Writing conferences and relationships : talking, teaching, and learning in high school English classrooms
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This qualitative classroom study follows two high school English teachers, in one class apiece, and their students across a school year in a diversely populated urban high school in the south central United States. Using case study, ethnographic, and microanalytic methods, the research focuses on writing instruction and ways in which talk and relational dimensions inside one-to-one, teacher-student writing conferences interact and influence subsequent student writing and reflect larger classroom patterns established by the teacher. Data sources include fieldnotes; video recordings of writing conferences; audio recordings of student and teacher interviews across the year; transcriptions; student writing, and other documents. The approaches to analysis include constant comparison, discourse analysis, and microanalysis (Bogdan & Bicklen, 1992; Erickson, 1992; Bloome et al., 2005; Charmaz, 2006). Informing the analytic process are sociocultural theories of learning, language, literacy, and relationships (Gee, 1996; Wertsch, 1991; Tharp & Gallimore, 1988, 1991; Lave and Wenger, 1991; Bahktin, 1981, 1986, 1994; Wells, 2007; Noddings, 1988, 2005). Central to the theoretical foundation for examining evidence of teaching and learning in this study are Erickson’s (2006) sedimentation, Burbules and Rice’s (1991) communicative virtues, and van Manen’s (1991, 1995) pedagogical tact. Findings include, 1) structures that make writing conferences dialogic encounters including openings and closings, internal structures, and duration; 2) relational moves, or interpersonal efforts by teachers inside writing conferences, that serve to bring the curriculum and the student closer include particular kinds of verbal and non verbal communications; and, 3) instructional moves, or how the teachers used talk for specific instructional purposes, including teaching of writing rules, drafting, and modeling the role of the reader. Findings suggest that teaching and learning occur in the context of relationships, and in recursive and non-linear patterns; moreover, brief encounters between teacher and student that are both instructional and relational may build over the arc of the life of the classroom. This investigation may contribute to the limited literature on high school writing conferences and help educators consider their potential as particular kinds of instructional conversations and relational platforms to encourage dialogic classroom environments hospitable to students from diverse backgrounds.