AAAL 2024: Invited Colloquium

Recognizing and expanding the rhetorical agency of L2 writers through critical language awareness (CLA) pedagogy


Shawna Shapiro, Middlebury College

Colloquium Abstract

This colloquium explores how Critical Language Awareness (CLA) can inform research and pedagogy in L2 writing/literacy studies. A CLA approach foregrounds the social and political aspects of language use and engages students in deep explorations of how language, identity, power, and privilege intersect (e.g., Clark et al., 1990; Fairclough, 2014). Through these explorations, students’ build rhetorical agency—i.e., their ability to make informed decisions as language users (Shapiro, 2022). This focus on rhetorical agency is particularly important in work with students from linguistically marginalized communities (e.g., Alim, 2005; Baker-Bell, 2020; Flores & Rosa, 2015): CLA offers a means of challenging the problematic ideologies that frame those communities as linguistically deficient. Centering rhetorical agency invites us not just to celebrate but to expand each student’s linguistic repertoire, so that they are empowered to communicate powerfully within the academy and beyond. 
Our speakers consider CLA’s relevance to a range of disciplines and contexts, including composition/writing, English for Academic Purposes, and Spanish as a Heritage Language. 

Key questions we address include:

  • When, where, and how do students from a range of backgrounds experience increased rhetorical agency through CLA-informed curricula?
  • How can CLA pedagogy be adapted for specific groups of students, including speakers of Black Language, heritage learners in Spanish language classes, and graduate students in a range of disciplines?
  • What does it look like to foreground rhetorical agency in feedback and assessment, including in written corrective feedback? 
  • How can CLA inform how we work with language variation in writing, including register, style, and genre?
  • What policies and practices can promote rhetorical agency for scholars-practitioners from linguistically marginalized backgrounds?
  • How can CLA help applied linguists to bridge disciplinary and institutional divides, in order to promote linguistic equity and inclusion?

“Learning about written language”: A curricular approach integrating “writing about writing” and CLA

Meaghan Brewer, Pace University
Kristen Di Gennaro, Pace University
Kung-Wan (Phil) Choong, Pace University

Abstract: A currently popular approach for L1 post-secondary writing instruction, Writing about Writing (WAW) promotes the incorporation of scholarly research about writing into course content. Through discussions about writing, students are encouraged to identify and incorporate the writing practices valued by their disciplines. By treating the practices they observe as neutral, however, WAW stops short of questioning existing discourse community values, and thus, encourages students to accept and potentially reinforce the status quo.
Similar to WAW, Critical Language Awareness (CLA) foregrounds declarative knowledge about language in course content but differs from WAW by drawing attention to language as a social practice and to power relations in interaction. In addition to helping students identify specific norms and expectations relevant to their writing contexts, CLA invites students to question the motivations for such norms and the values they promote.
Surprisingly, neither approach overtly draws on findings from second language acquisition (SLA), despite the potential of SLA to support both practice and theory. For example, SLA research suggests that, especially for post-pubescent learners, explicitly drawing learners’ attention to both form and meaning facilitates learning.
This presentation provides an overview of WAW and CLA, illustrating how the two pedagogies overlap and differ. Drawing on empirical research from L2 studies showing that adult learners benefit from instruction activating their attention to both linguistic form and meaning, we then describe our own curricular approach, Learning about Written Language. We use the label “Learning about Written Language” to highlight our focus on learning (as opposed to teaching), and to draw attention to an understanding of writing as a form of language, a characteristic often overlooked in writing pedagogies. Combining the strengths of both WAW and CLA with research from SLA, we argue that post-secondary students’ learning can benefit from an explicit focus on writing as language in context.

