This study by Laura Gonzales and Janine Butler is very interesting and makes me look at multilingualism and multimodality in different ways. I guess because English is my native language, and I’ve only ever lived and worked among native English speakers, it never occurred to me, despite having the knowledge that we are always surrounded by people of other cultures and languages, it never occurred to me how many ways communication might be more difficult. When the article talked about “linguistically and ethnically diverse students” being labeled as “remedial or incapable of engaging in effective writing” it made me think about the student in my class who struggles with and is still learning to write effectively in English.
Some of the first few assignments of hers, I would notice some word phrasings that “sounded” like how she spoke but didn’t “sound” like proper English to my ear. I never graded any points off for that, but I continually, without realizing it, looked for errors related to her different language background. She, herself, would often tell me that she felt she struggled with writing in the English language, so that, too, made me unconsciously look for those errors to the point where I started to think maybe she shouldn’t be in this English class - maybe she was “remedial.”
In all honesty, I don’t think she struggles as much as she is made to think she does. It wasn’t until I had my professor read her rhetorical analysis, (among others he looked at before I graded them), and he said he didn’t really notice as much difficulty with the language as I thought was there. I read through it again and realized he was right. I’m ashamed to admit and realize that I got lost in the “properness” of the English language, paired with her own self-consciousness about her struggles with language, and judged her papers unfairly. (While it is true, she struggled with some of the rhetorical concepts, that’s not so much a language barrier as it is a hard concept for many other students to grasp.)
This study talks about how various school websites have aids like a “translate” option but that often takes users to Google translate rather than to the specific school’s community translation of what was said. In addition, it never occurred to me that those with vision impairment may use screen-readers that can’t “translate” images if they aren’t embedded with alt-text to describe the image. Some of the projects talked about in this study focus on creating new digital projects rather than “retrofitting accessibility into existing designs.”
I’m curious, is WIU's school website “accessible” to various languages and modalities? And where are some areas that multilingualism can be aided in the classroom (our classrooms) rather than overlooked as a complication to learning? Overall, how can I better help my known students who struggle with this issue without making them feel they are “othered”?
(Article: "Working Toward Social Justice Through Multilingualism, Multimodality, and Accessibility in Writing Classrooms," from Composition Forum 44, Summer 2020, by Laura Gonzales and Janine Butler.)