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Composition Forum 50, Fall 2022

How About a Sixth Mode? Expanding Multimodal Pedagogy for Multilingual Students

Christine Martorana

Abstract: This main argument this article makes is that the field of Rhetoric and Composition must expand our current multimodal framework to account for a sixth mode: the multilingual mode. Understood as the purposeful combination of multiple languages within a single composition, the multilingual mode has two distinct benefits: it allows us to more fully support multilingual students’ rhetorical abilities, and it also supports the work of antiracism in the college writing classroom by challenging the racism embedded in our current five-mode framework. To show potential enactments of the multilingual mode, this article spotlights three student projects along with student reflections on their work.

A common understanding of multimodality is that it is the purposeful combination of two or more modes within a single text. Credited with formalizing the concept in 1996, the New London Group (NLG) named five modes: linguistic, visual, gestural, spatial, and audio. Their intention in naming and analyzing these modes was to “broaden [our] understanding of literacy and literacy teaching and learning to include negotiating a multiplicity of discourses” (61). The NLG was composed of ten scholars and educators from diverse fields, and despite not being squarely situated within Rhetoric and Composition, the NLG’s five mode concept remains central to our field’s conceptualizations of multimodality.

Not only has our field widely adopted the NLG’s understanding of multimodality, but we have also expanded upon it. One expansion relevant to the current discussion is that which considers connections between multimodality and multilingualism. Contributing to this research, scholars have argued for the permeability of boundaries between language and modes (Horner, Selfe, and Lockridge), attention to the labor of multilingual student writers engaging in multimodal work (Lee, Alvarez, and Wan), a conceptualization of “multilingual-multimodal writers as rearticulating, reassembling, and redesigning” (Fraiberg 118), and a view of multilingual writers “as experts in multimodal composition” (Gonzales “Multimodality,” par. 59). One commonality shared by this research is that simultaneously considering multimodality and multilingualism can lead to a greater understanding of both as interconnected rhetorical endeavors.

I agree with this claim: there is much to be gained by considering connections between multimodality and multilingualism. One desired consequence of this research is that we continue to move our field “beyond ‘the single language/single modality’ approach to writing and communication” (Gonzales, Sites of Translation 43). More specifically, in acknowledging the ways in which communicators navigate between and among languages and modes, we can “expand the possibilities for communication in writing classrooms, encouraging students to leverage their linguistic practices alongside and through multiple forms and genres of composing” (Gonzales and Butler par. 2). However, for all of the ways that previous work has productively expanded our understanding of multimodality as it relates to multilingual writers, there is one aspect of this understanding that has remained unchanged: the five modes offered by the NLG in 1996. As a result, when our field discusses the use of two or more languages within a multimodal text, we do so in relation to the linguistic mode.

This image shows a circle pie chart split into six equal parts to represent the 6-mode multimodal framework. Each part of the pie chart is labeled with a specific mode: visual, linguistic, multilingual, gestural, spatial, and aural.

Perhaps this comes as no surprise. Of the five modes, the linguistic mode seems the most appropriate fit for the use of two or more languages. However, what if, rather than finding a place where multilingual communication fits best within the five-mode framework, we turn our attention to the framework itself? What if we consider where, and in what ways, there is potential to adapt and expand this five-mode framework so that it more fully accounts for the composing practices of multilingual students? It is in this spirit that I suggest naming a sixth mode, what I am calling the multilingual mode.

My suggestion for a sixth mode aligns with calls offered by other composition scholars regarding the need to diversify many of our field’s commonplaces, including our research methods (Ruiz; Martinez), approaches to writing assessment (Inoue; Sassi), and conceptions of genre (Bergstrom; Gonzales). Perhaps most relevant to the current conversation is the recent discussion put forth by Shane A. Wood. In Multimodal Pedagogy and Multimodal Assessment: Toward a Reconceptualization of Traditional Frameworks, Wood asks us to consider “which frameworks are being used within our writing classrooms [and] approach these frameworks with an evaluative mindset” (245). He focuses his discussion on the frameworks undergirding multimodal pedagogy, highlighting several ways in which multimodality has effectively challenged traditional frameworks by moving us beyond essay-based writing and privileging the composing process. Wood then presents assessment as one area of multimodal pedagogy in need of revision: “I question whether [multimodal pedagogy] has done enough (yet) to resist traditional frameworks of assessment. [...] I believe we can do more: are our assessments really pushing the traditional paradigm as much as possible?” (252). Similar to Wood, I believe multimodal pedagogy can do more to challenge traditional paradigms.

Horner, Selfe, and Lockridge also ask us to consider how “our current analytical categories of modality and language need to be revised” (2). They go on to add that while “there is work on translinguality and work on transmodality, both [tend to be] seen as discrete areas of concern” (6). This bifurcation is problematic given the fact that multiple languages and multiple modes exist concurrently within the modern writing classroom. Therefore, Horner, Selfe, and Lockridge encourage us to consider “points of intersection” between the two categories so that we might more productively incorporate both in our teaching and scholarship (6).

I agree there is great potential in reconsidering our traditional categories of modality and language, specifically with an eye towards where and how the two categories inform one another and are intertwined. Thus, I argue that our field needs to recognize the use of two or more languages as a separate mode rather than as a manifestation of the linguistic mode. In support of this claim, I make five moves. First, I begin by offering a definition of the multilingual mode, followed by a discussion of the ways in which our current framework acts as a vehicle for racism. Next, I share my experiences integrating the multilingual mode into an upper-level writing course. Here, I spotlight three student projects, along with student reflections on their work, as a means of illustrating potential enactments of this mode and exploring ways in which this mode supports the work of antiracism. Then, I highlight the power of explicitly naming the multilingual mode as a distinct sixth mode. I conclude with a brief return to the NLG and my hope that our field will continue the work it started by accounting for a sixth mode.

Defining the Multilingual Mode

I define the multilingual mode as a form of languaging wherein the language user purposefully incorporates multiple languages into a single text so that the text more closely connects with their embodied racial and/or cultural experiences.

