education in a mentoring program that paired pre-service teachers in English Education with PCW faculty. This mentoring program met part of the students’ field study requirement for pre-service teaching certifications in secondary teacher education/language arts (Meier, Choi, and Cushman Learning to Teach). This partnership also allowed PCW teachers to benefit from increased instructional assistance, as pre-service teachers were encouraged to move from observing the class to individual tutoring, small-group facilitation, and eventually whole-class instruction. PCW faculty often met with the pre-service teachers weekly, in order to engage them in directed pedagogical discussions as well as guide them through the design and implementation of lesson plans and activities. It has been reported that the pre-service teachers served as an invaluable reflection (and what one PCW teacher called “a low-stakes teaching observation”) of their teaching, while in turn, the pre-service teachers developed skills in teaching diverse learners from an asset-based perspective (Meier, Choi, and Cushman Learning; Meier, Cushman, and Choi Creating).

In addition to these program workshops, international teaching exchanges, and pre-service teacher mentorships, three PCW faculty are currently engaged in a new (grant-supported) initiative, whereby they are working with a team of international undergraduates to co-write and produce videos on the challenges and opportunities of teaching multilingual students, with the aim to share these products at a series of faculty workshops both in the department and across the university—a project that is still very much in its early stages.

These examples illustrate how the translingual and transcultural shifts made in PCW encouraged conversations about the teaching of diverse learners, which generated opportunities for research and pedagogical collaboration across a variety of institutional contexts. Through working with those inside and outside the WRAC department, PCW faculty were able to move writing conversations from a deficit- to asset-based model that positioned students’ languages and cultures as sites of inquiry and resources for their learning.

Reflection & Conclusion

The grassroots, bottom-up nature of the teacher inquiry and innovation documented here is an important impetus to sustained pedagogical work. Starting with the collaboration of six teachers and two administrators with invested intellectual interests and expertise in teaching diverse learners, it has continuously grown, spinning into internally and externally funded research projects; resource sharing initiatives at the departmental, institutional, and international levels; and various publications on teacher scholarship. Such sustained intellectual engagement has been reflected in programmatic shifts in curriculum and pedagogy. Looking back, though, we might have done more at the FYW level, broadly speaking, to support multilingual students with the strategies developed by the PCW instructors.

Despite the number of PCW-led departmental faculty workshops on asset-based, translingual and transcultural pedagogies (cited above), robust departmental discussions, and engaged hallway conversations, PCW teachers still hear that “on the ground” students face multiple challenges when they move into their WRA 101 sections. Upon migrating from PCW to WRA 101, many multilingual students become the minority again (it is not uncommon for a typical WRA 101 section to have only one to two international students). These challenges are examined in the dissertation research of a Mandarin-speaking graduate student (in process), who selected four Chinese students with whom to conduct in-depth interviews throughout the academic year, as they moved from PCW into WRA 101. Preliminary analysis suggests that the students felt they had moved from a space in which their languages and cultures were welcomed, to one in which they perceived themselves as being linguistically and culturally deficit. Thus, at the programmatic level, we must remain committed to spreading asset-based pedagogical frameworks from the PCW course instructors into the overall FYW curriculum. Questions that remain include:

  • How might WRA 101 be framed from a perspective that treats students’ languages and cultures as sites of inquiry and resources for their learning?

  • How might this shift change the often disorienting experiences of multilingual students as they move from PCW to WRA 101?

In addressing these questions, PCW faculty must continue working with WRA 101 colleagues to further explore how all students can benefit from classrooms with a mix of students from multiple linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

Upon reflection, we surmise that one reason that the shift in PCW has not automatically spread to the FYW program is its grassroots nature, especially in light of university structures that do not regularly support and value bottom-up pedagogical work, particularly those carried out by contingent (i.e. non-tenure track) faculty. It is important to note that the vast majority of the pedagogical work documented herein was carried out by contingent faculty, which is of particular relevance when one considers the ways that institutional structures (across all post secondary education) place and evaluate the work of contingent faculty. Moreover, for all contingent faculty involved, 90% of their job load falls on teaching, with 10% left for a wide range of professional development activities. While the expectations for professional development are in place, such expectations are often not adequately articulated, especially regarding how such work is evaluated and valued.

