Transforming writing: Enabling reflexive modalities to improve achievement

Year: 2016

Author: Ryan, Mary

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Writing is a complex and learned activity in that it requires us to shape our thoughts into words and texts that are appropriate for the purpose, audience and medium of communication. Recent research in writing confirms and extends the idea that the writer is an active designer of text, shaping meanings and representing self within the social context (Myhill, Jones, Watson, & Lines, 2013; Ryan, 2014). The writer must constantly make decisions about how to represent their subject matter and themselves through language. Decision-making in writing, however, is not just a matter of individuals deciding what and how to write. These decisions are mediated through personal motivations, interests, skills and priorities, along with expectations and ‘normal’ ways of doing things in the classroom particularly for writing tasks. While writers have agency to weigh up the personal and the structural considerations to make decisions that represent self in different ways at different times, they are also enabled or constrained in these choices by contextual conditions. These contextual conditions include the ways in which their teachers position them as writers. In this paper I use Archer’s (2012) critical realist theory of reflexivity to argue that the teaching of writing must account for the different ways that students manage and make decisions in their writing. Further, I suggest that teachers are highly influential on the ways in which students consider writing as a reflexive pursuit. Data from linguistically and culturally diverse primary students in Australia illustrate how four distinct reflexive modalities (communicative, autonomous, meta, fractured) are evident in students’ approaches to writing. These data are interpreted in relation to the ways in which teachers enable or constrain particular kinds of reflexive modalities in writing. Based on these findings, I offer recommendations for teaching writing that enable a meta-reflexive approach to the identity work that happens in writing. I argue that developing students’ reflexive writing identities is imperative for contemporary times, which require new forms of reflexive teaching identities to manage the complex and highly visible conditions of young people’s writing development. ReferencesArcher, M. (2012). The reflexive imperative in late modernity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Myhill, D., Jones, S., Watson, A., & Lines, H. (2013). Playful explicitness with grammar: A pedagogy for writing. Literacy, 47(2), 103-111. Ryan, M. E. (2014). Reflexive Writers: Rethinking writing development and assessment in schools. Assessing Writing, 22, 60-74.