Cristina Sanchez-Martin has recently earned her PhD in English Studies from Illinois State University and will begin her job as assistant professor in applied linguistics at Indiana University of Pennsylvania in the 2018 Fall semester. Her work revolves around investigating how humans understand and navigate composing and language practices across languages and in transnational contexts.
- Could you tell us about your personal and professional background? What led you to pursuing your doctoral study at Illinois State University (ISU)?
I was born in Salamanca (Spain), a region traditionally associated with standard language ideologies in Spanish. Since I was little I started to become interested in “non-standard” language practices by listening to my grandparents and people from a small rural town. After high-school, I decided to continue pursuing a career in the humanities. The university of Salamanca offered the option to complete two BA degrees simultaneously in Hispanic Philology and English Studies, which took a bit longer than a traditional program, but it was worth it. Retrospectively, I think that experience helped me to see the types of things that scholars in one area study as opposed to the other one. In other words, I started to realize the overlaps and gaps within a field of study. In my third year, I applied for a study abroad program called Erasmus in Durham University (UK). This study abroad program was funded by the European Union to facilitate mobility in Europe, not just to promote student exchange but also the exchange of knowledge and expertise. Once again, it was an extremely rewarding experience at the personal and educational levels. It was interesting to see what English Studies meant in the context of the UK, as opposed to Spain. And, the other way around: I noticed the types of things that students of Spanish Philology (which was called Hispanic Studies there) learned in the UK, which needless to say, added new and distinctive aspects to what I was learning in Salamanca. I feel like I started to make sense of learning as situated, and to look for the dualism and networked aspects of transnationalism to understand my own growth as a language user. Thanks to one of my mentors, Dr. Izaskun Elorza, I started to become involved in organizing conferences and to participate in scholarly events related to language and mobility. I took her advice and completed an MA degree in Translation and Intercultural Mediation, the closest field of inquiry to what in the U.S. is rhetoric and composition. With my mentors Dr. Ovidi Carbonell and Dr. John Hyde, I learned about the linguistic aspects relevant to “translating the other” (Carbonell, 1997). I began to investigate the relationship between language and composing/translating from a social justice standpoint. I also completed a MA degree in English teaching, which prompted pedagogical questions regarding all the other dual experiences I had had before. Connecting the dots between previous experiences is what led me to apply for the PhD at Illinois State University. In particular, the work of Dr. Lisya Seloni clicked with me. An interdisciplinary program, where I could bridge together my previous experiences in English teaching, translation, writing, and linguistics, seemed perfect to continue looking for answers (and to pose more questions!).
- As a professional development coordinator in the writing program leadership team at Illinois State University, you have been mentoring international graduate students. What major challenges do they face? What strategies do successful international students employ to cope with these challenges?
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work for the writing program at Illinois State University in the capacity of professional development coordinator. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Joyce Walker, director of the program, for having provided the space for practical grounded pedagogies that enable productive conversations on language diversity. The philosophies of the writing program centered around the idea of writing research in the world from a Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) perspective, and its pedagogical application (Pedagogical Cultural Historical Activity Theory -PCHAT) certainly facilitate the work of international graduate students and instructors. The idea is that there isn’t one type of writing that is “good writing”, in the same way that there isn’t one type of language that works for all situations. In other words, instead of telling students “this is what good writing is like” and “this is what proper and good language is like”, we help students to become researchers of situated writing and language practices that are meaningful to them. For international instructors, this approach allows them to illustrate to students their own writing and language identities as they as used to navigate unexpected and new situations across languages, borders, modalities, etc. And perhaps more obviously, the experiences of international instructors who speak more languages than English contribute to challenging language ideologies like the myth of linguistic homogeneity (Matsuda, 2006) and monolingualism (Horner et al. 2011). However, we all have previous knowledge that enables learning as well as knowledge that prevents or blocks it. For example, some of the recurrent challenges that I have encountered have to do with what we think learning and teaching are like. Sometimes we have ingrained ideologies regarding the roles of students (they are supposed to receive the knowledge from the teacher) and teachers (the ones who provide objective answers to students). To create and maintain a productive learning environment, we have to identify these ideologies and engage in meaningful conversations in the classroom. From my experience, for international instructors, especially if they have learned English in Foreign Language contexts, this might be a challenge. If they have learned to use standard language in their essay writing (or other school genres frequently included in the curriculum of English language courses), they might feel unprepared to respond to students’ non-standard language and writing practices if they understand their role as teachers in traditional ways. In other words, they might not feel legitimized to help students with their writing (especially if students are users of mainstream Englishes). Finally, their identities as a minority international graduate students and speakers of other languages intersect with other identity markers of difference, so learning about how one’s identities are taken up in the classroom space is essential to become reflective teachers.
- What recommendations do you have for language instructors and language program coordinators to better assist international students?
To me, it is essential to attend to their (academic) socialization, which moves beyond academic settings and it takes place through participatory practice. The work of scholars like Sandra Zappa-Hollman, Patricia A. Duff, and Lisya Seloni (among others) provides great insights into socialization, which I see as an “innovative, transformative, and sometimes contested process” (Kobayashi, Zappa-Hollman, & Duff, 2017, p. 293). In addition, as Zappa-Hollman and Duff’s 2015 study demonstrated, the framework of “individual networks of practice (INoP)”, which builds on the theoretical constructs of community of practice and social network theory, was useful to investigate how INoP places the student at the center of his/her socialization process in relation to unique networks and contexts. Through this framework, the authors found that students’ academic literacy development was significantly influenced by “humans and other forms of support” (p. 25) beyond their professors and classmates, demonstrating the “complexity and unpredictability” of language socialization (p. 26). If this is part of students’ learning, classrooms pedagogies and programmatic initiatives have to account for it through realistic activities, projects, learning outcomes and assessment practices. The volume Collaborations & Innovations: Supporting Multilingual Writers Across Campus Units (2017) edited by Kim, J.Y, Hammil, M.J., Matsuda, P.K. (2017) offers great ideas for the types of cross-unit collaborative practices that can be implemented in and in between different classroom spaces and other settings/institutions on campus. Finally, international students have a lot to offer, particularly in the context of increased internationalization and/or diversification of U.S. institutions. If we listen to their experiences, we can all become more knowledgeable of what learning is like in the 21st century.
