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Review of  Writing in Context(s)


Reviewer: Vera Sheridan
Book Title: Writing in Context(s)
Book Author: Triantafillia Kostouli
Publisher: Springer Nature
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 17.1237

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EDITOR: Kostouli, Trantafillia
TITLE: Writing in Context(s)
SUBTITLE: Textual practices and learning processes in sociocultural
settings
SERIES: Studies in writing 15
PUBLISHER: Springer
YEAR: 2005

Vera Sheridan, School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies,
Dublin City University

CONTENTS

This edited volume contains ten papers which present research
carried out across Europe and the Americas in a variety of educational
settings and research approaches, and held together by the common
theme of writing as sociocultural practice. It is the sixteenth of an
international book series focusing on studies in writing aimed at
researchers and practitioners working in the broad field of education.
The series draws on theoretical issues which are examined in both
quantitative and qualitative frameworks, across a range of nationalities
and educational settings so that this volume is highly representative of
the aims of this series. Readers would have a wide range of scholarly
interests in writing, covering diverse perspectives such as cognitive,
socio-cognitive and developmental psychology as well as
psycholinguistics, text linguistics and curriculum development. As
researchers are often practitioners, this overview will group the
research papers according to three academic settings, namely writing
at university or college, high school and, finally, primary school
contexts.

University Contexts
Three papers relate to this area: Adler-Kassner & Estrem, McAllister,
Ferenz.

Adler-Kassner & Estrem question whether there is any difference in
the process of academic writing in a first year course in an American
university, Eastern Michigan University, with writing that occurs in non-
academic contexts. They raise this question as it then poses a
teaching question of how to make research activity and academic
writing meaningful and relevant, so that it engages such students.
Significantly, they stress that academic discourse is not the
homogenous entity that academics often perceive it to be and that
students have to engage with a range of discourses in academic
writing with which they need to engage critically in order to produce a
variety of genres. They consider the act of writing to be both a public
and political act and that writing is situated in a particular local
context. They provide an outline of the writing course at Eastern
Michigan University where students carry out ethnographic field
research where observations generate research questions which are
grounded in local social and cultural practices and where writing
reaches multiple audiences via the occasion of a public forum, the
Celebration of Student Writing. Though this is the final paper in the
collection, it provides an accessible introduction to the type of
questions that a sociocultural perspective generates in contrast to
prior cognitive approaches to writing.

McAllister provides a social constructivist framework in a qualitative
paper which examines small-group approaches rooted in to academic
writing by measuring the way group conditions shape the writing
process. Research findings suggest that writing collaboratively,
particularly in permanent groups, is more beneficial than writing in
isolation. These findings also reposition the teacher as a facilitator in
a classroom community where students engage in discourse about
writing rather than writing silently in a more traditional classroom
setting.

The final university-level paper by Ferenz, which is also qualitative,
focuses on postgraduate Masters and Doctoral students who are
writing in English as their second language and the language choices
they make during the planning process. Ferenz [2005] examines how
academic social networks aid students in their acculturation towards
membership of a particular academic discourse community and how a
non-native speaker's academic social network acts as a significant
language source in text production.

Secondary or High School Contexts
Three papers relate to this context: Donahue, Folman & Connor,
Myhill.

Donahue's chapter stems from a larger study of 250 texts collected
over 5 years in the USA and France and offers a discourse analysis
perspective on these texts. Donahue takes Bakhtin's view that texts
function in a complex dynamic interaction with other texts and that this
perspective provides a way of reading student text creation which
focus on dynamic negotiation as well as originality. Findings show
that these school texts certainly share what the school community
values in writing and that students also make their own meanings
within them. Discourse analysis provides a systematic description of
the texts and a broader focus on the social and cultural contexts of
school.

The educational contexts of an American and an Israeli High School
create cross-cultural differences in academic writing as Folman &
Connor demonstrate. Their paper examines academic writing in a
quantitative comparison of synthesizing styles. Results showed that
the two cultural groups were at different acculturation stages along
the approximate system of research paper writing and that both
groups had incomplete mastery of the process. Clearly, the process of
acculturation into the writing practices of a particular educational
system takes time and each system's cultural values have a direct
bearing on student writing though in complex ways.

Myhill's discussion of British children's school writing also focuses on
this process of acculturation and Myhill notes the emphasis on what
children 'can't do' rather than on what they 'don't know' in terms of
prior knowledge. She argues that prior knowledge has a direct
bearing on how a child approaches text construction and that
pedagogical practices do not consider what prior knowledge a child
does or does not have. The general approach to writing is based on
genre knowledge, namely that knowledge of a genre is empowering,
particularly for minority children. However, Myhill considers that the
emphasis on genre can make writing a reproduction of what is valued
in the classroom. This contrasts with an emphasis on how children
can learn to negotiate their prior knowledge with what is presented to
them in the classroom and so understand how to communicate their
own meanings.

