Analytical writing and identity development of diverse adolescents in an alternative high school preparatory academy
Fields, Susan Stewart
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This dissertation presents a case study of analytical writing and identity development among diverse, ninth grade adolescents enrolled in an alternative high school preparatory academy. Within the larger school context, the study examines the case of the writing classroom—specifically, the four-month literary analysis unit—and the students’ writing development therein. First, I analyze the discourse of the writing classroom on developing interpretative statements about literature. Analysis shows that the teacher highlighted three aspects of literary reasoning to support five specific expectations for writing a literary interpretation. In particular, the teacher emphasized that students deepen their interpretative statements by analyzing literary techniques and themes. Second, I examine analytical essays to identify trends in student writing development over time. I show that students had to adopt a particular stance toward literary analysis in order to meet the teacher’s increasing calls to make deeper interpretative statements —a stance that posed tensions for some students. Third, I analyze the data of eight focal students to explore those tensions. I show that students adopted one of three stances toward the discourse and use three focal students to describe those stances. Abraham ventriloquated through the discourse (i.e., he appropriated heuristics without full control over them) while Katarina passed on the discourse (i.e., she upheld personal observations of characters as points of connection to literary analysis), and Kianna made the discourse internally persuasive (i.e., she actively merged the discourse goals with her communicative goals). This dissertation further explores the cultural, historical, and social factors informing the students’ stances and reveals how the internalization of a new discourse is highly variable and deeply personal. These findings complicate contemporary understandings of writing development as either the refinement of cognitive processes or the layered interactions of writer, culture and context. It also demonstrates the utility of using both sociocognitive and identity lenses to study the ways diverse adolescents take up dominant discourses within particular classroom contexts. Finally, the study raises questions about what it means when teachers ask students to adapt to dominant discourses without also providing them the space to adapt the discourse to meet their communicative needs.