In selecting the term “languaging,” I am following the model offered by Melvin Beavers, Beth L. Brunk-Chavez, Neisha-Anne Greene, Asao B. Inoue, Iris Ruiz, Tanita Saenkhum, and Vershawn Ashanti Young in their document Toward Antiracist First-Year Composition Goals. In this statement, the authors offer questions and suggestions for “construct[ing] broader, more inclusive, generalizable writing goals from local conditions” so that we can identify and dismantle racist language practices within our classrooms (par. 5). In line with this, the authors explain that they use the term “languaging” rather than writing, speaking, or communicating because the term emphasizes the embodied nature of language (par. 6). From this perspective, languaging does not happen outside of or separate from the language user; rather, it is an embodied act that begins within the language user and is therefore experienced and enacted in a variety of ways. Relatedly, the authors explain that they understand “language” to be “linked to a wide array of embodied practices that are also connected to the ways humans enact and know ourselves” (par. 6). Laura Gonzales embraces a similar understanding in her work Sites of Translation: What Multilinguals Can Teach Us About Digital Writing and Rhetoric. She defines language as “a culturally situated, embodied, lived performance” (3). She goes on to explain that for multilinguals, “words and feelings do not exist independently; instead, they collectively form the experience of a multilingual’s existence” (3). In calling upon these understandings of language/ing within my definition of the multilingual mode, I aim to emphasize the embodied, situated nature of this mode. Put simply, and as I will show throughout this article, the multilingual mode is a mode that invites multilingual language users to make languaging decisions that align with the multifaceted, nuanced ways in which they individually experience and embody their languages.

Relatedly, my emphasis on language as an embodied experience for multilingual language users connects to my decision to use “multilingual” rather than “translingual.” In their landmark essay Language Difference in Writing: Toward a Translingual Approach, Bruce Horner, Min-Zhan Lu, Jacqueline Jones Royster, and John Trimbur describe the ways in which a translingual approach offers a productive perspective on language difference. One interesting aspect of their discussion is that they describe the approach they espouse as translingual whereas the people they discuss are monolingual or multilingual. For instance, when describing the potential for all teachers to embrace a translingual approach, they write, “Those [teachers] identified as ‘monolingual’ might nonetheless take a translingual approach to language difference, while some identified as ‘multilingual’ might nonetheless take a monolingualist approach to language difference” (Horner et al. 310). In this description, teachers identify as mono- or multilingual and the teaching approaches from which they select are mono- or translingual.

As Zhaozhe Wang notes, this is not an unusual way for scholars to discuss translingualism: not only as an approach, but also as an orientation, a literacy, and a practice (par. 4). Wang goes on to suggest that the field “rethink translingualism as a rhetoric rather than an orientation or approach” (par. 9 original emphasis). While I appreciate the ways in which this revised terminology moves us to consider the rhetoricity of language for “not only multilingual writers, but also the conventionally termed ‘monolingual’ writer” (par.10), it maintains the same distinction between people who are multilingual and a rhetoric that is translingual. Suresh Canagarajah adopts similar verbiage in his description of “multilingual students from varying backgrounds [engaging in] translingual negotiations” (268 added emphasis).

Although perhaps a subtle semantic nuance within discussions of translingualism, it is significant in terms of the current discussion. This is because the multilingual mode is a mode rooted in the embodied nature of languages within the multilingual language user; thus, it is imperative that the term used to name this mode reflects the user of language rather than an approach (or a rhetoric) to language.

Additionally, my decision to use “multilingual” rather than “translingual” is prompted by Keith Gilyard’s observation that “the translanguaging subject generally comes off in the scholarly literature as a sort of linguistic everyperson” (2). He explains that this happens when discussions of translanguaging assert that every person is translingual. At a basic level, this is true. Each of us moves across languages on a daily basis, what Gilyard describes as “negotiat[ing] language differences within networks of power” (3). However, we do not navigate these “networks of power” from the same starting point nor with the same amount of resources and/or privilege. On a personal level, I am a monolingual English-speaker, and although I do practice translingualism, my experiences doing so are not the same as those of the multilingual students with whom I work. From this perspective, the terms “translanguaging” or “translingual” can obscure the very real, material differences in how different language users experience language(s) and make languaging decisions.

One final reason I prefer the term “multilingual” to name this mode is because the term itself places explicit emphasis on the multiplicity of languages that inform the embodied, daily experiences of multilinguals. As Gonzales explains, multilinguals “are not moving across two or more sets of linguistic codes” when they make language decisions (Sites of Translation 17). Rather, they are “draw[ing] on their entire semiotic repertoire in each interaction” (17), navigating multiple languages at one time. Thus, the term “multilingual”—more so than “translingual”—describes the multiple languages at play when the multilingual mode is enacted.

Multimodality and Racism

Initially, the current five-category conception of multimodality might seem innocuous, especially to people like me who identify as monolingual. However, as Frankie Condon and Vershawn Ashanti Young point out in Performing Antiracist Pedagogy in Rhetoric, Writing, and Communication, there are “forms of racism in which we participate, however unintentionally, within the academy” (4). They go on to explain that these acts of racism are often performed by well-intentioned colleagues who attempt to align their efforts with the work of antiracism. However, many of us end up falling short due to the “learned and deeply internalized racism that we carry with us through our days” (15).

This begs the question: is the five-mode framework for multimodality sufficient, or has it become the framework “we carry with us through our days” because it is what we have “learned and deeply internalized” as writing instructors? In what ways is the current five-mode framework inherently harmful to multilingual students—those who identify as persons of color and those who identify as White—by (un)intentionally reproducing racism, monolingualism, and/or Whiteness? This line of questioning follows the trajectory set forth by Gonzales where she stresses the importance of “further interrogating multimodality through the lenses of race, culture, and identity [so we can] account for the lived experiences of the people enacting these practices” (Sites of Translation 50-51). In so doing, she explains, we can make space for “multilinguals [to] exhibit expertise in multimodal communication” (55). Conversely, when we ignore the ways in which race, culture, and identity impact multimodality, we ignore the lived experiences of multilingual students, thereby limiting their ability to bring their entire selves to their multimodal work and exercise their full rhetorical potential.