Furthermore, contingent faculty members are constantly pulled in and out of other projects, with such fluidity taking away from the stability required for robust and sustained collaboration. For example, even though the one administrator-teacher involved in the original project remains committed, she frequently finds her work tugged in other directions. This is true of the PCW teachers as well, whose time is often co-opted by other program directives and initiatives, such as a recent hybrid task force, a citizens-scholar program, a publishing collaborative, and most recently, and due to the effects of the coronavirus on our institution, an on-line pedagogy group. This is by no means to suggest that these other initiatives lack value— but rather, that the focus on multilingual learners can sometimes feel muted amid competing institutional and programmatic agendas. Moreover, and in part because a number of the original PCW teachers in the pilot were non-tenured, at least two of the six have since sought—and gained—tenured employment elsewhere. Where mechanisms that ensure adequate recognition and valuation are absent, it can be challenging to systematically disseminate or implement best-practices to a larger population of faculty members without a translingual background or intellectual investment in teaching multilingual students. Despite theoretical contemplations that position monolingual and multilingual teachers as equally prepared to enact translingual pedagogies, we recognize, particularly in light of the challenges faced in our own department (between those who teach PCW and mainstream FYW) that this is not always the case. Monolingual teachers and/or teachers without sufficient background and experience with multilingual learners may not always actualize a social justice framework with diverse learners, partially because they are simply not aware of the many approaches to teach these student populations, and even though this program profile strives to offer ways into this disconnect. Though the department has been generally supportive of the PCW pilot and its findings, the very circumstances underlying non-tenured employment—itself an example that challenges a social justice ideal—can limit institutional change.

Finally, other external factors—such as the current U.S. administration’s anti-China rhetoric, international tariffs, and changes in visa requirements—have resulted in reduced numbers of incoming international students at our institution. These changes seem, at least temporarily, to make the need to develop and support asset-based pedagogies of multilingual learners less of a priority. At the same time, and even though COVID-19 may slow international travel and exchange (thus predicting a future that seems uncertain, from the perspective of the present), we also acknowledge there remain significant numbers of international students at our institution, that increased global exchange is inevitable, and that, therefore, we must continue to support translingual pedagogies for multilingual learners, both those from the U.S. and from abroad.

Through all this upheaval, PCW faculty continue to engage faculty members from within and beyond the writing program in linguistically and culturally focused conversations; discussions and collaborations that embrace pedagogies of social justice endure. And, while our program profile recognizes how PCW has shifted to adopt asset-based pedagogies and curricula, which “work across differences, not just of language but of disciplines and cultures” (Horner and Trimbur 312), we also fully realize that enacting such moves across the curriculum will require a more “tolerant attitude toward language varieties” (Lorimer Leonard and Nowacek 259) across our program. PCW faculty continue to develop and implement curricula that foregrounds students’ linguistic and cultural knowledge as an asset and resource for learning writing, particularly in terms of multimodal composing.

Ongoing engagement with translingual, transcultural, and transmodal practices in PCW illustrate how faculty have striven to promote linguistic justice at the programmatic level through pedagogies and curricula that are “democratic and participatory” (Bell 3). We also remain hopeful that our grassroots, bottom-up approaches will propagate across the institution{5}. In sharing out our experiences, we invite you to adopt and adapt these approaches within your own classrooms and programs; we encourage monolingual and multilingual teachers alike to consider how social justice frameworks, which embrace linguistic and cultural diversity, can be taken up across myriad classrooms, programs, and institutions. While, at times, it may seem as if what we and our PCW pilot colleagues have accomplished, thus far, has not spread in the ways we originally envisioned, we continue to look forward, developing and sharing pedagogical frameworks that support multilingual student learning—for, in essence, it is student participation, agency, and growth that inspire our research and teaching. In designing pedagogies that are attuned to the needs of our diverse learners, we have provided multilingual students with a safe environment to grow academically, an environment that is built upon the assets that our students bring with them: language and culture.


  1. With very few exceptions, the majority of FYW courses are taught by non-tenured faculty who receive a 3-3 teaching load (90% of their appointment) along with a 10% allotted to professional development, which includes a week-long orientation for new teachers, ongoing faculty workshops, mentor groups, and other, more informal teaching exchanges. (Return to text.)

  2. Required of all incoming teachers and additional training from experienced PCW teachers. (Return to text.)

  3. A third value emphasizes the importance of other modes of communication, such as speaking, listening, and reading, as intertwined with writing developing, while the last three values are more in alignment in the overarching values of the program: that is, the importance of understanding claims and evidence across genres, forms, and audiences; and the value of ongoing reflection in student learning and goal-setting. (Return to text.)

  4. The Confucius Institute is a branch of the XSU School of Education; it works with the Open University of China to offer innovative programs and services to meet the rising demand for high-quality Chinese language and culture education worldwide (CIMSU). (Return to text.)

  5. For instance, our initiatives have been independently echoed in our Writing Center, which has written and published on its website a Language Statement in support of multilingual students, and inaugurated a Speaker’s Series (which included Asao, Gonzales, and Milu) on translingualism, asset-based assessment, and other related topics. (Return to text.)

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