Struggling to Write: Identity and Agency in a Pre-University English for Academic Purposes Program
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
This small-scale ethnographic research study investigated student perceptions of social identity and agency and the usefulness of the construct of the Community of Practice for struggling writers in the context of a pre-university EAP program. The appropriateness of socio-cultural theories in language teaching and learning today stems from social constructivist and social interactionist theories of the role of language in the discursive construction of society, knowledge and power. This study problematised these constructs in the development of writing for learners in a pre-university Higher Education context. Comparing data from focal students who were struggling with writing and from students who were more successful, the biographies of struggling students and their awareness of their futures, or imagined selves and communities, revealed not only learning histories in which they had radically different identities as learners and writers, but also a lack of clarity about their learning trajectory in the writing program. There was no apparent lack of investment in learning among the focal students, who identified themselves as weak writers, although there was frustration and anger at their predicament. The data suggest that they did not identify with the learning community at the start of the project, probably because they resisted belonging to a community which labeled them as failures. During the study a variety of means were used to elicit participants’ perceptions of their status as novice writers and to support their learning trajectory on an individual basis by elucidating the reasons for and requirements of academic writing. By the end of the study the focal students had developed more awareness of the subject positions the writing trajectory afforded them and had chosen ways in which to continue along their learning path. The Community of Practice appears to have potential as a means of supporting the roles of EAP students and teachers as members of the academic community of practice.