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Chapter 1: Our Students: Learning to Listen to Multilingual Student Voices (review by Jennifer Roth Miller)

Part of the Collaborative Book Review of Structuring Equality: Handbook for Student-Centered Learning. The book is available here. This post reviews Chapter 1, "Our Students: Learning to Listen to Multilingual Student Voices" by Joshua Belknap.


Joshua Belknap, a university writing program administrator, implores faculty, instructors, and tutors to reconceptualize multilingual writers from the common misperception as deficient remedial writers. Instead, they are English Language Learner (ELL) writers navigating the difficult task of linguistically meshing values and practices from other cultures by practicing written English. This reconceptualization requires a shift from monolingualism positioning Standard Written English as the hegemonic norm to an acceptance of transnational communication that may mesh cultural values and approaches. Ultimately, Belknap advocates for an approach that prioritizes message and understanding over grammar. Significantly incorrect grammar, however, may often impede understanding, so this approach indirectly improves grammar as well. Belknap details a workshop program he developed aimed at interdisciplinary writing assignments, instruction, evaluation, and tutoring based on the above-described reconceptualization of English Language Learners. Workshops like these are much needed across disciplines to address the increasing numbers of transnational students and the increasingly globalized world all students will be required to communicate within.

Belknap’s program, a series of workshops, develops skills across faculty, instructors, and tutors in: “Getting our Multilingual Bearings;” “Grammar Feedback;” and “Dialect and Code-Meshing.” Workshop One, “Getting our Multilingual Bearings,” teaches how to foster dialogue and rapport with multilingual writers aimed at increasing comfort, understanding, and acceptance between cultural differences. Workshop Two, “Grammar Feedback,” advocates for an approach to grammar that focuses on patterns of errors or higher-order concerns rather than mistakes and minor issues that don’t impede understanding. Workshop Three, “Dialect and Code-Meshing,” fosters sensitivity and acceptance for the ways English Language Learners blend and navigate cultural values and practices. Belknap concludes the chapter with a discussion regarding the fact that even disciplines feature distinct and sometimes conflicting writing cultures.  These workshops may be adapted across disciplines to allow for accommodating cultural variations whether they are transnational or trans-discipline. Last, Belknap’s chapter includes a useful appendix with workshop materials and additional information.

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