I shut the door to my closet and sat on the big green Rubbermaid tub, the one filled with hand-me-downs for the next kid. In the quietest place I could think of, hiding from my four children, I pressed record and started reading.
Stumbling once or twice, I went back into the Word document and adjusted the writing accordingly, then tried to record again.
So it went for each piece of writing for the Slice of Life Story Challenge in March, where I created an audio recording of my voice to accompany the alphabetic, where I learned a ton about myself as a multilingual writer. I realized that sometimes, we do our best teaching when we think, brainstorm and write alongside students. Writing every day helped me rethink the writing process, so in the classrooms where I coach, we are sharing new ideas with students.
Here, I offer three suggestions for how to support writers in the classroom with recording, revision and repetition.
RECORDING AS A REVISION TOOL
Because I grew up speaking both Farsi and English, with a lot of Arabic peppered in from my father’s Bahraini side, my brain is a melange of words that don’t always come out the way I initially intend. In my experiences as a newspaper writer and as a writing teacher, I have learned that recording my voice before getting to the end of the writing process supports my composition.
Oral rehearsal – the practice of saying aloud what we want to write – is a useful strategy for all students, since what we think we can say and what we say, we can write. And it is typically thought of as a planning tool. Before putting pen to paper, teachers might ask students to say aloud what they want to write, thinking across their fingers as they add details.
But for multilingual students particularly, recording an audio track as part of composing writing, before its final iteration, enhances alphabetic writing changes as a revision tool. Students are often better equipped to hear where they meant for writing to sound differently, and thus, able to adjust the writing on paper before preparing the piece for an audience.
I had to hide in my closet to find space for recording. In the classroom, teachers can prompt students to record themselves using headphones and apps like Mote or Google Voice Recorder, both easy extensions available for free downloading.
Often, the writing process in classrooms includes the recording and presentation of a ‘final’ piece. But as a multilingual writer, I value recording and auditory composition throughout the process far more than its inclusion at the end alone. Revision looks different for each and every writer, particularly for our multilingual students. Teaching students that audio recordings can be used as a revision tool is a helpful way for students to recognize that composition is personal and nuanced.
Recording and listening back to my writing helps support the cadence of sentences and various sentence lengths. I know, for example, where I want to isolate a sentence, and I know when I prefer a staccato list. Through recording and listening back to my words, I am able to more fluidly compose.
Implications for the classroom:
- Explore a few options for audio recording, and determine which app feels easiest for you and your students.
- Offer audio recording as a writing tool earlier in the writing process, introducing the strategy of revising writing after recording to ensure it sounds the way the author intended.
- Show more than one writing process image, so students know that the process looks different for each writer.
AUTHENTICITY IN TRANSLANGUAGING
When I write about my families or memories, more often than not, my writing includes a line or two of Farsi. It is the language I grew up speaking and it’s the language of my ancestors, as my parents were both born and raised in Iran. Including the English translation for readers felt empowering on its own – this idea that I could toggle between English and the other language that makes up the rest of my mind. But I quickly realized that I wanted for readers to hear the lyricism and poetry of the words in Farsi, not just the translation.
Translanguaging is when a person’s full linguistic capabilities are used, honored and exalted; when one peppers in various languages when it makes sense to the speaker and writer. Listen to a piece with Farsi translanguaging here.
Recording my voice provided that opportunity, adding the authenticity of my voice as the author; adding the personalization of my translanguaging.
When multilingual student writers are able to use all parts of their language repertoires, they are able to access all parts of themselves (España and Herrera, 2020). As writing teachers, if we encourage these practices, we exalt the whole child. Forcing multilingual students to compartmentalize their languages, like checking baggage at the door, as Dr. Sonja Cherry-Paul once lamented, serves no one.
Implications for the classroom:
- Use multimodal writing mentors in minilessons and for small group examples that include translanguaging, so that multilingual students see the array of possibilities when composing. It is important for all teachers and students to make space for these textured pieces of writing, and seek opportunities to celebrate this work too, multilingual or not.
- Encourage the fluid inclusion of various languages when students speak, draw, and create.
- Ensure students are exposed to multiple languages in your classroom – whether in read alouds, short video clips, music tracks or classroom (virtual!) visitors.
Book recommendations: Octopus Stew (Velasquez 2021); Fry Bread (Maillard 2019), and Drawn Together (Minh Le 2018)
When I look back at my month of slice of life writing, I quickly realized that at least half of the entries include a repeated line or phrase.
I found myself reflecting. Was it a stylistic choice, rendering my writing more poetic, or was it necessary for me, to ensure my writing stayed on topic? The truth is, it’s likely a combination, but I found that the through-line supported my writing organization. It felt like a life-line that kept my writing and voice steady throughout. There were times when I had written a repeated phrase across the text but removed it once the whole piece was completely composed; it didn’t stay each and every time. And yet, I felt I needed it.
For personal and narrative writing of multilingual writers especially, the use of repetition throughout a piece of writing feels supportive and useful as a strategy to keep the writing cohesive.
Implications for the classroom:
- Explicitly teach students how to craft a line or phrase that could provide glue throughout the piece to tie all the parts together by asking, “What do you want readers to take away?”
- Once the piece is composed, ask students to cross out the line to determine if it stylistically sounds better kept in, or removed. The purpose is to keep the piece beautifully woven together.
- Include mentor texts with repetition used throughout, calling attention to the author’s purposeful craft move.
Book recommendations: What Color Is My Hijab? (Ibrahim 2020); Watch Me (Richards, 2021); Magnificent Homespun Brown (Doyon, 2020); You Matter (Robinson, 2020); Big Papa and the Time Machine (Bernstrom, 2020).
Recording for revision, encouraging translanguaging, and repetition are useful strategies to exalt and empower multilingual writers. As teachers of multilingual students, encouraging translanguaging and recording as revision is akin to telling students: every aspect of you is valued. Every aspect of you is important.
- What is Translanguaging? from Drs. Carla España and Luz Yadira Herrera, authors of En Comunidad.
- Understanding Translanguaging in US Literacy Classrooms NCTE policy brief by Kate Seltzer and Cati V. de los Ríos
- Watch Drs. Cecilia M. Espinosa and Laura Ascenzi-Moreno, authors of Rooted in Strength, talk about translanguaging creating a sense of belonging.
Nawal is an educator, literacy consultant and writer based out of Chicago, IL. Nawal worked as a classroom teacher, literacy coach and curriculum developer in Brooklyn and Chicago before launching NQC Literacy in 2014. She and her team support schools and districts by facilitating professional development and coaching around a holistic, balanced approach to literacy instruction: always looking through lenses of cultural-sustainability, inclusion and equity.
Nawal earned a Bachelor of English from the University of Michigan, a Master of Teaching from Brooklyn College, and a Master of Journalism from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School. She won a New Jersey Press Association Award for her international reporting and transitioned into education as a New York City Teaching Fellow. She is the proud daughter of immigrants and her role as a mother to four multiethnic, multilingual kids shapes her approach as an educator. You can find Nawal in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood or on Twitter at @NQCLiteracy.