Primary School Contexts
Four papers relate to this area: Spinollo & Pratt, Ongstad, Allal et al.

Spinollo & Pratt draw out distinctions in children's informal experiences
of texts in two different contexts in Brazil, namely a middle-class
environment in contrast to street children. Their most valuable finding
is that street children had greater contact with newspaper articles
whose headlines they 'read' through literate teenagers they interacted
with as well as watching television through a window or listening to
radio programmes. The street children also liked to be well-informed
as newspapers are a potential source of information about people
they know, as in the example of police shooting a friend's brother; in
effect, the street children associate these newspaper 'stories' with
personal accounts of their own lives. Street children emerge as
having sophisticated knowledge of the text genre of newspaper
articles which middle-class children did not share. Spinollo & Pratt
consider that the production of a text does not provide full evidence of
a child's knowledge of a particular genre and that researchers also
need to consider the richness of the resources that children bring with
them to an educational environment as well as the complexities of the
communicative processes in them.

This perspective provides a link to Ongstad's study of two primary
school pupils in a process approach to the teaching of writing. The
children write in a workshop following activities where the children
worked with a range of materials which they then write about in their
workshop books. Ongstad considers this is to be a rich site for
exploring the texts which children produce and also states that these
texts can only be fully understood by attending to the contextual
layers that the children know and value. These include the
relationship between the peer world of the child, the meanings in this
peer world and the texts produced from the social interactions in this
environment as well as the writing that the school itself wishes to
foster.

Allal et al's longitudinal study examines the relationship between the
processes of social interaction, both teacher-led and peer-to-peer,
and the characteristics of texts produced in the classroom in 3 fifth
grade [10-11 years] classes in the public school system in Geneva.
The research aims to understand the role of social mediation in both
text production and revision. They note that whole class discussion
produces guidelines that could be used for drafting and revision of
work but that students rarely referred to them explicitly. They
conclude that the guidelines appear to serve as a mental aid for
structuring an approach to writing rather than for metacognitive
reflection on the processes involved.

Finally, Kostouli examines participant's engagement in a writing
conference in two Greek primary school classrooms, with a
conference being teacher-student interaction on a one-to-one basis.
One class is mainly middle class and the other working class and
Kostouli examines scaffolded and collaborative learning in how
students take up or reject scaffolding provided by the teacher. In
addition, she examines how both partners are active participants in
the creation of knowledge and finds that the teacher reinforces the
dominant middle class perspective in one class and excludes those
who are not. In contrast, the working class children in the other class
who did respond to the teacher's perspective were frequently
unsuccessful in their response. The teacher altered her demands as
she was aware of this difference. Kostouli adds that class does not
account for everything that occurs in the classroom and looks to
further research such as on gender or why some children dominate a
class.

CRITICAL EVALUATION

As Kostouli's useful introduction notes, there is clearly a shift from
investigating writing as only a cognitive process. Researchers now
examine the writer's situatedness in a web of social relations and
sociocultural factors and how these influence an individual's
acculturation towards membership of a particular discourse
community. From this perspective, this collection is a welcome
addition to ongoing debates regarding writing processes particularly
as each paper provides the academic reader with a useful review of
relevant literature. This edited volume also ranges widely across
differing educational environments so that it provides a broad
perspective to the study of writing in social contexts. It also includes
research on first and second language users who are involved in the
writing process and in this regard Ferenz's paper acts as a key to the
book as a whole. However, as academic readers may focus on the
writing practices of a specific group, the range of this volume may be a
drawback from a more focused research perspective.

There are some excellent additions to the papers in appendices and
the taxonomy for research paper evaluation provided by Folman &
Connor needs to be foregrounded for both theoretical and practical
purposes. There are also examples of student work in Adler-Kassner
& Estrem's paper which illustrate their course and are useful for
anyone engaged in course design or in revising existing classroom
practices. In addition, Spinollo & Pratt's approach to the literacy
experiences of street children in Brazil deserves a wide readership in
terms of their rich findings of the literacy experiences of street
children. Finally, Ongstad's inclusion of the literacy texts and
drawings produced by the children in his case study is useful as it
provides an apt foil to the discussion.

One drawback is that some of the papers are written in a dense style
so that the reader has to work hard in order to arrive at some
noteworthy findings and discussions. Overall, this is a volume which
has much to offer anyone interested in how and why students produce
the texts they do.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER


Vera Sheridan is a lecturer in language and intercultural studies in the
School of Applied Language and Intercultural studies at Dublin City
University. She has worked in Europe, the Middle East and Southern
Africa teaching English across a range of educational settings.
Recent research focused on language, culture and identity among
members of the Vietnamese community in Ireland. Current interests
relate to the intercultural and academic skills of postgaduate students
who have come from abroad to study in an Irish university.


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