A4: “Beyond a Single Language/Single Modality: Crossing Multimodal/Translingual Pedagogies”



Laura Gonzalez, Michigan State University
Cristina Sánchez-Martín, Illinois State University
Lilian Mina, Auburn University at Montgomery
Jacki Fiscus, University of Washington
Ann Shivers-McNair, University of Washington


I was thrilled, as a first time Computers and Writing presenter/attendee, to put faces onto the conversations I’ve been reading about and, increasingly, writing about in my own work. Just as exciting, however, were the ways that these conversations were extended, challenged, and pushed forward by the excellent panels throughout the conference. Panel A4, “Beyond a Single Language/Single Modality: Crossing Multimodal/Translingual Pedagogies” was one such panel, and asked its audience to consider how a translingual framework might inform understandings of multimodality in both pedagogical and theoretical ways.

Together, these presenters offered both a call for and an extension of what Bruce Horner, Cynthia Selfe, and Tim Lockridge have referred to as a transmodal framework that “resists . . . any understanding that statistically standard language practices are singular either in their linguistic or modal forms” (Translinguality, Transmodality, and Difference: Exploring Dispositions and Change in Language and Learning). Furthermore, the panel was itself transmodal, as the authors shuttled between oral presentation, visuals (slideshows), print (handouts), and a website that can be found here.

Laura Gonzalez began the panel by describing how translation and localization inform her technical communication pedagogy, arguing that translation can serve as a model for communicating not just across languages/language practices but also across modalities. Acknowledging the need to honor the histories of non-English speakers forced to translate their own language practices, Gonzalez suggested that translation as a metaphor for working across modes can help sidestep the rigidity of print text that often disenfranchises transnational students.

Cristina Sánchez-Martín then took over to describe the ways that she leverages “untranslateable” terms to highlight the dynamic qualities of language and meaning-making generally. Informed by Cultural-Historical Activity Theory, she explained how an attention to semiotic objects (such as multimodal artifacts) inflects her teaching and relayed how her transnational students take “untranslateables” from their first languages, consider their rhetorical potential in various contexts, and then create multimodal representations of the terms in order to describe them.

Next, Lilian Mina explained her use of a remediation assignment in a first year composition course for multilingual students. Like Sánchez-Martín, Mina highlighted the ways that working across modes is not just beneficial for multilingual students’ use of English; multimodality also serves as a way of highlighting the rhetorical considerations of working across languages and modes.

Fourth, Jacki Fiscus explained how she draws explicit attention to language ideologies by having students write a “personal linguistic reflection” and then create a re-mix employing different modalities. She also, crucially, beckoned the audience to consider the ways that all orientations toward language and communication assume particular ideologies and assumptions. As we push on the boundaries of multimodality, Fiscus reminds us that there are no neutral positions.

Finally, Ann Shivers-McNair drew on Min-Zhan Lu and Horner’s claim for “difference as the norm,” framing this insight as a way of resisting an additive model toward not only languages but also semiotic modalities. She then went on to frame practices of making—that is, the creation of physical objects with semiotic potential—as one way of foregrounding the affordances of multimodality in the composition classroom.

These presentations were both encouraging and challenging, as they charted new possibilities for conceiving of multimodal communication. Taken together, they offered (from my perspective) the following major takeaways:

  • Thinking about multimodality through a translingual framework (what we might call a transmodal orientation) can help to avoid an additive model of semiotic modalities that assume discrete and stable modes. This perspective can help us think about how communication is mobilized and distributed across both language practices and modalities.
  • The increasingly diverse, globalized environments and realities our students find themselves in enjoin us to consider and to teach translation as a necessary practice. Again, translation occurs not just on the level of languages but also between and across modes.
  • Finally, even as some of us argue for various translingual approaches to both the classroom and to scholarship, we should be attentive to the various language ideologies and assumptions that all theoretical approaches entail.

All of these scholars push us to think about multimodality as a fluid, mobile, and transformative practice, rather than as the combination of multiple discrete modes. As Gonzalez, Sánchez-Martín, Mina, Fiscus, and Shivers-McNair suggest, we should be careful to avoid conceiving of multimodal communication simply as the combination of pre-existing modalities. A webtext, for example, is not the simple addition of alphabetic text, visuals, procedural rhetoric, etc., where each component stays the same, but a re-assembling practice where each modality is repurposed and transformed.

In short, this panel usefully and insightfully drew attention to the ways that the theoretical crossroads of translingualism and multimodality can be mobilized in pedagogical practice. For this reason (among others), it was an informative and necessary contribution to Computers & Writing.

Link to Proceedings

Proceedings from this session are available here.

About Author

Rick Wysocki

I am a doctoral student in Rhetoric and Composition. My current research exists at the intersection of queer archives, new materialist rhetoric, and curatorial studies. Broadly, I am interested in the relationship between rhetoric and mediating technologies, including both analog media systems (such as physical archives) as well as digital ones. My scholarship has been published in Present Tense, Enculturation, and Kairos, where I also serve as an assistant editor. Feel free to go to rickwysocki.github.io to learn more about me and my work.

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