Instructors may feel hesitant to foster language diversity in the classroom as they feel that they have no nonnative speakers of English as students or feel intimidated by their only speaking English. Yet, the idea of multilingual speakers as a group of people who speak multiple, fluent languages needs to be revisited since this definition leaves out the creoles, dialects, and other language hybrids that are all systems of communication. Horner, NeCamp, and Donahue discuss this flawed notion when they write: "Languages themselves are imagined as reified, discrete sets of forms, and users either speak a language fluently or not. In this vision, the multilingual individual is someone fluent and 'competent' in more than one language and hence able to move from one group to another—someone with the equivalent of dual citizenship by virtue of his or her knowledge of the language of each group" (285). They argue against traditional myths of language competency—language is not easily defined and fluency is relative. No matter who the teacher or students, we are all equipped and responsible for working with multilingual students and speakers of dialects. Students with diverse language backgrounds enroll in all institutions and at all levels and we should consider how our classroom ecologies accommodate them.
Classroom activities and exercises can help encourage discussion about language diversity. Shirley Wilson Logan broaches the subject with her teaching assistant training courses by asking who in the room speaks a dialect of English. When, inevitably, no one raises their hand, Logan uses the opportunity to then transition to a discussion of our all speaking in dialects. Logan also describes possible activities that instructors might use in the classroom such as assigning students to collect real-world examples of multiple Englishes. She has students read texts by James Baldwin and Toni Morrison, reflecting on the nature of nonstandard English (188). With the rise of sites such as Ted Talks and Learn Out Loud, turning this activity into a multimodal one is relatively easy.
Steven Fraiberg suggests that we invite students with diverse language backgrounds to perform a rhetorical analysis on multimodal objects such as signs or advertisements in an effort to analyze the cultural values and contexts at play in determining what meaning these symbols possess (107). Building off of Fraiberg's suggestion, students could view the International Organization for Standardization's comprehensive list of graphic symbols (http://www.iso.org/iso/graphical-symbols_booklet.pdf) to examine transnational means of communication and how these differ from academic communication. Students might also create responses to these texts using an accessible program such as YouTube's newly created video editor or Voicethread. These programs can assist with tasks such as freewriting, brainstorming, peer review, or publishing the final product.
Part of recognizing the fluid nature of langage is understanding how language changes over time. John W. White shows his English Education students passages from Old, Middle, and contemporary English to highlight the changing nature of language. He also has students read a difficult passage on Heidegger's definition of truth, so as to demonstrate the challenges that nonnative speakers and speakers of dialects encounter when reading dialects so distant from their own (48). A similar activity invoking multimodal composing might make use of the online program Storify, which allows users to collect articles in a variety on formats on any given topic—videos, audio, images, or news links—as a possible tool for discussion of purpose and form. Students might examine an article on a similar topic from publications with different audiences to examine differences in structure and syntax. Or, students might use a program such as SenDraw, a sentence diagramming program, to observe language differences at the sentence-level. Diagramming the unique patterns of a given dialect could help students to see that its usage follows a pattern rather than a collection of random mistakes. White's exercise is especially useful because although we may have to continue to teach standard academic English, we can still explore the challenges it presents for some groups of students. Similarly, Jessica Whitney advocates a using a variety of writing samples to examine the use of code-switching in the classroom, citing Wheeler and Swords's definition of having students "choose the language variety appropriate to the time, place, audience, and communicative purpose" (474).
Students should be encouraged to create multimodal compositions in addition to observing and analyzing them. Literacy narratives are another way that students can embrace language diversity through multimodal composing. Software such as VuVox promotes not only accessibility but a user-friendly platform for sharing narration. Viewers become participants through text and video commenting features. Berry, Hawisher, and Selfe present the digital literacy practices of transnational students in their project Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times. The authors note that the narratives reflect "whether directly or indirectly–what it means to read and compose in a particular culture or time and place" ("Conclusion" 5). Students might browse the Digital Literacy Narrative Archive (daln.osu.edu) to view how ideas of "correct" composing manifest in literacy narratives and how these concepts are contextually situated. Thinking critically about one's experience with language allows us to realize the changes it has undergone throughout one's life. We are all learning and relearning English.
Issues of access are an important concern; when assigning multimodal compositions, we should strive to use free programs and give a variety of options for students at all skill-levels.