Resources on Critical Language Awareness

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I'm currently reading Plurilingual Pedagogies for Multilingual Writing Classrooms, edited by Kay M. Losey and Gail Shuck, and it includes Shawna Shapiro's "'Language and Social Justice': A (Surprisingly) Plurilingual First-Year Seminar." While this essay has not helped me make clear distinctions between plurilingualism and translingualism, it has reminded me of the critically important work Shapiro has been doing for years now, slowly and steadily and carefully building a case for putting critical language awareness at the heart of our writing classrooms and our writing curricula.

I've been privileged in the last year or so to follow Shapiro's work closely and to be part of a group with whom she shared chapters of her new book, Cultivating Critical Language Awareness in the Writing Classroom. This book is thoroughly grounded in theory and research, but also in the daily practicalities of teaching writing. In fact, I'd say that is one significant hallmark of all Shapiro's work: the weaving of theory and practice, along with the insistence on collaboration and on attending with great care to the voices of students. This new book has been called a critical "toolkit for supporting and embracing linguistic diversity" in writing classes, and it certainly is that, though the "toolkit" is embedded in a rich historical and theoretical context.

The same can be said for her recent essay on language and social justice: it walks the walk and talks the talk of "plurilingual pedagogy," always in the service of student writers/speakers, and always deeply collaborative. In this case, the students are key collaborators in creating the principles the course rests on as well as in shaping its curriculum. We hear their voices loud and clear throughout the essay, culminating in student writing for a "Writing beyond the Classroom" assignment that invited students to use their entire writing and linguistic repertoires. The two poems and the presentation of them described at the end of the essay demonstrate the power of mixing languages, of the human voice, and of the possibilities embodied in a plurilingual pedagogy.

There are other terrific essays in Plurilingual Pedagogies for Multilingual Writing Classrooms, and I expect I will be writing about them in due time. But today, I want to recommend Shapiro's article in particular—and her book. When I think back on my early days of teaching, with only an MA in literature, I know I would have given just about anything to have had these resources at my disposal. But in addition to her book and many articles, Shapiro is building an amazing online resource for all of us. Called the CLA Collective, this is first a companion website to Shapiro's book, but as I know from many conversations with her, Shawna sees it as potentially so much more. Rather, she envisions it as a gathering space or hub for all teachers of writing, one where we can share and learn from one another. (You can join the Collective by going to the "Connect" page and simply signing up.) But even in its early stages, the site is full of information and resources, including syllabi, handouts, readings, "Shawna's 'Top 5' lists of other websites"—and more.

If you are looking for ways to promote social justice in and through your pedagogy and to encourage and enable linguistic pluralism—while attending to everything else your university expects of you AND teaching multiple courses every single term—then this new book and website can be of enormous help. Maybe I'll see you at the CLA Collective!

Image Credit: "Stack of thin flexicover books on reflective table" by Horia Varlan, used under a CC BY 2.0 license

About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.