Contexts of Narrative Production

Keunho’s multimodal literacy narrative, “Studying English with TV,” is, according to Cindy Selfe, DALN co-founder, the “first stop-motion film DALN entry!” (personal communication Dec 16, 2009). His work is of considerable interest in general because of how he chose to mediate his literacy narrative and what that choice indicates about emerging genres and modes in the landscape of the DALN. But even more compelling is the story behind the production of his multimodal narrative and what the local context reveals about what Canagarajah argues is the “rhetorical creativity” of multilinguals.  Indeed, Keunho’s work artistically illustrates Canagarajah’s finding that multilinguals utilize “mysterious ‘double vision’ that enables them to understand the possibilities and constraints of competing traditions of writing, and carve out a space for themselves within conflicting discourses” (“Toward a Writing Pedagogy” 602).

Unlike Medarka’s video-taped literacy narrative interview, where a investigation of the social, political, historical, and cultural contexts of her literacy acquisition in the Philippines is somewhat possible without additional information about the local or micro contexts of the production of the narrative, in Keunho’s case those micro-contexts provide an important view into institutional and classroom learning contexts and what happens with multilingual and, dare we say, multimodal students in our classrooms when those spaces are guided by the assumptions and mythologies of  idealized “native” writers and the supremacy of print.

Keunho arrived at a Midwest liberal arts college with a focus on arts and media as a “conditionally accepted” student in a transitional intensive English language program. Because of a glitch in the admissions process, he entered with lower TOEFL score than what was usually required for acceptance, even conditional acceptance. In his fall first-year writing class with Suzanne as his instructor, he participated in a sequence of assignments for producing a literacy narrative and contributing it to the DALN. He was first asked to research narratives in the DALN, to write a print literacy narrative, and then to create a multimodal work that reflected what he felt was the most important concept, metaphor, or story from his print literacy narrative. Keunho’s print narrative (also submitted to the DALN) was arduous work. His first draft consisted of three sentences:

When I was high school student, I watched many, many Japanese and American dramas and movies. I watched dramas and movies almost every day after school. I should have been studying for university entrance, but I almost completely focused on watching dramas or movies because watching movies was fun and I felt like a hero while I was watching dramas.

He worked diligently for two weeks to continue to try to develop his narrative in print, adding that his preference for watching movies to learn language was a point of contention with his parents and that he had learned aspects of American culture from watching the show “Friends,” specifically that he figured out what a “rain check” was. With the print narrative coming along so slowly, he needed to begin work on his multimodal piece while still completing the print piece.

Keunho’s written proposal for the multimodal literacy narrative was one sentence: “I will go to Toy’s –R-Us and buy a doll house.” As his instructor, I, Suzanne, tried every teacher trick I knew to elicit more information and more of a proposal, but Keunho chose not to say more. On the day he was supposed to submit a storyboard and conceptual metaphor for his multimodal piece, Keunho arrived with a rough cut of his stop-motion film.

I was floored, and I got it. I understood his three-sentence literacy narrative in a way that I had refused to understand it on the page. I also realized that I had given up on him; I had written him off because he was not conforming to my expectations for his performance as a college-level writing student and he was not conforming to MY sequence of assignments. I purposefully wanted students to write a print narrative and then compose a multimodal piece as a means of exploring the power of mediating their ideas. I wanted them to do so in MY preferred order, the way I would do it: print to multimodal. I had not left room for that exploration to occur from multimodal to print. By only seeing composing from my monolingual and monomodal perspective, by assuming a print-to-multimodal path, I had silenced Keunho and reduced him feeling only capable of composing only three sentences.

After making the stop-motion film, Keunho was able to return to the print narrative and to develop his story and argument about his alternative path to learning English and Japanese. He was able to do so with far more “success” in Standard Written English than he was prior to making the film, prior to using his multlingual and multimodal, ever evolving and creative, competencies, to create meaning.

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