Teaching Writing in Culturally Diverse Classrooms
Arnetha F. Ball
In 1987, Freedman and Dyson published a report, Research in Writing: Past, Present, and Future, in which they noted that "the past twenty years have brought about dramatic changes in writing research—in the questions asked, the approaches used to answer those questions, and the kinds of implications drawn for teaching and learning" (p. 1). They elaborated on how much of the research in the 1970s was concerned with written product, replaced with writing process during the late 1970s, then shifted to a focus on context in the 1980s. Researchers were beginning to show how uses of writing differed on academic and nonacademic tasks. They were also beginning to focus more on how language and writing differs among subcultures. As schools and communities in the United States were becoming more culturally diverse, researchers were focusing more attention on the ways in which culture manifests itself within classrooms and in the cultural lives of students from diverse backgrounds. In their 1987 report, Freedman and Dyson challenged their readers to envision future research that would go beyond the current insights of any given research paradigm or instructional system and to attend to the connections between the powerful forces of cognition, context, and language. They proposed that such work would call for a broad research agenda informed by a cross-disciplinary approach to the study of writing.
That same year, Delpit (1987) published an article entitled "Skills and Other Dilemmas of a Progressive Black Educator." In this article, Delpit discussed writing programs that focused on fluency and proposed that they did not meet the needs of poor and minority students. She challenged her readers to consider the notion that if we are to effect needed changes that will allow minorities to progress, writing programs for them must insist on skills development within the context of critical and creative thinking. Today, almost 20 years after the publication of these two documents, teaching writing to culturally diverse, poor, and marginalized students is still a point of great concern, because many of these students continue to fare poorly on every measure of writing proficiency and academic achievement. A review of the research on teaching writing in culturally diverse classrooms since 1987 reveals that we are still seeking cross-disciplinary approaches to the study of writing that will inform a broad research agenda to assist us in effectively teaching students from culturally diverse backgrounds in critical and creative ways.
The report of the National Assessment of Educational Progress National Center for Educational Statistics (NAEP, 1998, 2003) on writing in urban schools indicates that far too many students who attend schools in poor and underresourced communities still have not yet mastered the writing