This is precisely what the current five-mode framework does. That is, by failing to acknowledge the use of two or more languages as a purposeful, rhetorical choice, this framework discourages multilingual students from calling upon the entirety of their linguistic repertoire. In so doing, this framework perpetuates racism in our writing classroom by aligning itself with “a world that inherently excludes the communicative and intellectual contributions of people who work outside the limitations of Western, English-dominant rhetorical frameworks” (Gonzales, Sites of Translation 121). From this perspective, we can see how the five-mode framework—in privileging a monolingual standard—does not make space for “the communicative and intellectual contributions” of multilingual students. Thus, by continuing to use this framework, not only are we promoting racist pedagogical practices, but we are also missing out on the diverse and rich possibilities for knowledge-making offered by multilingual students. However, by expanding this five-mode framework to include the multilingual mode, we can invite multilingual students to draw from and exhibit the strength of their full linguistic repertoire.

Additionally, in expanding our multimodal framework to include this sixth mode, we are taking a productive and necessary step towards antiracist multimodal pedagogy in the writing classroom—a step that follows the work offered by Shyam B. Pandey, Ai-Chu Elisha Ding, and Santosh Khadka in the special issue of the Journal of Global Literacies, Technologies, and Emerging Pedagogies focused on multimodal composition in multilingual contexts. Multimodality, they explain, supports antiracist efforts by “provid[ing] options for [multilingual] writers to choose their preferred mode, demystifying the composing practices in strictly alphabetic only mode” (1191). In other words, multimodality opens up communicative options beyond alphabetic text. As Pandey, Ding, and Khadka point out, for students who have difficulty communicating solely in written or spoken words due to language barriers, multimodality expands access and offers additional communicative tools from which students can draw.

This is a valid observation; however, it is only the starting point in how we might use multimodality to support antiracist pedagogy among multilingual students. This is because multilingual writers “are often challenged by [the] English Only linguistic mode” (Pandey, Ding, and Khadka 1189), and so while encouraging the use of the other four modes is beneficial for these writers, it does not confront the “English only” logic of the linguistic mode. Put simply, when multilingual students turn to the linguistic mode, they encounter a mode not designed with their linguistic abilities in mind. Using multiple languages within a single composition can be a strategic, rhetorical decision—similar to how a writer might decide to incorporate the visual or aural modes within their text—and it should therefore be recognized as a valid mode of communication separate from the linguistic mode.

In I Hope I Join the Band: Narrative, Affiliation, and Antiracist Rhetoric, Frankie Condon writes, “There are a number of means by which a racist racial order is maintained” (106). In the writing classroom, one way we see this maintenance is through “the circumscription of ‘legitimate’ and ‘intelligible’ discourses for the production of new knowledge and understanding” (107). In other words, the writing classroom traditionally privileges certain ways of communicating and knowing. Eunjeong Lee, Sara P. Alvarez, and Amy J. Wan describe this as the “underlying logic of dominant monolingual and monomodal writing instruction” (1276). Adopting a multimodal pedagogical approach is a productive way of challenging the monomodal norm; however, the traditional five-mode approach does not challenge this norm. Instead, it categorizes all spoken and written language practices under the single umbrella of the linguistic mode, a categorization that ultimately maintains what Asao B. Inoue describes as “the White naming that is such a thick part of our disciplines’ histories...the White habits of language that cover us all” (How Do We Language). However, by explicitly naming the multilingual mode as a distinct mode, we can challenge “White language supremacy as the status quo in our classrooms” (“How Do We Language”) and take an important step in embracing antiracist writing pedagogy.

Implementing the multilingual mode

I teach Writing and Rhetoric classes at Florida International University, a large public Hispanic-Serving Institution. Of our 54,000 students, 61% identify as Hispanic, 15% as White non-Hispanic, 13% as Black, 4% as Asian or Pacific Islander, and 7% other minority groups (“About Miami’s Public Research University”). According to the Fall 2020 Student Perceptions & Behaviors survey given to undergraduate writing students, 34% of students say they speak both English and another language at home and 30% of students say that English is not often spoken in their home. Clearly, our student body is diverse and multilingual.

I offer these statistics as a way to understand the general demographics of the students in my writing classes. My discussion spotlights student work from an upper-level writing course designed to introduce Writing and Rhetoric majors to the field of Rhetoric and Composition. Although perhaps unconventional, I begin the course with an explicit attention to multimodality. Specifically, our first class discussion is based on Thinking about Multimodality by Pamela Takayoshi and Cynthia Selfe and the webtext Why It Matters: Multimodality. I use these texts to present writing as an inherently multimodal activity, emphasizing for students that this is a common understanding within the field and that multimodality offers us a better understanding of how composing and meaning-making happens.

After introducing multimodality, I invite students to consider the limitations of the traditional five-mode framework. Our discussions focus on excerpts from Gonzales’s Sites of Translation: What Multilinguals Can Teach Us About Digital Writing and Rhetoric. Specifically, we read Gonzales’s discussion of translation moments, what she describes as the moments when “translators pause to decide which word to use for a particular audience, which sentence phrasing would be most effective in a particular context, and how to best convey a specific idea in a particular language” (23). We discuss that translation moments can happen across two named languages (i.e., Spanish and English) and across variants of the same language (i.e., Standard English and African American Vernacular English). We also focus extensively on the multimodality of translation moments. As Gonzales explains, “translation moments are inherently multimodal and multilingual, reflecting the lived experiences of multilingual communicators who constantly think across languages, modality, and technologies, to transform and adapt information for various audiences” (24). With this understanding in mind, I ask students in my courses to share times in which they have experienced translation moments, and we specifically discuss the multilingual and multimodal aspects of these experiences.

