Saturday, April 12, 2008

How Identity Shapes a Writer

John Dunbar

Upon first glance, the process of writing a paper for a class, or an article for a paper appears to be predetermined and executed with a universal set of rules applied by the writer. This disproved notion is what has been the driving source for researchers who want to know more about the deeper, inner workings of writers from students to those in the workplace. The goal is to find a method for teaching writers to adapt to particular situations, while at the same time trying to understand what has made them the writer that they are. Over the years, teachers have tried different tactics to engage students in the writing process, and one of the main factors is being able to relate to a students background in writing. A writer’s identity is what drives them to write in a particular way and if this can be understood then the potential for improvement is drastically improved.

A writer’s identity is formed and molded from a number of different sources. During the time that a writer is learning how to write, whether it is at an early age, such as high school, or throughout their college career, there is a need for adaptability and an expansion of what they have previously learned. Recently, there has been an increase in the number of writers in English speaking schools with English as their second language (ESL), which affects their writing style and/or how they understand the writing process. Some other issues that have created a need to understand a writer’s personality is the increase in technology and what kind of examples students are following when writing for a specific purpose. The following research helps to explain the need to understand identity and suggestions for pedagogies that will compensate for the ever changing filed of teaching composition.

Elbow, Peter. “Being a Writer vs. Being an Academic: A Conflict in Goals.” College

Composition and Communication 46.1 (1995) : 72-83.

This article helps to explain the gap in the expectations of the professor and the expectation of the student. Elbow specifically refers to students who are in their first year of college and taking a college composition course. The goal, in this case, is to get the student to consider writing a part of who they are, a way to communicate and expand learning beyond the classroom. This is an interesting piece of work because it is more about Elbow understanding himself and how he can create interest in his students through that discovery in himself. Ultimately, what he wants to accomplish is for the student to tap into their own identity, while at the same time exploring a new adaptation of that identity that they might not have noticed before. This is more about the inflicted identity of the professor rather than the understanding of the identity of a student.

Lavelle, Ellen and Nancy Zuercher. “The Writing Approached of University Students.”

Higher Education 42.3 (2001) : 373-391.

The information provided in this article is an extension of the previous research done by Lavelle, which was the Inventory of Processes in College Composition (IPCC). Lavelle and Zuercher conduct interviews to get a better understanding of how the students feel about themselves and about the writing process. The article is an insight to how differently minded students approach the process and whether or not the varying procedures are beneficial or detrimental. Much of what is found through the research is that students are much more interested in writing when given expressive assignments that they can connect with on a personal level. There are some good insights into how a student responds to a task based on self-efficacy and/or procedural processes.

Pare, Anthony. “Genre and Identity: Individuals, Institutions, and Ideology.” The

Rhetoric and Ideology of Genre: Strategies of Stability and Change. Eds. Coe,

Richards. Cresskill : Hampton Press, 2002. 57-71.

Pare’s research addresses the personal ideologies held by an individual and how those ideologies play a role in a student’s writing process. He specifically talks about the different ideologies within different discourse communities and how those values are displayed in the writing that occurs within them. These ideologies help to address the identity of the writer that is using them and therefore act as a window into the writing background of an individual. Also addressed in this article is the ability, or lack there of, to write across genres and within genres while being able to maintain control and understand the rules that are needed to be successful within a genre. What Pare notices through this research is that once there is an acceptance and mastery of a genre, such as becoming a professional in a field, then there is a noticeable “erasure of self” and more of a connection with the genre.

Rankin-Brown, Maria and Carrie Fitzpatrick. “A Confluence of Voices Negotiating

Identity: An East Coast-West Coast Exchange of Ideas on Writing, Culture and

Self.” Presented at Conference on College Composition and Communication. New York, New York. 23 March 2007.

The research done by Rankin-Brown and Fitzpatrick was presented at the CCCC and looked at the difference in students performances based on location. There were four schools that participated and they were split up between the east and west coasts. Two of the schools were in Pennsylvania, while the other two were in California. All four studies were based in composition classes and the classes could interact through online resources and blogs. The purpose of this project was to bring different ethnicities and backgrounds into a common area with the common goal of learning about others. What ended up happening was the students became more aware of their identity on an individual level while sharing these experiences with others, and this was achieved through writing. Through this experiment students from multicultural backgrounds could learn from one another and it helped to make the writing process more practical and acted as a starting point for individuals to find their identity through writing.

Shen, Fan. “The Classroom and the Wider Culture: Identity as a Key to Learning English

Composition (Staffroom Interchange).” College Composition and Communication. 40.4 (1989) : 459-466.

Shen uses her personal experience to draw attention to the cultural and social differences that shaped how she adapted to the English standards of writing as opposed to her natural, Chinese background. In this article she focuses on how she had to define and redefine her ideological (the system of values she acquired through her social and cultural background) and her logical (her natural, Oriental way of expressing her thoughts) identities. Though this is more of an autobiography of Shen’s experiences, she is still able to capture how she found her identity and how she had to adapt to the set of values that she was operating within. It is very interesting and very important to read her insight into her own journey of finding her English voice versus her Chinese voice and how she was taught to find the English voice because it can help teachers have a better grasp of what goes on when there is a completely new identity being formed in a student who speaks English as a second language.

Silva, Tony and Ilona Leki. “Family Matters: The Influence of Applied Linguistics and

Composition Studies on Second Language Studies—Past, Present, and Future.”

Modern Language Journal 88.1 (2004) : 1-13.

This article examines how composition studies and applied linguistics are two key factors in understanding English as a second language, or L2 as it is referred to in this article. Its main focus is to be informative about L2 and how both composition studies and applied linguistics have resulted in being both beneficial and detrimental to the writing process. These claims are made based on the fact that the two key factors pull the writing process into two different directions. In this article there are potential solutions for how to address teaching English writing skills as a second language and how the parent disciplines are enacted throughout the process. Four conclusions are drawn from this article according to the authors: one, a critical realist ontology exists, which assumes that while the physical reality containing social, cognitive and perceptual filters exists it is not fully recognized. Two, an interactionist epistemology is a component where objectivity is a concern and that true knowledge is only approximated causing object and subject matters to also be a concern. Three, a multi-modal methodology that vaules qualitative and quantitative and hermeneutic inquiry, which allows integration, and the fourth conclusion is that there is an axiology that embraces both explanation of phenomena and social change.

Trimbur, John. “Composition and the Circulation of Writing.” College Composition and

Communication. 52.2 (2000) : 188-219.

Every student has a different background and learning process than others. Each case is an individual project that has different contributing factors. In this article, Trimbur addresses how “circulation materializes contradictory social relations and how the contradictions between exchange value and use value might be taken up in writing classrooms to expand public forums and popular participation in civic life.” He uses this model drawing from Marx’s Grundrisse. His main point is that there are so many different mediums of circulation that it is affecting the way that people write, and specifically their process of writing. He confronts the idea that, depending on the field that the writing is occurring, there are only certain aspects of an issue that are taken based on who is addressing the questions. When there is not a balanced interest within a group then there are biased opinions, which causes identities to be buried in a genre or field rather than being a personal asset.

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