A reflexive approach to teaching writing: Enablements and constraints in primary school classrooms

Year: 2021

Author: Ryan, Mary, Barton, Georgina

Type of paper: Individual Paper

Writing requires a high level of nuanced decision-making related to language, purpose, audience and medium. Writing teachers thus need a deep understanding of language, process, pedagogy, and of the interface between them. This presentation draws on reflexivity theory to interrogate the pedagogical priorities and perspectives of 19 writing teachers in primary classrooms across Australia. Data are comprised of teacher interview transcripts and nuanced time analyses of classroom observation videos. The analytical approach taken in this project was guided by Archer’s (2012) theoretical constructs of reflexivity. Archer suggests three distinct, yet related, emergent properties that contribute to our being human in the world. The emergent properties are personal, structural and cultural. Personal emergent properties (PEPs) relate to personal identity. Structural emergent properties (SEPs) are orders of society and context. Cultural emergent properties (CEPs) are the prevailing beliefs, norms, ideologies and expectations of a societal group. These emergent properties guided a deductive analysis of teacher interview transcripts using the qualitative software package NVivo. The video analyses were guided by a frequently cited SEP by teachers: the concept of time. Video data of classroom observations were analysed using the ELAN software (Lausberg & Sloetjes, 2009)which can be used to identify occurrences and length of teacher talk, student talk, silence, and writing time.Findings show that teachers experience both enabling and constraining conditions that emerge in different ways in different contexts. Enablements include high motivations to teach writing and a reflective and collaborative approach to practice. However, constraints were evident in areas of time management, dominance of teacher talk, teachers’ scope and confidence in their knowledge and practice, and a perceived lack of professional support for writing pedagogy. We illustrate these influences on teachers’ decision-making in writing pedagogy and show the types of talk that are evident from teachers and students across the primary classrooms. This research illustrates examples of personal and contextual conditions that shape teachers’ and learners’ decision making in writing. We discuss implications for writing education, enabling teachers to optimize their classroom conditions and argue for the critical importance of dialogic teaching. The dialogic pedagogy fosters metalinguistic thinking and decision-making about writing to empower, and democratise the writing process (Myhill & Newman, 2019) as learners navigate selves within the structural and cultural conditions of different communities.