I then use this discussion as a way to introduce the multilingual mode to the class. Since this is a fully online class, all of our discussions take place on Canvas discussion boards (Canvas is the learning management system used by my institution), and I provide discussion prompts and explanations in writing. Below is an excerpt from the written text I offer students following our discussion of translation moments:

As we continue to learn about and practice multimodal writing throughout the semester, we will include the multilingual mode in our list of available modes alongside linguistic, visual, aural, gestural, and spatial.

Therefore, a revised definition of a multimodal text is a text that incorporates at least two or more of the above six modes.

Right now, you might feel excited because you are multilingual and you look forward to the opportunity to incorporate multiple languages into your writing. Or, perhaps you are worried because you only speak English, and so you fear you won’t be able to use this mode. However, as we will learn this semester, the field conceptualizes language beyond English, Spanish, and other named languages. Specifically, the field understands that each language is comprised of multiple variations: “There are many Spanishes and Englishes constantly being developed, adapted, and repurposed in every interaction” (Gonzales 17).

In the above description, not only do I introduce the multilingual mode as a sixth mode, but I am also purposeful in highlighting that a person might speak multiple Spanishes or multiple Englishes. My intention is to present the multilingual mode as a mode available to all students, even those who may identify as monolingual. I emphasize that all six modes are available options for everyone in the class.

Moreover, I make clear to students that in introducing the multilingual mode, I am not eliminating the linguistic mode. Both modes are legitimate composing choices, and I encourage students to think carefully about which mode they want to use for rhetorical effect. I explain that the linguistic mode is the purposeful use of a single language within a text, and it is a mode available to both monolingual and multilingual writers. A multilingual writer may decide for rhetorical effectiveness to use a single language in their composition; if so, that would be the linguistic mode. However, in another text with a different rhetorical situation, this same writer may decide to integrate their multiple languages, perhaps recognizing that the content of this multimodal text is most effectively expressed through this linguistic decision. This would be an instance of the multilingual mode.

Additionally, a monolingual student is not excluded from enacting the multilingual mode. That is, since the multilingual mode is the purposeful inclusion of multiple languages within a single composition, a student need not be fluent in multiple languages in order to enact this mode. They need only be thoughtful about their decision, recognizing that the strategic placement of even a single word in a different language than the rest of the text can have great rhetorical effect.

As the semester progresses, students complete a series of multimodal projects through which they explore course concepts and gain practice with multimodal composing using the six-mode framework. One of these multimodal projects asks students to create a zine that explores one of the key terms we’ve been discussing throughout the semester: writing, writers, composition, composing, communication, language(s), identity, power, community, rhetoric, teacher/instructor, culture, audience/reader, English, and knowledge. I explain to students that they can discuss the key term in any way they want within their zine, as long as their zine meets the following guidelines:

  1. It is created out of physical pieces of paper that the student can hold.

  2. It includes a cover page and five inner pages.

  3. It purposefully incorporates at least two modes from our list of six: linguistic, visual, spatial, gestural, aural, and multilingual.

  4. It is aimed at an audience of their classmates.

I explain to students that their audience is their classmates because the terms/concepts within the chart are central to the field of Rhetoric and Composition, and so sharing their zines with one another will help us to more fully understand the terms/concepts—one of the purposes of our course. Given the online nature of this course, students share their zines virtually via Flip (a video discussion app). In addition, they submit written reflections to a Canvas discussion board in which they explain the main idea(s) that they want their peers to understand from their zine, the specific modes they chose to incorporate, and why they felt like these particular modes would help them to effectively communicate their message.

Enacting the multilingual mode

In what follows, I share the work of three students. I selected these student projects to share because they illustrate varied potential enactments of the multilingual mode, and each student agreed to share their work and perspectives. As I discuss each student’s work, I pay specific attention to how each student incorporates the multilingual mode in their zine and what their work suggests about the potential for the multilingual mode to support an antiracist pedagogical approach.

This photo shows one page of Juliana's zine. On the left zine page she has written, 'Identity is much more than our carteira de identidade.' On the right zine page, she has drawn an identity card with lines and scribbles to represent her identifying information and signature.

Figure 1. Juliana’s zine

This photo shows one page of Juliana's zine. On the left zine page, she has drawn four little bottles pouring contents into a larger bowl labeled 'identidade.' Each little bottle has a label in Portuguese: idade, cultura, lingua, and nome. On the right zine page, she has written, 'In fact, a lot of factors compose our identity, and language is one of the most important.'

Figure 2. Juliana’s zine

Student #1: Juliana Juliana identifies as a Brazilian American who speaks Portuguese and English. For her zine project, Juliana explores the term “identity.” On page two of her zine, we see one example of the multilingual mode. She writes, “Identity is much more than our carteira de identidade.” Here, Juliana writes “identity card” in Portuguese as “carteira de identidade.” Next to the written text, we see an example of the visual mode in her drawing of an identity card (see Figure 1). Juliana explains her decision to include the multilingual mode in this part of her zine: “I don’t use [the phrase] identity card very much. I didn’t know what a North American identity card looked like until I moved to the United States. So, to me, it was just more truthful to keep carteira de identidade.”

Juliana’s use of the word truthful here is significant because it reveals that her decision to write this phrase in Portuguese was a purposeful one. That is, she considered which language would offer the most accurate representation of her experiences and decided to use Portuguese. She explains that this language felt like a more realistic expression for her, a means by which she could more honestly and thoroughly encapsulate her lived experiences on the page. From this perspective, Juliana’s decision to use both of her languages is a rhetorical move through which she incorporates her personal, lived experiences into the text.

