The Activity of "Writing for Learning" in a Nursing Program - Trajectories of Meaning Making

By Wittek, Line | Outlines : Critical Practice Studies, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

The Activity of "Writing for Learning" in a Nursing Program - Trajectories of Meaning Making


Wittek, Line, Outlines : Critical Practice Studies


Abstract

A whole range of resources are introduced to students in higher education. These are picked up and developed by them individually and in collaboration with other actors. This text investigates these complex and multifaceted processes, and focuses in particular on possible functions of "writing for learning" in these processes. The questions at stake are: How can the relationship between writing and meaning making in an educational context be conceptualized from a dialogical perspective and what methodological entrances can be used for the purpose of investigating it? A dialogical perspective frames the text theoretically. Processes of writing in educational programs involve transformation and re-contextualisation of resources or tools. A range of signs, symbols and words are brought into play both at a collective and an individual level in and through student writing. I will suggest ways of conceptualizing the practices that students engage in to produce texts as well as ways in which writing practices gain their meanings and function as dynamic elements of specific cultural settings. I argue that these analytical entrances can contribute to bringing about important nuances to research on writing. Empirically, the article reports on a study investigating how portfolio writing worked as a tool for learning in a nursing program. Two student groups were followed during one academic year. The empirical study identified how activities of writing sat a whole range of different tools like theories, concepts, cultural, as well as professional norms and guidelines into play. The data set consists of audiotaped observations, field notes, submitted portfolios and other relevant documents. A total of 44 episodes relevant for the research question were selected for analysis, and the following categories where applied; themes discussed, tools set into play and patterns of interactions. The article concludes that writing can form a most important tool in student trajectories of meaning making. However, to make it work for academic and professional purposes, there is a need for students to gain in-depth knowledge of how to deal with the acquired genre and the conventional characteristics of their field.

Introduction

Students write at all levels of Higher Education. During the last decades traditional genres such as the master's or PhD thesis have been supplemented by additional genres such as portfolio assignments, project reports and course work. New forms of student writing are often accompanied by the claim that "writing enhances learning". Fulwiller claims that writing represents a unique form of learning (1991, p. 128). Writing makes us manipulate our own thinking and renders us conscious about it. This, he argues, happens because we make our own thinking visible and concrete, so that we can interact with our own ideas. Such insights have been confirmed in a range of later studies (e.g. Dysthe, 2002; Lerner, 2007) that suggest that writing enhances processes of learning. Research in this field has shifted its focus from strictly cognitive accounts of learning to social influences on cognitive activity (Smagorinsky, 1994), and this text falls within the latter line of work. More specifically, I draw on a dialogical perspective (Bakhtin 1981, Linell 1998). From this point of view, written texts are not inert objects, complete in themselves as bearers of abstract meanings. They are "emergent, multiform, negotiated in the process, meaningful in the uptake, accomplishing social acts" (Bazerman & Prior, 2004, p. 1). Thus, processes of writing are constituted in interaction. Writing is a tool for learning which is unique to each educational situation.

The research questions addressed in this paper are: How can the relationship between writing and meaning making in an educational context be conceptualized from a dialogical perspective and what methodological entrances can be used for the aim of investigating it? …

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