Academic journal article
By Lavelle, Ellen
Journal of College Reading and Learning , Vol. 32, No. 1
Writing has long served both as a tool of instruction and of evaluation in higher education. Indeed, the integrative nature of writing combined with the rigor and complexity of the process make writing an ideal tactic for promoting learning at the college level. Although writing models have provided insights regarding the function of processes such as planning, translating and revising in college writing (Hayes & Flower, 1980), the relationship of the writer's beliefs about writing to those processes, a stylistic perspective, has not been a major consideration. In the area of college learning, learning style models have addressed the role of beliefs about learning as related to strategies along a process continuum: Beliefs [right arrow] Strategies [right arrow] Outcomes, and the same paradigm can be used to more fully explain college writing (Biggs, 1988, Hounsell, 1997, Lavelle, 1993, Lavelle, 1997, Lavelle & Guarino, 2001). Thus, writing styles represent qualitative variations in the ways that writers go about their writing tasks. The basic distinction is between a deep writing style, which involves beliefs about writing as a tool of meaning and a high degree of personal involvement, and surface writing style, which is basically reproductive or repetitive; the goal is just to get done or to please the teacher.
The stylistic perspective originates in composition research aimed at understanding children's writing. In researching the writing processes of second-graders, Graves (1973) found two distinct writing styles; reactive writers who focused at the word level with little reflection or concern for audience, and reflective writers who reread periodically and exhibited a growing sense of self-expression and audience. Similarly, Scardamalia and Bereiter (1982) differentiated between a "knowledge telling" vs. a "knowledge transforming" strategy, and Dyson (1987) found "socializers" focused on words and "symbolizers" focused on meaning. Graves defined the writers; reflective and reactive, and Scardamalia and Bereiter have described the corresponding strategies; "knowledge-transforming" and "knowledge-telling." Just as Dyson's symbolizers see the words as representational rather than as literal, or, rather, they focus on what is `sign'ified (meaning) rather than on the sign (words) (cf. Marton & Booth, 1997), deep writers are going beyond reproduction to meaning because they have a qualitatively different perspective.
In examining college students' conceptions of the essay, Hounsell (1997) identified three main conceptions that hinged on students' beliefs about data, organization and the role of interpretation, which affected students' processes and outcomes. The "essay as argument" conception was cited as the most explicit and sophisticated in that it represented a concern for the essay as an integrated whole with a distinctive perspective supported by evidence. The essay as "viewpoint" conception differed from the argument conception in that the role of data is not explicitly considered as impacting on thesis. Rather, ideas are organized to support a distinctive point of view. From the viewpoint perspective, interrelations between data and a perhaps well-organized format may not be clear. The "arrangement" conception is defined as an ordered presentation of facts and ideas. The process is basically reproductive and superficial. Students' conceptions were related to grade in the course with argumentatives receiving the highest grades followed by viewpoints, and arrangement receiving the lowest.
Silva and Nicholls (1993) linked college writers' goals and beliefs to commitment and perceived ability. In particular, the Poetic dimension included personal meaning and self-expression with the Growth conception related to intellectual development, deep writing. The third scale, Method described students who followed the rules and the Surface orientation described concern for correctness of form--a more superficial or surface approach. …