Later in her zine, we see another use of the multilingual mode. Specifically, the Portuguese words “idade,” “cultura,” “lingua,” and “nome” appear inside little bottles that are pouring into a larger bowl labeled “identidade” (see Figure 2). On the corresponding page, Juliana writes in English, “In fact, a lot of factors compose our identity, and language is one of the most important.” On these pages, Juliana’s use of both Portuguese and English offer another example of the multilingual mode in action. Juliana explains that the reason she used the multilingual mode here “was just to represent that I don’t have to give up one language or the other. I can use both of them and still get a great result. My message will still get across to my audience.” Underlying Juliana’s explanation is a similar sentiment to that which she previously expressed: the multilingual mode provides a vehicle for a more accurate expression of her lived experiences. Although her entire zine is about identity writ large, these particular pages focus specifically on Juliana’s identity as a Brazilian American, and she purposefully uses the multilingual mode to emphasize this personal aspect.

In order to recognize the full rhetorical impact of Juliana’s linguistic choices on these zine pages, we must consider the intentional decisions she made to incorporate both of her languages. In so doing, we can recognize the significance of naming the multilingual mode as a distinct mode. Viewed through the lens of the five-mode concept of multimodality, Juliana’s use of multiple languages throughout her zine would be classified as a manifestation of the linguistic mode. However, this analysis is partial, because while she did choose to use written words, she actually chose to do more than this. She chose to use written words in both English and Portuguese. In addition, she chose the particular words she would write in each language, deciding to write “carteira de identidade” and “idade,” “cultura,” “lingua,” “nome,” and “identidade” in Portuguese. Viewed through the lens of the multilingual mode, we can more fully appreciate the rhetoricity of Juliana’s linguistic decisions, the nuanced ways in which she selects which languages to use to most accurately represent her lived experiences.

In I Hope I Join the Band, Frankie Condon explains that students of color often receive the harmful message that their personal, lived experiences are not valid and valuable beyond their home communities. Specifically, they are told in both implicit and explicit ways “that the language of power is fixed and immovable, that their home languages are all very well and good where they come from but not in the college classroom, that there are no ways of knowing and no knowledge produced within their home language communities that have value in academia or in the professional world” (68). However, antiracist pedagogy explicitly challenges this notion, making designated space for the culturally-specific knowledge and ways of knowing that our students bring into the classroom. This is precisely what the multilingual mode can do. That is, by presenting the use of two or more languages as a valid rhetorical choice, this mode reveals that “the language of power” is not fixed. It explicitly legitimizes multilingual students’ “ways of knowing” and the “knowledge produced within their home language communities” so that they are invited to use their diverse languages to offer what Juliana describes as a “more truthful” expression.

This photo shows Zoey holding open her zine. On the right zine page, Zoey has created a collage of tweets and quotes in AAVE. On the left zine page, she has written, 'We been knew that people spoke AAVE. They just don't speak it formally. Period. To kill why language is to kill me. Wonderful Faison.'

Figure 3. Zoey’s zine

Student #2: Zoey Zoey also chose to explore the term “identity” in her zine project; however, her use of the multilingual mode looks different than what we saw in Juliana’s zine. Specifically, Zoey identifies as a Black Jamaican and incorporates African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and Patois throughout her zine. The first instance of the multilingual mode appears on two pages where Zoey includes AAVE and Standard English. On the right page, Zoey has created a collage of tweets and quotes that offer examples of AAVE, including “woke,” “yas,” and “on fleek.” Then, on the left page, we see Zoey’s handwriting. She explains, “So then I actually included my own example of AAVE. As I said, ‘We been knew that people spoke AAVE. They just don’t speak it formally. Period’” (see Figure 3). In order to understand the full impact of Zoey’s use of the multilingual mode here, we must also consider the quote that she includes at the bottom of this page. It is a quote from one of our course readings: “To kill my language is to kill me” (Faison).

In this photo, Zoey shows two pages from her zine. On the left page, she writes, 'My identity is also formed by my Jamaican heritage. A nation proud of its diverse heritage and its cultural and racial variety will present its identities of dialects. Students' Rights to their Own Language.' On the right zine page, she writes 'Patois-Jamaican' above an English phrase 'How's it going?' translated into Patois: 'waa gyaan?'

FIgure 4. Zoey’s zine

In this photo, Zoey shows one page from her zine. On the page, she has written this sentence in Patois: 'All wah gwan, mi save mi Patois fi mi yaad.' Underneath, she has written, 'But I'm thankful [for] organizations like the CCCC that promote ideas like SRTOL. Tru ting.'

Figure 5. Zoey’s zine

Similar to what we saw in Juliana’s zine, Zoey’s decision to include AAVE on this page is an impactful and purposeful choice. However, Zoey’s use of the multilingual mode reveals another potential reason students might choose to incorporate this mode: as an act of resistance. In her handwriting on the left zine page, Zoey points out that AAVE is not often used in formal settings. What makes this statement especially impactful is the fact that Zoey uses AAVE to make this point. In addition, by following this statement up with the quote “to kill my language is to kill me,” Zoey presents AAVE as her language. Taken together, these pages reveal Zoey’s use of the multilingual mode as an act of resistance against dominant language practices within the classroom. Specifically, she presents AAVE as a challenge in both content and form. Not only does she highlight the traditional exclusion of AAVE from formal settings in what she writes, but by using AAVE to communicate this message, she also challenges this exclusion in how she writes.

Later in her zine, Zoey brings in the multilingual mode again, this time by incorporating both Patois and Standard English. At the top of the page, she writes, “My identity is also formed by my Jamaican heritage.” She then includes a quote from another one of our course readings: Students’ Rights to their Own Language [SRTOL]: “A nation proud of its diverse heritage and its cultural and racial variety will present its identities of dialects.” On the corresponding page, we see “Patois-Jamaican” written above an English phrase (“how’s it going?”) translated into Patois (“waa gwaan?”) (see Figure 4). A similar use of the multilingual mode appears on the next page of her zine where she writes, “All wah gwan, mi save mi Patois fi mi yaad.” Under this instance of Patois, she writes, “But I’m thankful [for] organizations like the CCCC [Conference on College Composition and Communication] that promote ideas like SRTOL. Tru ting” (see Figure 5). Similar to her earlier use of AAVE, Zoey’s use of the multilingual mode here functions as an act of resistance in both content and form. She skillfully integrates Patois before and after her reference to SRTOL, a rhetorical move through which she advocates for multiple languages in the writing classroom both in what she writes and also in how she writes.

