Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

The Spatialized Practices of Teaching Writing in Australian Elementary Schools: Diverse Students Shaping Discoursal Selves

Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

The Spatialized Practices of Teaching Writing in Australian Elementary Schools: Diverse Students Shaping Discoursal Selves

Article excerpt

Currently in many countries around the world, the teaching of writing is beset by converging and at times contradictory spaces for enacting pedagogical priorities. These spaces can include daily practices, locations, infrastructure, relationships, and representations of power and ideology. In Australia, the increased focus on standardization within the new national curriculum,1 along with the regulatory and contracted spaces of testing regimes, sits uneasily beside the protracted and individualized processes that teachers have traditionally maintained for quality writing outcomes. Understanding the ways in which teachers mediate these "real- and-imagined" spaces (Soja, 1996) around writing is crucial to make sense of the kinds of writing practices that ensue in specific classrooms (Ryan & Kettle, 2012) and their effects on student writing. This paper explores the writing practices in two linguistically diverse-but quite socioeconomically different-Australian elementary schools, taking into account the spaces in which these practices are produced. Linguistic diversity in Australia tends to be defined outside of specific school spaces and in relation to the proportion of students who have language backgrounds other than Australian English, including Aboriginal languages and dialects. Linguistic diversity, thus, is defined at the national level, but it is enacted quite differently within individual school contexts where it intersects with so- cioeconomic status and other identity markers. The paper argues that localized assessment programs that prioritize identity building and making visible the relationship between writer, context, and product are crucial to reliably assess- ing writing development of linguistically diverse students. First, it provides an overview of research about and approaches to the teaching of writing within the context of high-stakes testing. Next, it uses the spatial theories of Lefebvre (1991) and Foucault (1977, 1980) to explain how "conceived" or normative ideological spaces of education and schooling influence, and are influenced by, "perceived" spaces of everyday practices in the teaching of writing at two case schools. It specifically identifies the writing priorities at each school, and the technical and aesthetic capacities demonstrated by the schools' students in writing. Finally, the paper identifies evidence of a "thirdspace" (Soja, 1996) for teachers to question, challenge, and transform pedagogical practices for teaching writing.

Influences on Teaching Writing

This section includes discussion about three main influences on the teaching of writing. First, it reviews different approaches to writing and the assumptions and practices inherent within each approach. Second, it elaborates the construct of writing evident in high-stakes, standardized testing instruments, and the effects of these on practice. Finally, it explains the development of the "discoursal self " (Ivanic?, 1998) in writing, and how this is crucial to gain nuanced insights into the writing development of linguistically diverse writers (Hyland, 2003).

Discourses of Writing and High-Stakes Testing

Ivanic? (2004) offers a useful summary of the discourses of writing that engender particular beliefs about language, writing, and learning to write, and teaching ap- proaches that tend to be utilized within each discourse. She identifies six discourses from a range of data such as policy documents, teaching and learning materials, teacher and student interviews, and media coverage. These discourses include: (1) a skills discourse, (2) a creativity discourse, (3) a process discourse, (4) a genre discourse, (5) a social practices discourse, and (6) a sociopolitical discourse. A skills discourse focuses on sound-symbol relationships and syntactic structures to construct text; a creativity discourse is learner-centered and prioritizes writing about topics of interest; a process discourse foregrounds the teaching of mental and practical processes of constructing a text; a genre discourse acknowledges that the social context and purpose of the writing shapes it as a particular text type; a social practices discourse sees writing as a purpose-driven communication in a social context; and a sociopolitical discourse is interested in the ways that language represents people and things and is related to identity building. …

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