Improving classroom writing by enhancing reflexive decisions and practice

Year: 2019

Author: Ryan, Mary, Barton, Georgina, Kervin, Lisa, Myhill, Debra, Khosronejad, Maryam

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The teaching of writing has received scant attention in education policy, and improvements in writing skills has remained an ongoing challenge across the critical primary school years. Addressing the urgent problem of writing achievement is a national and international necessity considering its importance in this historical, technical and economic moment where the ability to write is crucial for school and life success. Poor writing achievement correlates to low student achievement across school subjects, decreased rates of university entrance and decreased earning capacity (Graham Harris & Hebert, 2011). While we know that writing success depends on making effective choices (Myhill, Jones & Wilson, 2016; Fisher, 2012), we know surprisingly little abouthow individuals make these decisions from the huge network of interrelated choices. This presentation provides an introduction to the ARC research project that aims to enhance students' effective decision-making in writing to improve their achievement across all school subjects in Australian schools.

We draw on Margaret Archer’s (2012) approach to reflexivity as a conceptual tool to guide our investigation of reflexive decision making in diverse writing contexts. Archer argues that personal, cultural and structural conditions are always emerging in relation to each other and can be experienced as enabling and/or constraining as we make decisions and take action in any context. The extension of Archer’s sociological work to writing practice and pedagogy provides a new and innovative framework for understandingthe ways in which individuals manage choices and make decisions in different writing contexts. Phase One data collection included a student writing survey, writing samples and case studies of 12 Primary classrooms in NSW and Qld to investigate the current conditions of teaching writing.

We report on the initial findings of the study to illustrate examples of personal and contextual conditions that shape teachers’ writing pedagogies within specific learning environments across selected Australian schools. In addition, we look at personal and contextual conditions that shape students’ writing practices with student participants in years 3 to 6. The next phase of the project will use these findings to collaboratively plan, with teachers, classroom innovations to improve writing development and pedagogy in context. The research project should provide significant benefit for teachers, enabling them to optimize classroom conditions and apply new writing pedagogies that move beyond dependence building strategies.