Transitions and shifting understandings of writing: Building rich pictures of how moving from school to university is experienced through exploration of students’ discourses of writing

Baker, Sally (2013). Transitions and shifting understandings of writing: Building rich pictures of how moving from school to university is experienced through exploration of students’ discourses of writing. Journal of Academic Language and Learning, 7(2) A35-A49.

URL: http://journal.aall.org.au/index.php/jall/article/...

Abstract

In a time of economic constraints and increasing competition for places, negotiating “the transition” from school to university has become crucial for students’ educational success. Writing holds a dominant place in the academy as a mechanism of assessment. Therefore, exploring the writing practices of students as they move from school to university offers a valuable lens into how students negotiate the complex and multiple demands of moving between educational and disciplinary contexts. This paper will explore what insights an analysis of instantiations of students’ discourses of writing (Ivanič, 2004) can offer to develop a rich picture of how students experience their writing “in transition”. The data presented is taken from an ethnographic-style project that followed a group of British students from A-levels (HSC equivalent) to their second year of university study. Ivanič’s framework of discourses of writing offers a useful analytic tool, allowing analysis of the sets of beliefs and assumptions that students draw on when engaging in and talking about writing and can be applied to different kinds of data collected around students’ writing. Discourses of writing also provide an organising frame for exploring how students’ understandings of writing change as they move between educational and disciplinary contexts. This analysis shows that the ways students’ understand their writing are not only influenced by various discourses, which can change as students move between school and university, but understandings are individual, situated and context-dependent. The role of emotions, students’ “face work” (Goffman, 1967) and the dominant force of assessment emerge as significant areas for further development.

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