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"I Feel Confident Most of the Time": A Study of the Relationships Between Writing Transfer, Dispositions Toward Learning and Writing, and Perceptions of Classroom Contexts


As recently as 2012, Elizabeth Wardle called for writing studies researchers to give "attention to the dispositions that students are embodying across fields and consider how the nature of those dispositions can either inhibit or enhance their ability to engage in the expansive learning and repurposing that I understand to constitute `transfer' of writing related knowledge" (p. 11). In responding to this call in the research, this dissertation project applies a dispositional lens to writing transfer as it occurs in specific contexts for learning. While theories concerning the connection between writing transfer and dispositions have been initially explored (Driscoll and Wells, 2012; Wardle, 2012), this connection has not yet been empirically and comprehensively examined. This project attempts such empirical and comprehensive examination of these connections through an analysis of data through a conceptual model which seeks to both capture and examine the relationships between dispositions, writing transfer, and contexts for learning. In order to begin to understand the relationships between transfer, dispositions, and learning contexts, the qualitative and empirical nature of this study presents findings that reveal the conceptual model in action from the actor's--or learner's-- perspective.

This dissertation uncovers the self-perceptions of seven individual learners in relation to writing transfer as they move across the high school to college transition and encounter particular contexts for writing. Findings from this project suggest that the discovery and evaluation of one's prior knowledge includes dispositional elements, including self-efficacy and self-regulation. Meanwhile, dispositions and prior knowledge are also elicited in specific ways within the contexts in which transfer is expected to occur. Interview data revealed how participants applied their dispositions as agents of their own learning as they moved into new post-secondary learning and writing contexts. Furthermore, it revealed how participants' dispositions transferred across the high school to college transition and the specific contexts within them, and how dispositions informed participants' transfer of prior knowledge and/or application of new knowledge. Specifically, the movement (or lack of movement) across the transfer "steps" of detect and elect for participants suggests that the process of transfer involves more than the single act of moving knowledge across contexts. In taking a broader view of transfer through a D-E-C-Enculturation perspective, this study reveals how transfer is highly bound up with dispositions, particularly self-efficacy, and how dispositions interact with a detection of prior knowledge and a decision-making election of whether or not to transfer and/or transform prior knowledge in the new context. Self-efficacy and other dispositions particularly impacted how such decision-making took place for subjects in this study.

Finally, this project views dispositions through a conceptual model of transfer that looks not only at what prior knowledge students connect to new writing tasks and contexts, but also to how they detect and elect to pursue their connections to prior knowledge and how they are enculturated into academic communities. Thus, in pursuing research on the relationship between dispositions and transfer, I have attempted to locate where learning dispositions factor in the student's experiences and perspectives of transfer using Perkins and Salomon's (2012) detect-elect-connect framework for learning transfer, to which I have added the fourth step of enculturation.

As extensive research on dispositions leading up to this project has argued, dispositions are always elicited in particular contexts. But, as this research also shows, dispositions can work broadly as they are carried into and out of contexts by individuals. Contexts also embody particular conditions and dispositions of field to which individual dispositions attune. This concept of individuals' attunement to communities or contexts for learning reveal the shaping and constructing nature of context and how individual dispositions may be enacted in learning or writing transfer. Ultimately, findings from this project suggest that further research on the connections between dispositions, contexts, and a D-E-C-Enculturation view of transfer can help classroom practitioners, learning theorists, and composition researchers more deeply consider the roles that dispositions play in learning and writing transfer.

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