Introduction to "Writer Identity and the Teaching and Learning of Writing"

Cremin, Teresa and Locke, Terry (2016). Introduction to "Writer Identity and the Teaching and Learning of Writing". In: Cremin, Teresa and Locke, Terry eds. Writer Identity and the Teaching and Learning of Writing. London and New York: Routledge, xvii-xxxi.



In the light of increasing international interest in teachers’ and students’ literate identities and practices, this book addresses the under-researched area of teachers’ and students’ writer identities and in so doing seeks to advance the field. The volume is premised upon two key assertions, namely that writer identity matters and needs recognition and development in educational contexts, and that young people’s writer identities are influenced by the ways in which their teachers identify as writers. It brings together new empirical studies and scholarly reviews on writer identity and the teaching and learning of writing from researchers working in Australia, Canada, Denmark, New Zealand, the UK and the USA. The volume explores what it means to identify as a writer, the issues which surround the concept of ‘being a writer’, and the consequences which arise when teachers and students do or do not identify as writers. Several contributors also conceive of and examine writing as a significant form of identity work.

It is only relatively recently that an identity lens has been employed by school-focused writing researchers such that teachers’ and students’ writer identity enactments have been studied in classrooms or professional learning contexts (e.g. McKinney and Giorgis, 2009; Locke et al, 2011; Cremin and Baker, 2010; 2014; Ryan, 2014). Teachers in many countries are expected to model writing and demonstrate their proficiency as writers, even though modelling certain techniques and strategies is a far cry from modelling being a writer in the classroom. Enacting the dual roles of teacher and writer is potentially problematic in school if, as research indicates, practitioners lack self-assurance and positive writing identities (e.g. Luce Kapler et al., 2001; Gannon and Davies, 2007; Cremin and Oliver, 2016). It is equally problematic if teachers are unsure about what it might mean to model a writer identity.

Such issues are compounded by the fact that historically in the high-school context many teachers report being drawn to teach English by a love of reading not writing, and whilst many associate reading with pleasure and satisfaction, few view writing in the same way (Peel, 2000; Gannon and Davies, 2007). In their Australian study, Gannon and Davies (2007) found that a love of literature or an inspirational English teacher prompted most of the respondents to teach the subject, not an interest in writing. Canadian research in the elementary phase also reveals that reading, not writing, forms the backbone of teachers’ literacy experiences and that this impacts upon their classroom practice where reading is profiled over composition (Yeo, 2007). In addition there has been a growing call for teachers of all disciplinary areas to view themselves as teachers of writing (Shanahan and Shanahan, 2008, Grimberg and Hand, 2009). However, there is widespread recognition that such teachers are reluctant to assume the mantle of either teacher of writing or disciplinary writer (Carney and Indrisano, 2013; Locke and Johnston, 2016). Alongside this it is argued that performativity discourses have distorted professional understanding of the nature and purpose of composition (Cremin & Myhill, 2012; Locke, 2013).

A recent systematic review of research into teachers as writers (from 1990-2015) underscores these difficulties. It suggests there are multiple difficulties and tensions including practitioners’ low self-assurance as writers, adverse writing histories, and limited conceptions of writing and being a writer, such that there is a genuine challenge in composing and enacting the positions of teacher and writer in the classroom (Cremin and Oliver, 2016).

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