The writing practices and writer identities of adult learners participating in a community-based adult education program
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In light of current concerns around the writing skills of adults in postsecondary and workforce settings, this study examined the writing practices and writer identities of adult learners participating in a community-based adult education program. Because writing is often treated as a literacy skill secondary to reading (Brandt, 2001), little research is available to speak to how adult learners develop practices as writers. Even less speaks to the writer identities adults bring to acts of writing and how or if those identities are changed as a result of writing. Given the complex nature of writing and complicating factors often present in adult education settings, it is important to better understand adult learners as writers and to identify ways educators can best support them. This case study followed three adult learners as they worked with instructors to improve writing skills—two in preparation for the 2014 General Educational Development (GED®) exam, the third for better proficiency with English. Data gathered through observations, interviews, writing samples, and writing curriculum indicated that while the instructors viewed writing and writing instruction as relatively easy processes, the adult learners struggled to make sense of writing and were uncertain of how to express their frustrations and concerns. Data also indicated that both the instructors and adult learners devoted a great amount of time and talk to referencing rules, formulas, and guidelines throughout each writing activity. The frequent references undermined the instructors’ explanations of writing as an uncomplicated activity and created moments of tension in which the adult learners and instructors wrestled with the complexities of writing. These moments became examples of breakdowns in the banking concept (Freire, 2000) and of disconnects in which adult learners questioned their abilities and identities as writers. Study results showed writing to be a complex social act in which adult learners and instructors managed relationships, shared histories, navigated rules, and negotiated authority. For institutions that hope to see more and better adult writers, first steps lie in supporting educators who understand the complex nature of writing and who invite classroom conversations, acknowledge others’ experiences, and share their own histories with writing.