We fail to appreciate the full rhetorical impact of Zoey’s zine if we view her use of written language as a manifestation of the linguistic mode. The lens of the linguistic mode allows us to recognize Zoey’s use of written words to communicate her message; however, it does not draw explicit attention to the ways in which she purposefully uses two different languages to communicate her message. This recognition is crucial in acknowledging the full extent of Zoey’s composing choices. As a multilingual writer fluent in AAVE, Patois, and Standard English, Zoey has three linguistic repertoires from which to draw. In both instances of the multilingual mode found within her zine, there is evidence that Zoey has strategically decided which of these three languages to use and where each could be most effectively incorporated. In particular, she juxtaposes either AAVE or Patois with Standard English alongside an academic reference. This is not a coincidence; it is a skilled rhetorical maneuver that she repeats two times. Zoey uses her languages in this way to bolster one of the main purposes of her zine: to challenge the academic ideology that rejects languages beyond Standard English.

From this perspective, we can see that Zoey’s message is more than what her written words communicate. It is also how they communicate. That is, by purposefully combining her multiple languages and then juxtaposing these languages alongside an academic reference, Zoey is actively resisting Whiteness and its corresponding standard of monolingual communication. Importantly, she does not enact the linguistic mode and write about being multilingual; if she had, this would have aligned with “White language supremacy as the status quo in our classrooms” (Inoue, How Do We Language). Instead, she enacts the multilingual mode, using all three of her languages to bring her entire self to her zine pages so the text she creates more closely connects with her embodied racial and cultural experiences. From this perspective, we see that Zoey is not writing about her multilingualism from a place of distance or spectatorship; rather, she is showcasing her multilingualism as an embodied aspect of who she is as a multilingual communicator, and the lens of the multilingual mode highlights this act of resistance as the skilled rhetorical move that it is.

In addition, Zoey’s use of the multilingual mode furthers our understanding of how this mode can support antiracist pedagogy. As Condon and Young make clear, antiracist pedagogy in the writing classroom will explicitly work to dismantle the power and privilege of Standard English. They explain that no matter if we call this dominant language “‘formal’ or ‘professional’ or ‘academic’ [...] so that any racism that might be revealed is semantically concealed” (6-7), the fact remains that privileging Standard English is an act of injustice for students of color. Antiracist pedagogy challenges the dominance of Standard (i.e., formal, professional, academic) English, and we can see this work taking place when the multilingual mode is employed as an act of resistance. As evidenced in Zoey’s zine, students can choose to integrate their diverse languages into their writing in such a way that the actual presence of the language is itself a challenge to the supremacy of Standard English. In this way, the multilingual mode offers an avenue for our students to participate in and support the work of antiracist pedagogy.

In this photo, Ana shows three pages of her zine. On the first page, she has written, 'As language is a part of culture, culture is a part of us.' On the next page, there is an illustration of a young girl with the words 'I am my culture' written above her head. On the third page, Ana has rewritten this same phrase in Spanish: 'Yo soy mi cultura.'

Figure 6. Ana’s zine

Student #3: Ana Ana identifies as Latina American who speaks both English and Spanish. For this project, Ana chose to explore the term “language.” Ana’s use of the multilingual mode occurs across two pages of her zine where she incorporates English and Spanish. On one page of her zine, Ana has written these words: “As language is a part of culture, culture is a part of us.” On the corresponding page, we see an illustration of a young girl with the words “I am my culture” written above her head in English. Then, on the following page, this same phrase appears in Spanish: “Yo soy mi cultura” (see Figure 6).

As Ana reflects on these pages within her zine, she explains that she used the multilingual mode so that we could see “the individual behind the language.” Ana’s comment, although brief, is impactful. Incorporating Spanish and English is a way that Ana showcases herself as a writer on these pages. Not only are there physical words on the page, but the writer is embodied in these words, and by using both English and Spanish, Ana can more fully highlight her embodiment. It stands to reason, then, that writing in only one language (either English or Spanish) would feel incomplete to Ana. Put simply, the full representation of who she is as an individual would not be complete without the presence of both languages on the page.

Admittedly, this is not something with which I have personal experience. As a monolingual writer whose first language aligns closely to Standard Edited American English, I do not often feel a disconnect between the words I write and my identity as a writer. However, as Ana’s comment makes clear, this is not everyone’s experience. Specifically, for multilingual writers like Ana, communicating in only one language can feel partial and incomplete, leaving the writer to feel that they are not fully represented. However, Ana’s comment suggests that writing in multiple languages can help multilingual writers feel as if “the individual behind the language” is more completely present on the page.

Unlike both Juliana’s and Zoey’s use of the multilingual mode, Ana incorporates repetition in her use of the mode. She writes “I am my culture” in English on one page, and then she repeats this exact phrase on the next page in Spanish: “Yo soy mi cultura.” To view Ana’s zine pages through the lens of the linguistic mode might lead us to interpret the repeated phrase as an act of translation from English to Spanish; however, this interpretation misses the full rhetorical impact of Ana’s zine pages. Viewing Ana’s work through the lens of the multilingual mode moves us beyond this superficial interpretation. That is, not only is the message what is written—that Ana is her culture—but it is also how it is written—once in English and once in Spanish. Specifically, by directing our attention to the rhetorical impact of both languages coexisting within a single text, the multilingual mode helps us to more fully appreciate Ana’s skill as a multilingual writer. Ana’s goal in repeating this same phrase in both languages is not to translate the phrase for her readers. If it were, she would likely have started with Spanish and then translated it into English. However, her goal was to highlight “the individual behind the language,” to show that both languages comprise her culture and her identity. Viewed this way, we can more fully recognize and appreciate this act of repetition as a skillful, nuanced move through which Ana incorporates both languages to more fully represent herself in the words that she writes. Importantly, it is a move that we would likely not recognize without the multilingual mode prompting us to consider the rhetorical impact of these specific languages.

