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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Moments and Patterns that Matter: Identifying Literate Opportunities and Developmental Trajectories in a Middle School Classroom

  • Author(s): Dippre, Ryan
  • Advisor(s): Bazerman, Charles
  • et al.

Literate activity, like all human activity, is situated in localities: points of time and space wherein individuals engage in literate acts in order to accomplish goals. But these points of time and space are situated in a history of individuals, collectives, tools, and environment, and each element in that point of time and space bring with it layered histories, meanings, and intentions. What is not yet clear from research on literacy, writing development, and classroom activity is how these points of time and space are utilized as resources for writers in new situations, and how the structure of schooling and its changes over time shape those resources. This project explores how the activity of student writing grows and changes at different points of space and time throughout the school year for ten seventh-grade students in two language arts classes in southern California, and, furthermore, how those points of space and time lead to changes in the patterns of writing activity that those students engage in.

Through a theoretical framework that examines writing activity as the individuated, intersubjective (Bazerman, 2013) establishment of structurated (Giddens, 1984) situations (Mehan & Wood, 1975a) that reinforce and perpetuate systems of activity (Engestrom, 2001) in a flat, uneven social world (Latour, 2003), this work examines literacy development as a series of literate acts of increasing complexity and specificity suspended in time and space and connected materially in a variety of ways. These literate acts serve as resources for future writing activity that can be accessed via these material connections as well as the networks of connections established in the minds of users of literacy.

By focusing on ten students in those two classrooms and tracking their writing habits throughout the course of the school year, this study shows the changes in writing that happened to these students over time. These observations of the students, which was supported by video analysis, document collection, and interviews with both students and their teacher, are analyzed through a grounded theory analysis (Saldana, 2009) through eleven different exposures (Prior, 1998) in order to bound student action within literate acts.

When examining writing for multiple purposes in the classroom--such as benchmarks, warm-ups, etc.--specific literate acts were, when analyzed in a multi-exposure manner, shown to have pathways of connections leading outward from them both forward and backward in time. These acts were then analyzed and connected through intertextual connections, genre sets and systems, activity systems, and community values to other kinds of writing that students complete throughout the school year.

This analysis shows that students engage in enduring, situated orchestration shifts (ESOS) in their use of talk, tools, and texts around and for the act of writing, and that these shifts serve as the groundwork upon which writing development builds. Implications for teacher education, the teaching of writing, and the act of writing are proposed based on these findings.

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