"It's a matter of individual taste, I guess": Secondary School English Teachers' and Students' Conceptualisations of Quality in Writing
Lines, Helen Elizabeth
Date: 14 January 2014
University of Exeter
PhD in Education
This thesis presents an investigation into secondary school English teachers’ and students’ conceptualisations of good writing, and how they might use their understandings of quality in writing for the purpose of improving writing. By focusing on the views and classroom practices of twelve-year-old students and their teachers, the ...
This thesis presents an investigation into secondary school English teachers’ and students’ conceptualisations of good writing, and how they might use their understandings of quality in writing for the purpose of improving writing. By focusing on the views and classroom practices of twelve-year-old students and their teachers, the research aims to advance understanding of teachers’ and students’ conceptual thinking about writing quality, and the underlying constructs. The research utilises data from an ESRC-funded project titled Grammar for Writing?: The Impact of Contextualised Grammar Teaching on Pupils’ Writing and Pupils’ Metalinguistic Understanding (grant number RES-062-23-0775). This data was gathered from thirty-one teachers and their Year 8 students over three terms. Lesson observations took place once each term, and were followed by interviews with each project teacher and one teacher-chosen student from each class. Interview questions relating to beliefs about good writing were included in the project schedules and were inductively analysed to discern themes in participants’ responses. Interviews with students took the form of ‘writing conversations’ during which students commented on samples of their own and their peers’ writing. A small-scale follow-up study with three Year 8 classes in one secondary school was used to confirm initial findings and to provide additional data on students’ beliefs about good writing. The research found that teachers’ conceptualisations of writing quality were internally consistent but that variation between teachers was marked. Teachers not only valued different qualities in writing but experienced different degrees of conflict and ambiguity when relating their personal construct of quality to the official, public construct, as embodied in national assessment criteria. The findings support earlier views of teacher judgement as richly textured and complex, drawing on different available indexes, including idiosyncratic conceptualisations of writing quality. Whilst students’ criteria for good writing echoed their teachers’ criteria to some extent, there was also evidence of students drawing on their own conceptualisations of quality, especially in relation to the intended impact of writing on the reader. Many students expressed a strong awareness of writing for an audience and clearly valued writing as a social practice. They especially valued peer judgement of their writing. However, students’ strategies for improving writing were often difficult to articulate, formulaic and generalised, or circumscribed by limited linguistic subject knowledge. The study is significant in offering an insight into teachers’ and students’ conceptualisations of writing quality and how these might be brought into play in the writing classroom. The findings may have particular resonance since they are reported at a time of radical change to assessment policy and practice in secondary schools in England.
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