Resources Preservice Teachers Use to Think about Student Writing

By Zuidema, Leah A.; Fredricksen, James E. | Research in the Teaching of English, August 2016 | Go to article overview

Resources Preservice Teachers Use to Think about Student Writing


Zuidema, Leah A., Fredricksen, James E., Research in the Teaching of English


Writing teacher educators often notice puzzling disconnects between what we teach preservice teachers and what happens when they plan lessons, coach students, and respond to writing. We wonder: "We constantly emphasized rhetoric. Why is he tallying comma errors?" And ponder: "We immersed them in writing workshop. Why are her students writing only for homework?" And lament: "Why assign a five-paragraph theme?"

When we designed this teacher research project, we were curious: Where do beginning teachers get their ideas about writing and writing instruction? In this article, we identify five resource categories-fifteen individual resources-that preservice teachers (PSTs) drew on as they considered student writing. Identifying these resources helps us better understand how beginning writing teachers think, and better understand some of the mismatches between what we teach and what they do. In turn, this understanding can inform our efforts to shape effective programs, course work, practicums, and induction support for beginning teachers. We discuss the resources by category, while also considering questions and surprises that arose during the project. Analyzing which resources our PSTs drew upon- and how they employed them-raised questions about our own curriculum and instruction, prompting us to reconsider how writing teachers are taught.

Resources in Writing Teacher Preparation and Practice

Our research builds on literature that considers how writing teachers are prepared, how they use what they learn, and which resources they draw upon.

What Writing Teachers "Get Taught"

We know of no U.S. or international studies about what (and how) writing teachers "get taught" (in the spirit, for example, of Smagorinsky & Whiting, 1995). Hochstetler (2009) found that in California, writing pedagogies were typically taught in comprehensive undergraduate English methods courses encompassing writing, reading, linguistics, ESL, and grammar. In Ohio, Tulley (2013) found that many programs offered a course to prepare secondary writing teachers; topics included writing process, theories, teacher comments, ESL, reading-writing relationships, and grammar. As Hochstetler (2007) observed, diverse regional policies and trends cause significant variation.

In their review of the 1990-2010 research on U.S. K-12 writing teacher preparation, Morgan and Pytash (2014) found "only 31 published studies focused on preparing PSTs to teach writing" (p. 30), including 5 on methods courses designed to help develop PSTs' writing identities and abilities. A sampling of publications beyond those reviewed by Morgan and Pytash indicates that writing teachers may also be taught to read for writing (Bishop, 1995); to understand writer's workshop, scaffolded instruction, and writing processes (Whitney et al., 2008); to assess writing (Dempsey, PytlikZillig, & Bruning, 2009); to evaluate language ideologies (Orzulak, 2013); to wield their authority as writers (Whitney, Zuidema, & Fredricksen, 2013); and to consider how digital literacies and social media transform writing (Grabill & Hicks, 2005). The National Council of Teachers of English's (2006) guidelines for teacher preparation emphasize that teachers should understand writing as inquiry and as a rhetorical, recursive, and reflective act.

While this list may appear representative, diverse theoretical paradigms within English education and composition mean that seemingly ubiquitous practices (such as "teaching grammar") emerge quite differently across contexts or situations, depending on the theoretical underpinnings. Thus, PSTs must be equipped-ideally within "conceptually unified" programs-to navigate critically the sometimes competing, sometimes complementary theories and practices they will encounter (Bickmore, Smagorinsky, & O'Donnell-Allen, 2005). This critical approach, at work in our own programs, troubles the idea that teachers passively "get taught"; it instead uses constructivist methods and negotiation of meaning within communities of practice (Wenger, 1998) to help PSTs build coherent frameworks for learning, teaching, and writing. …

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