In addition, Ana’s use of the multilingual mode aligns with one goal of antiracist pedagogy: to challenge “the whiteness of the academy or composition pedagogy” (Bell 190). Writing scholars offer multiple suggestions for working towards this goal, including “conversations and sustained reflection” on race and privilege (Burns, Cream, and Dougherty 282), open-ended writing prompts that invite students to “articulate their identities in ways that make sense to them” (Poe 94), and “including texts that validate the cultural and linguistic knowledge all students bring into our classrooms” (Pimentel, Pimentel, and Dean 121). Ana’s work suggests that the multilingual mode offers an additional way of challenging the “whiteness of the academy.” Specifically, by including languages in their work that showcase “the individual behind the language,” multilingual students create texts in which they are reflected. This is significant in the writing classroom that strives to combat Whiteness. Not only can we work against “the whiteness of . . . composition pedagogy” using the strategies suggested by the aforementioned scholars, but we can also do so through the multilingual mode. That is, in providing an explicit path for students to create multimodal texts that reflect themselves and their experiences, we are challenging the Whiteness of the writing classroom while simultaneously offering a path for multilingual students to participate in this important work as well.

The Power of Explicit Recognition

As these examples show, Juliana, Zoey, and Ana each made impactful use of the multilingual mode in their zines, albeit in different ways. However, one common sentiment expressed by each student is that the explicit acknowledgement of the multilingual mode authorized them to integrate their multiple languages into their work.

Juliana explains that she had always “believed that in order to show [her] professors that [she] knew how to write in English, [she] had to pretend [she] didn’t speak Portuguese, and that [she] had to only think in English.” She felt the need to hide her multilingual abilities within her academic work, and she goes on to say that this led to “a sense of isolation and even shame” surrounding her native language. Ana agrees, explaining, “Before, I would never express the language I grew up with in any class discussion or work general.” For both students, there is a clear distinction between the language(s) they use at home and the language(s) they use in the classroom. Importantly, undergirding both student’s comments is the acknowledgement that this decision to separate their native languages from the writing classroom was a conscious choice.

We can perhaps better understand their choices through the perspective Zoey offers in her reflection. She explains, “As a Black Jamaican, I absolutely relate to the idea that one’s identity can be shaped by an institution's acceptance or rejection of their native language. Although I speak Patois informally, I'm aware that the language is not accepted in formal settings.” Here, Zoey voices an idea to which both Juliana and Ana allude: languages beyond Standard English are not accepted within the formal setting of the classroom. This is an idea all too familiar to multilingual students. As Cecilia M. Espinosa, Luz Yadira Herrera, and Claudia Montoya Gaudreau explain, “rarely are [multilingual] students invited to bring their entire linguistic repertoire to construct meaning in the different learning events that take place in a classroom” (160).

It is important to note that this limitation placed upon multilingual students is often implicitly communicated. Most writing teachers are not explicitly forbidding the use of languages beyond Standard English. More personally, I have never directly told students that they could not bring their native languages into their multimodal compositions. However, I had also never directly presented the use of multiple languages as an option equally legitimate to the other five modes. I had never explicitly “invited [students] to bring their entire linguistic repertoire” into our multimodal projects. Instead, the possibility of using multiple languages had always been subsumed by the larger umbrella of the linguistic mode, which, I now realize, is an act of racism.

This is because inherent within current conceptions of the linguistic mode is a monolingual view of language. To see this traditional view, we need look no further than two popular writing textbooks: Writer/Designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects and Everyone’s an Author. Writer/Designer describes the linguistic mode as “the use of language, which usually means written or spoken words” (Arola, Sheppard, and Ball 13) and Everyone’s an Author defines the linguistic mode as “words, written or spoken” (Moss et al. 580). I am not critiquing these textbooks as inadequate or of poor quality; in fact, I regularly use both books in my first-year writing courses and find them valuable and thorough. However, neither textbook explicitly specifies whether the written or spoken words of the linguistic mode are monolingual or multilingual, and it is this very absence that is significant.

To return to my students’ comments about how this was the first time they felt authorized to incorporate their multiple languages into their writing, I now realize that my previous multilingual students may have not incorporated multiple languages into their writing because they felt as Zoey did—that their native language “is not accepted in formal settings.” However, when I presented the use of multiple languages as a distinct sixth mode—as a valid, rhetorical composing choice alongside the other five modes—I noticed a shift in students’ work. Specifically, multilingual students started more readily incorporating their diverse languages into their multimodal compositions, and it’s not because they suddenly developed new language abilities. Rather, as Juliana explains, she decided to include her native language within her zine because the multilingual mode opened the door for her to do so: “This mode is specifically impactful to me because as a bilingual student, I sometimes find myself struggling to express an idea into writing because I know that it won’t mean/work the same in English as it does in Portuguese. [Previously,] no professor has ever told me that I could or that I should write in my native language until now. Therefore, I always perceived this as a prohibition, as something that would make me ‘less than’ my native North American peers.” Ana shares a similar perspective, explaining, “I would never [previously] express the language I grew up with in any class discussion or work in general, [but now] I have added more of ME in my academic life.”

The fact that students in my course interpreted the multilingual mode as authorization to integrate diverse languages into their multimodal work is significant for our consideration of how we can work against racism in the writing classroom. Racism exists in various, insidious forms, ranging from “the most blatant racist incidents [to] the kind of unintentional racism that is committed by folks who believe themselves to be non-racist” (Condon and Young 4-5). To call racism unintentional is not to categorize it as less harmful than intentionally racist acts. The fact is that racism is harmful whether it is intentional or not. My point in referencing that racism ranges from blatant to unintentional is to highlight that although the current five-mode framework may not blatantly forbid students from using their multiple languages, it implicitly promotes a monolingual linguistic standard, and this is racist.