Dismantling racialized writing trauma: Toward a Critical Language Awareness-informed composition pedagogy for Black Language speakers

Shenika Hankerson, University of Maryland

Abstract: The Students’ Right to Their Own Language (SRTOL) resolution was adopted by the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) in 1974, and more than four decades have passed since then. The resolution acknowledges and affirms the right of students to use their own language patterns and varieties, including the dialects of their birthplace or those that reflect their personal identity and style. Despite some progress towards acknowledging the SRTOL resolution, college composition policies and practices still privilege White, monolingual, middle-class language norms. These norms and correlatively hegemonic evaluation leave Black Language (BL) speakers uniquely underrepresented, underserved, and oppressed, causing them to experience a form of what I have termed racialized writing trauma(Hankerson, 2022) which targets BL speakers and imposes a type of writing anxiety, shame, and distress upon them. This, in turn, severely prevents, hinders, and obstructs BL speakers’ writing motivation, writing self-confidence, and writing performance. 
This paper engages with composition studies and socio- and applied linguistics scholarship that foregrounds the importance of Critical Language Awareness (CLA) pedagogy (Hankerson, 2022; Shapiro, 2022). Drawing upon findings from a qualitative case study I conducted with BL speakers in college composition, I specifically examine how CLA-informed composition pedagogy can be used as a heuristic for cultivating BL speakers’ written language skills and engagement. Ultimately, I argue that CLA-informed composition pedagogy supports three essential goals: (1) the implementation of SRTOL, (2) the dismantling of racialized writing trauma, and (3) the overall success and well-being of BL speakers.

Social meaning, stylistic variation, & stigma in SHL education

Claudia Holguín Mendoza, University of California, Riverside

Abstract: Experts in the field have advocated for the incorporation of sociolinguistics in Spanish as a Heritage Language (SHL) curricula as a way to validate students’ community varieties while also supporting them become proficient in “standard” varieties and “formal registers” in order to achieve professional success. However, this approach often conflates registerand style and mischaracterizes these simply as questions of formality and informality (Leeman 2018). Also, it often omits questions of prestige and stigma and fails to consider style as a “dynamic resource for identity performance” (Mortensen, Coupland, & Thøgersen 2017: 2). In this presentation, I describe the Critical Sociocultural Linguistics Literacy (CriSoLL) approach that incorporates these sociolinguistic constructs (Holguín Mendoza 2022, Holguín Mendoza & Sánchez-Walker, forthcoming). I also present research results investigating students’ attitudes before and after completing CriSoLL-based courses. The objective was to explore students’ awareness and literacy of these constructs prior to instruction, and to investigate the impact of CriSoLL instruction. Results reveal that students develop CriSoLL when they are encouraged to critically discern the social meanings of linguistic styles and to articulate how their linguistic decisions shape social values that either perpetuate or resist oppressive structures.

A discovery-oriented pedagogy to promote Critical Language Awareness at the graduate level
Megan Siczek , George Washington University

Abstract:  There has been a growing interest in understanding the experiences and needs of international graduate students who come from diverse cultural, linguistic, and educational backgrounds and enroll in graduate programs across a variety of disciplines (Simpson, Caplan, Cox, & Phillips, 2016). EAP instructors need to approach curriculum development and pedagogy in a way that helps socialize these diverse graduate students into their new academic discourse communities (Casanave & Li, 2008) while at the same time recognizing the complex and overlapping factors that shape their experience in North American higher educational contexts. In addition, as Shapiro (2022) noted, we need to support students in understanding the power structures, ideologies, and communicative expectations of their disciplines and negotiating their own place within these spaces with a sense of rhetorical agency.

This presentation introduces a CLA-inspired approach to graduate-level EAP teaching that invites students to co-construct knowledge over the course of the semester using multimodal communicative approaches. This “pedagogy of discovery” is informed by the key role that reflection and metacognition can play in self-directed learning (Silver, 2013), which is central to students’ success in graduate school and in their professional fields. This pedagogical approach further ties to Casanave’s (2008) notion of literacy activities as “participatory practice,” in which graduate students develop the ability to define and understand “conventional practices of specialized communities” (p. 16) as part of their acculturation.
Through this pedagogy, students can tap into their own experiences and linguistic assets while assessing the communicative expectations of their disciplines and fields, enabling them to make informed and strategic decisions about their participation in their new discourse community. The audience for this presentation will come away with a pedagogical framework that they can draw from as well as an understanding of how diversely situated international graduate students can play a role in their own communicative empowerment.

