Academic journal article Journal of Correctional Education

The Writing Dispositions of Youth in a Juvenile Detention Center

Academic journal article Journal of Correctional Education

The Writing Dispositions of Youth in a Juvenile Detention Center

Article excerpt

Abstract

Students' cognitive ability, the learning environment, and the relevance of the writing assignment influence their writing abilities and engagement in writing instruction. Currently there is a limited amount of knowledge about youths' dispositions to and experiences with writing instruction in juvenile detention centers. The purpose of this study was to address these questions by examining the dispositions towards writing of 12 youth who were in a juvenile detention facility. Two research questions guided this study: (1) What are the writing dispositions of youth in a juvenile detention facility? and (2) Do youth report changes to disposition scale items after participating in a writing workshop, and if so, why? The results suggest that engaging youth in detention centers in writing workshops might improve their dispositions toward writing and their perceptions of themselves as writers.

Writing is a complex and difficult endeavor. Writing requires cognitive abilities, for example, knowledge of content, conceptual knowledge of the writing process, and knowledge of strategies to assist writers during the process (Flower a Hayes, 1980). Writing outcomes are also influenced by the social context or learning environment and the relevance of the writing task (Hayes, 2000, 2006; McClenny, 2010; Nystrand a Duffy, 2003; Piazza a Siebert, 2008). Theoretically, the idea that the cognitive and social factors would interact and determine how one might demonstrate knowledge stems from social learning theory (Bandura, 1986). This perspective indicates that the interplay between these cognitive processes and that the environmental factors can lead students to a "way of behaving, feeling, valuing, or acting toward writing" (Piazza a Siebert, 2008, p. 275). These constructs can be defined as one's writing disposition. Piazza and Siebert (2008) define dispositions as "a broad construct within the affective domain in which writers bring to their writing such resources as self-discipline, perseverance in the face of difficulties, tolerance of ambiguity, autonomy, willingness to take risks, motivation, self-efficacy, and interest" (p. 275).

Understanding students' dispositions and beliefs about themselves as writers is critical work. In a study of 181 ninth-grade students, Pajares and Johnson (1996) found connections between students' writing apprehension, self-efficacy, and their actual writing abilities, other research has found that writers have "strong impressions" of their former writing experiences (Burning, Dempsey, Kauffman, McKim, & Zumbrunn, 2013, p. 3). For example, outcomes of writing, such as grades or feedback from others, can influence students' beliefs about their writing abilities. The successes or failures can become "self-evaluative judgments," which may influence how they approach or avoid writing tasks (Burning et al., 2013, p. 4). These self-evaluative judgments become part of students' writing identities and of how they view themselves as writers (Burning et al., 2013).

Understanding students' identities as learners is critical as Flail (2012) found students' literacy identities influence how they engage in literacy tasks. If students perceive themselves as able, they are more likely to be fully engaged in the academic task. Students' dispositions toward writing, therefore, might be one influence in how they engage in writing instruction. Knowing the dispositions toward writing of students in detention centers might provide insight into how to motivate them and best engage them in writing instruction. Equally important is understanding how participation in writing instruction might influence students' dispositions toward writing. Researchers and educators can begin targeting particular interventions or instructional approaches that help youth develop positive dispositions toward writing.

Currently there is a limited amount of knowledge about youths' dispositions to and experiences with writing instruction in juvenile detention centers. …

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