As Inoue makes clear in “On Antiracist Agendas,” one way of challenging racism is through explicitly named antiracist practices. Without “explicit antiracist agendas,” he concludes, “the problems of racism and the linguistic hierarchies that accompany such issues in the academy will not go away” (xviii). My experiences confirm Inoue’s stance; there is power in making our antiracist efforts explicit. Part of what makes racism so insidious in academia is the lack of awareness that often accompanies it. From this perspective, we can see that part of the power of the multilingual mode is in the fact that it is explicitly and intentionally separated from the linguistic mode. Left under the linguistic mode umbrella, the use of two or more languages will continue to be overshadowed by the monolingual norm of Standard English. However, by explicitly naming the multilingual mode as a sixth mode, we call out this mode from the shadows and identify the use of multiple languages as a legitimate rhetorical choice.


Introducing the sixth mode into our conceptions of multimodality does not force multilingual students to integrate multiple languages into their compositions. Just as a student who is a skilled visual artist would not be required to include the visual mode in their text, a multilingual student would not be required to include the multilingual mode in their text. However, as my experiences show, if we do not explicitly recognize the use of two or more languages as a valid composing choice, multilingual students may not even consider it a possibility due “the forcefulness of monolingualism and its ensuing standard language ideology” within the writing classroom (Ayash par. 4).

In presenting the multilingual mode as a distinct sixth mode that can be enacted for rhetorical effect, we not only challenge this ideology, but we also invite our students to participate in this challenge as well. Jennifer Slinkard and Jeroen Gevers gesture to this in their recent discussion of internalized language ideologies: “To pursue socially just writing pedagogy, it is imperative that we invite students into the conversation. This way, students can consider the effects of SLI [Standard Language Ideology] and dominant discourse norms...” (par. 40). To invite multilingual students into the conversation is to give them the opportunity to critically consider their language use, including which language(s) they use and whether or not they incorporate standard language and dominant discourse into their multimodal texts.

From this perspective, the value of the multilingual mode is not in how regularly multilingual students take up this mode; rather, the value is in the mode as a choice made available alongside the other five modes. Choice is an oft-discussed benefit of multimodal pedagogy. As Wood explains, one reason he values multimodal pedagogy is for “it’s focus on providing students with choices cultivating agency through their process(es)” (248). I agree that student choice is an affordance of multimodal pedagogy; as students decide which modes they will integrate into their work, they become more critical and purposeful composers and communicators. However, if we are to fully support this affordance of choice, we must consider the fact that multilingual students have different choices to make than do monolingual students. For multilingual writers, the choice is not only whether or not to bring in written or spoken words. The choice is also which languages to integrate, when to do so, and in what ways. These choices extend beyond the linguistic mode; they are part of the multilingual mode.

Therefore, by presenting the use of two or more languages as a rhetorical option for students, we are inviting our students to think critically about the choices they make with their languages, whether the choice leads to a multilingual text is not as important as the choice itself. The reality is that the multilingual mode is an option some students will take and others will reject; furthermore, this is a decision that will likely differ from assignment to assignment within the writing classroom. However, by naming the multilingual mode as a sixth mode, we invite students to make rhetorical choices about which language(s) they use, and we acknowledge that the decision to adopt a monolingual stance, similar to the decision to incorporate the multilingual mode, can be rhetorically effective.

My suggestion that we expand our traditional five-mode framework can perhaps be understood as an act of what Condon calls “decentering.” Condon describes decentering as the purposeful act of turning a conscious gaze on oneself, the process of “making strange...what had been familiar” (63). When employed in service to the work of antiracism, decentering invites us to interrogate the “notions of race, racial identity, and whiteliness [that] have shaped who it is we think we are as activists, speakers, writers, and teachers” so that we can take steps towards more antiracist and equitable behaviors (76).

Condon goes on to ask, “How, I wonder, might our work be transformed if we are collectively willing to become disoriented, to engage decentering by inquiring in those moments when we are questioned, critiqued, or just nudged to see and do differently?” (82) It is in this spirit that I offer my work—as a nudge for our field to interrogate the familiar ways we teach multimodality. It is my hope that this nudge might move us to see and do multimodality in ways that more effectively and more equitably serve multilingual students. Gonzales offers a similar nudge in her work, highlighting the importance of “interrogating multimodality through the lenses of race, culture, and identity” (Sites of Translation 50). Specifically, she encourages us to broaden our perspectives so that we might “consider the modalities that we cannot always see” (51). I offer the multilingual mode as one such mode: a mode that has always existed, although difficult to see if we fail to look beyond the linguistic mode.

For this sixth mode to support antiracist multimodal pedagogy, we must first become conscious of its potential to do so, and then we must remain purposeful about the ways in which we adopt and support this mode in the classroom. As writing instructors, we cannot adopt this sixth mode and then assume that this adoption alone makes multimodal pedagogy antiracist. Instead, we must remain conscious about what this adoption looks like in practice. For instance, when introducing the multilingual mode to students, we might use it as an opportunity to discuss the connections between language, race, and culture and the ways in which language functions as a tool for oppression, empowerment, resistance, and expression. We might then invite students to reflect on the ways in which their own language(s) are or have been sources of privilege, persecution, pride, and/or shame. Just as we provide resources for students to understand and practice how they might use the other five modes for rhetorical effect, we must do so for the multilingual mode—and my hope is that the work I present here inspires others to explore and share their approaches for doing so.

Acknowledgements: This article, as with most, went through countless drafts and revisions—each one a bit stronger than the last thanks to the feedback I received along the way. Huge, heartfelt thanks go out to two people in particular—Laura Gonzales and Kelly Whitney—both of whom were generous with their time and expertise. I am also thankful for the feedback I received from the anonymous reviewers; their questions and critiques pushed me to more deeply engage with several components of this article. Finally, thank you to the students featured in this article. I am grateful that you trusted me to share your zines, experiences, and ideas; I hope you are proud to be part of this work.

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