Student creative writing in rural contexts: Exploring place, disadvantage and English

Year: 2017

Author: Dove, Jennifer

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Student creative writing in rural contexts: Exploring place, disadvantage and English
It is a hopeful thought that the increased number of zeroes for the NAPLAN writing task (Smith 2015; McDougall 2014) are the result of students rejecting mass literacy testing processes, and that those zeroes may represent a railing against bureaucracy and the ideal of 'monolithic citizenry' (Doecke & McClenaghan 2014). As I write I can hear Sunday afternoon motorbikes and buggies in the dirt spaces of town, jumping mullock heaps. The sun is setting while they, like me, hold on to the freedom of the weekend. What is any of this to them?

The impact of politics and educational policies on students from this rural context can be examined from many angles. My research explores three considerations in rural education: place pedagogies, creative writing for English, and the context of communities considered 'disadvantaged' by traditional measures through a project linking two schools: a remote school and a suburban Sydney school. The deficit perceptions of student cohorts involved are of those differently marginalised but nevertheless 'at risk'. Two considerations for my study are the inequities experienced by rural students and teachers, and the importance of story and place to students from communities perceived as disadvantaged. The focus on story and place highlights the positives to be found in rural communities and challenges deficit views of the rural landscape (Wallace & Boylan 2009) and of students from low SES backgrounds (Reid, Green, Cooper, Hastings, Lock & White 2010; Guenther, Bat & Osborne 2013; McInerney & Smyth 2014). While stories of experience and place are valuable in the pursuit for "understanding of ourselves and our world" (NSW Board of Studies 2012 p. 13), opportunities for young people to tell these stories are limited.

McInerney and Smyth describe the importance of "incorporating young people's narratives of socio-economic disadvantage and the educational opportunities and constraints in contexts of place-based interventions" (2014 p. 240). Gutierrez provides a methodological focus through the possibilities of "the design of a particular social environment of development, a collective Third Space, in which students begin to reconceive who they are and what they might be able to accomplish academically and beyond" (2008 p. 148). The student writing samples and interviews collected for this study provide broad insights into rural students' attitudes to school, writing and English. Student writing samples reveal an intangible Third Space in the space of their creative writing attempts.