- You have recently completed your dissertation “Teaching writing through transformation: Linguistically diverse writing teachers’ enactments of transactional writing and linguistic diversity”. What is your core message that you want to convey?
My dissertation was a qualitative study in which I used constructivist grounded theory and multiple ethnographically-oriented case studies to investigate what linguistic diversity looks like in first-year composition courses mostly populated by so-called “native speakers of American English”. Specifically, I investigated how linguistically-diverse (“non-native”) English instructors used their previous knowledge of languages and transnational writing to teach composition. The results of my study indicated that the classroom becomes a contested space, where language as a concept is reconstructed and redefined based on lived experiences. These case studies showed that instructors understand linguistic diversity in divergent ways, embracing their own lived experiences as subjects with intersectional identities (as well as their students’) as learning opportunities to theorize language and writing practices. The data also suggested that linguistically diverse writing instructors disrupt the myths of linguistic homogeneity and monolingualism in composition in various ways. However, challenging these myths did not happen without obstacles. Some of the issues that linguistically diverse writing instructors must deal with are the dichotomy between native and non-native speakers, a deficit mindset, and the tokenization of linguistic diversity. In general, engaging in discussions about these aspects proves to be transformative and contributes to their growth as reflective teachers and their students’ learning.
- During your doctoral studies, you taught “Gender in the Humanities”, and attended a professional seminar “Strategies to address the challenges of female educators” at ISU. How did you become interested in gender issues? Can you share a couple of strategies that can be applicable to NNEST issues?
As a transnational scholar, I have had to think about how my identity influences how I navigate academic spaces and vice versa. At the beginning, I wasn’t sure about why I felt uncomfortable and unwelcomed in some situations, but as I started reading feminist scholarship, I realized what was going on and that other minorities go through similar issues. In multiple occasions, I have had to account for myself while others didn’t have to. For example, during my graduate career I worked as an English teacher at the English language institute in a public university in the U.S. and as the ESL specialist at a liberal arts university. In both cases, I was frequently identified as a “non-native” English teacher or writing specialist through unproductive statements and questions, which to me, was an indirect “inspection” of my pedagogical, linguistic and writing skills. If no productive conversations follow and there isn’t an honest desire to learn from each other’s experiences, those situations become othering practices. Feminist scholarship has helped me to position myself and to identify discriminatory ideologies and behaviors that do not contribute to the promotion of equality regardless of the identity traits used to mark people (nativeness, gender identification, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, class, ability, language, etc.). Therefore, the strategies I recommend are 1) become familiarized with some feminist scholarship and with the work of linguists like Kubota, Belcher, Park, Seloni, and Pavlenko (among many others), 2) identify your own privileges as well as oppressions, 3) document, or at least, identify how you move across spaces (including classrooms) and what your body tells you about those spaces and who inhabits them, 4) share your experiences with your support networks and mentors, and 5) be a reflective human!
- Could you tell us about your current and future projects?
I am interested in integrating Pedagogical Cultural Historical Activity Theory (PCHAT), the practical application of Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) (Walker, 2017; Prior, Walker, and Riggert-Keiffer, 2019), in writing courses for multilingual students. In terms of writing teacher education, I plan to contribute to conversations around the potential of transdisciplinarity as a methodological and pedagogical lens to understand the relationship between language, writing, and mobility for the 21st century. Finally, I hope to develop a feminist mentoring initiative for and by linguistically diverse students and to add to conversations on (academic) socialization.
Carbonell, O. (1997). Traducir al otro. Traducción, exotismo, poscolonialismo. Cuenca: Ediciones de la Universidad de Castilla la Mancha.
Horner, B., Lu, M. Z., Royster, J. J., & Trimbur, J. (2011). Language difference in writing: Toward a translingual approach. College English, 73(3), 303-321.
Kim, J.Y, Hammil, M.J., Matsuda, P.K. (2017). Intensive English Programs and First-Year Composition: Bridging the Gap. Collaborations & Innovations: Supporting Multilingual Writers Across Campus Units, 121-135.
Kobayashi, M., Zappa-Hollman, S., & Duff, P. (2017). Academic discourse socialization. In P. Duff & S. May (Eds.), Language socialization. Encyclopedia of language and education (3rd ed.). New York: Springer.
Matsuda, P. K. (2006). The myth of linguistic homogeneity in US college composition. College English, 68(6), 637-651.
Prior, P., Walker, R.J, and Riggert-Keiffer, D. (2019). Languaging the Rhetorical Tradition: Pedagogical CHAT in middle school and college. Forthcoming.
Walker, R.J. (2017). CHATPerson and the ANT -The Story of Pedagogical CHAT. [Handout]. Retrieved from http://isuwriting.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/CHATPerson-and-the-ANT-The-Story-of-Pedagogical-CHAT.pdf
Zappa-Hollman, S. & Duff, P. A. (2015). Academic English socialization through individual networks of practice. TESOL Quarterly, 49(2), 333-368.