Who needs corrective feedback on stigmatized lexical items? Fostering criticality in Spanish Heritage Language students

LeAnne Spino-Seijas, University of Rhode Island
Jorge Méndez-Seijas, Yale University

Abstract:  The racialization of Spanish heritage language (SHL) students oftentimes results in the stigmatization of their linguistic practices. This is particularly so in academic communities dominated by raciolinguistic ideologies that result in SHL students’ linguistic practices being perceived as inappropriate or erroneous (Flores & Rosa, 2015; Leeman, 2005; Martinez, 2003; Valdes, 1981). For example, recent research on corrective feedback (CF) has shown that SHL students’ use of stigmatized linguistic items is unnecessarily targeted for “correction” in both oral and written interactions (Loza, 2022a; 2022b; Méndez Seijas & Spino, 2023). These instances of CF reveal that many instructors espouse ideologically laden views of language that devalue SHL students’ linguistic and cultural capital. In the context of a critical language awareness (CLA) pedagogy, students would benefit from learning about the ideologies that permeate certain forms of written CF so they can “openly question and resist” them (Loza, 2022a, p. 129). This study explores how students perceive some types of written CF and whether a CLA-oriented course can foster critical interpretations of ideologically-laden written CF.

Participants (anticipated final n = 30) were enrolled in a course for SHL students designed to increase their CLA (see Méndez Seijas & Spino, 2022 for description). At the beginning and end of the semester, students were provided with examples of direct or metalinguistic written CF on stigmatized lexical items. The metalinguistic written CF was either eradication-, appropriateness-, or expansion-oriented. For each target item, students were asked to a) rate how useful they perceived the corrective feedback to be and then b) explain the rating they provided. Students’ responses at the beginning and end of the semester will be compared quantitatively and qualitatively. Results will be discussed in terms of the efficacy of a CLA-oriented course in promoting critical interpretations of ideologically laden written CF.

Engaging in autorreflexión 自我反省: Developing CLA to embrace translingualism in L2 writing 

Zhongfeng Tian, Rutgers University- Newark
Sidury Christiansen, University of Texas at San Antonio

Abstract: Translingual writing has been proposed as a powerful strategy to promote linguistic diversity and decolonize L2 writing (Canagarajah, 2021, 2022). However, one of the problems with translingualism is that many of us who purport it do not practice it ourselves. What has been missing is self-reflexivity, because in order to enact these practices, we need to examine ourselves and recognize those turning points in our language histories that can empower our own change and activism to move from mere branding our work toward walking the talk. Therefore, adopting a critical collaborative autoethnographic lens, we, two transnational multilingual scholars, reflect upon our respective educational journeys and professional experiences in and with academic English writing in relation to our own CLA development. Our perspective is that in order for us to critically help advance the field of L2 writing, we must start inward, por la autorreflexión, 自我反省 (zì wǒ fǎn xǐng) because it is only by questioning our own assumptions or the origin of our ideologies that we can develop our CLA to embrace translingualism in L2 writing.

Our collaborative autorreflexión 自我反省 revealed that while our writing processes have always been inherently multilingual and we both have started with some small initiatives to challenge monolingual bias (e.g., providing bilingual abstracts), translingual practices rarely occur in our writing product because a) we have been so accustomed to keep languages separate; and b) the gatekeeping mechanisms in academic publishing continue to systematically limit literacy brokers from allowing non-(standard) English in the publication process. By engaging in this introspective exercise and linking CLA to action, we seek to initiate a movement in which we actively blur the fronteras 边界 (biān jiè) in our linguistic and scholarly practice and advocate for our natural languaging processes to be normalized and legitimized in academia.

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