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Students' Perceived and Actual Use of Strategies for Reading and Writing


This dissertation examines students' perceived and actual use of strategies for reading and writing, through both qualitative and quantitative lenses. It compares and investigates what students say they do and what they actually do when they read and write about what they have read. A single quantitative tool, a survey about reading and writing strategy use, was administered to 75 students in grade 9 English classes. A range of qualitative tools and analyses were employed with four focal students: (a) reader and writer identity interviews, and (b) a series of reading-writing tasks for each of three different genres--the literary narrative, persuasive article, and history text. In each genre, the reading-writing task set consisted of a reading think aloud protocol on one text, writing in response to the text and a prompt, and participating in a writing retrospective interview. The study draws upon cognitive and socio-cultural perspectives, applying genre theory to the literature on strategies for reading, writing, and reading-to-write in order to frame the ways in which context, identity, and audience affect how students think about and use strategies for reading and writing.

Reading and writing in different genres entail affordances and constraints that affect students' perceptions and enactments of strategies. Furthermore, students' identities, including their background experiences and motivations, affect their decisions to prioritize some strategies over others. Students think differently about strategies for the two interrelated processes: reading and writing about reading. Students perceive that writing about a text is a more strategic process than reading alone; but this perception does not necessarily translate into a greater sense of student ownership and authority over their writing. The public nature of writing in comparison to the more private nature of reading leads students to prioritize strategies for addressing an audience over strategies that demonstrate their understanding of content when they write about what they read.

Students perceived that the most useful strategies for reading were ones that related either to invoking or to building background knowledge. The genre of the text also influenced the strategies that the focal students claimed to enact. Students related that strategy use acted as a motivating factor by making texts more interesting and accessible. They described how the genre, context, and purpose for reading, affected which strategy they opted to adopt in order to best fit the reading situation.

Students' enactments of reading strategies were full of complexity, and single strategies were hardly ever used in isolation. Strategies intersected and overlapped as students employed them together during the process of reading and making inferences, which aided in the construction of their situation models (Kintsch, 1998). At times, certain strategies played a more central role than others. Although the focal students tended to use many of the same stock strategies such as visualizing, rereading to clarify one's comprehension or understand new vocabulary, paraphrasing, summarizing, and questioning, how, why, and in what manner they used the strategies was highly specific and tended to be almost idiosyncratic to the individual's background as a reader and his or her purposes and aims for reading. Genre especially influenced the strategies that students actually used. The focal students' knowledge and impressions about how to read a genre impacted which strategies were privileged and how they were used. Although students used similar strategies across genres, how these strategies were used differed based on the utility of the strategy in each genre. Students' knowledge about how to read and approach a genre helped them choose the best strategies for aiding their comprehension.

Comparing students' perceptions about reading to their perceptions about writing about what they have read, students reported that they were likely to use more strategies for writing about reading than for reading alone. As students described themselves as writers, they revealed that their perceptions about audience and genre requirements influenced the strategies they used when they wrote. Students' interpretations of the purpose for writing and their ideas about what a piece of writing in a specific genre should look like influenced the strategies that they thought were most useful in that genre.

The findings regarding students' actual use of strategies for writing about reading indicated that the disciplinary subject matter and genre of each of the readings impacted how students responded to the texts and prompts. Students' actual use of strategies revealed their overarching concerns about audience, genre, and what it means to write in school. These concerns echoed the findings related to students' perceptions about writing. Furthermore, how students approached writing their responses to each of the texts they read for the study (i.e. the literary narrative, persuasive article, and history text) depended on their identities, which influenced students' interest and motivation for writing about what personally mattered. Regardless of genre, what tended to stand out for students during reading somehow made its way into students' written responses.

Students' perceptions and enactments of strategies differ across genres, purposes, and contexts. Implications from this study suggest that strategies for reading and writing need to be taught and learned in relation to disciplinary and genre-specific ways of thinking.

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