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A context-based study of the writing of eighteen year olds :with special reference to A-level biology English geography history history of art and sociology

Hamilton-Wieler, Sharon Jean (1986) A context-based study of the writing of eighteen year olds :with special reference to A-level biology English geography history history of art and sociology. PhD thesis, Institute of Education, University of London.

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Abstract

The development of written literacy has been a major concern of educators and language scholars throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. Theoretical discussions and empirical investigations of language acquisition, development, and use have contributed to an increasing understanding of writing as emerging from a network of interrelationships among context, task, text, language, and cognition. In my first chapter, I look at some of this work of recent years which elaborates upon these interrelationships within a general view of writing as a cognitive act emerging from varied layers of contextualizing influences. What this work reveals is the need for extensive empirical investigations into the nature of these contextualizing influences in order to understand more fully the shaping power of these interrelationships. In view of this need, this study sets out upon a context-based investigation of the writing of sixth formers in six different A-level subjects in order to see how writing emerges from the classroom (and wider) contexts. The task of the next two chapters is to present the empirical data base for the ensuing analysis of classroom language environments. Chapter two elucidates the setting up and carrying out of the investigation, explaining the most critical decisions involved in designing the study, describing the strategy for laying out the ethnographic material accumulated during the period of research, and introducing the teachers and students involved in the research. Chapter three offers six views of writing in A-level classrooms, in the form of contextualized vignettes which try to evoke the language atmospheres of the respective classrooms. These vignettes examine the nature of knowledge which is drawn upon in assigned writing, how students are enabled to transform this knowledge into written text, and how particular written texts relate to the writing registers and conventions generally expected in each discipline. The A-level examination system is shown to be a major contextualizing factor in shaping students' acid teachers' perceptions of the nature of writing which is most appropriate for engaging with the evidence of the six different disciplines. The fourth chapter synthesizes and comments upon the 'thick description' of writing in the six A-level classrooms. In so doing, it proposes an account of the relations between knowledge and composing within the classroom context, showing how different writing tasks bear differently upon levels of knowing in ways which may be characteristic of particular subject areas. It further shows writing to be, for both students and teachers, the site of competing claims upon this knowledge, in terms of demonstrating or extending it. Within these claims, the six teachers converge upon one major aim, somewhat differently conceived and executed within each subject area, of enabling their students to compose "lucid argument" in response to particular topics. It is this enabling process, the range and sensitivity of strategies which teachers develop in order to help their students transform information, knowledge, and understanding to written text, which chapter four identifies as the key contextualizing influence in shaping the writing of the students in these six classrooms. Chapter five takes a thorough analytical look at these enabling strategies, at how and why they are presented in the classroom, at how they are interpreted and taken on board by the students, and at how they are manifested in written text. This chapter is the focal point of the study, drawing upon the theoretical and empirical work discussed in the first chapter in order to explore some of the implications of these strategies in relation to the view of writing as emerging from a network of interrelationships among context, task, text, language, and cognition which informs this investigation. It chapter six, I show how looking at writing in context opens the door to a complexity of issues about the composing of written text. The data reveal writing in its educational context to be the site of conflicting aims which position both teachers and students in serious dilemmas. It is in the reconciliation of these dilemmas that the findings of the study and the implications of these findings have value.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: PhD (Educ) 1986 IE..
Depositing User: Batch Import
Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2014 10:55
Last Modified: 12 Aug 2015 15:18
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