Theses Doctoral

The Sounds of Writing: Students' Perception of their Writing Histories and their Effect on Current Dispositions toward Writing

Varela, Bernadette R.

This qualitative teacher action research project investigates students’ perceptions of past writing performance and the influence of these perceptions on current attitudes about academic writing, specifically writing in a workshop-model class. Too often, at the very mention of “essay” or “writing assignment,” students’ demeanors change from benign to distress. Even students at the Honors level often hate writing and believe they just “can’t write.” This begs the question, “Why?” Why do so many students at the highest academic level available to them believe they can’t write? Why are students so intimidated by writing certain writing activities? Is there something in students’ writing histories that drives this apprehension? Is there a relationship between students’ self-initiated writing and writing assigned by a teacher? Do the demands of standardized testing play a role?

The project under study was conducted in a tenth grade Honors American Literature and Composition class in an urban high school in the mid-Atlantic United States. Students in this class have traditionally been in an honors track since entering middle school (currently grade 6), although some may have been moved up in more recent years. Nine students participated in the project: seven girls and two boys. The district demographics identify eight of the students as “White (Non-Hispanic)” and one female student as “Multi Racial.” One female student qualifies for special education services due to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Data collection methods include student interviews; artifacts such as writing histories, journal entries, and writing samples; researcher field notes and observations; and class surveys. Results indicate that once students’ beliefs about themselves as writers - their writing self-efficacy - have been established, it is very difficult to change these perceptions, even in the light of positive learning outcomes. However, writing in a workshop model class does improve students’ writing self-efficacy, at least in the time and space of the workshop. Results also indicate that students’ dispositions toward writing are vastly different between self-initiated writing (home) writing and writing done at school. The role of standardized testing is also discussed, as are implications for classroom teachers.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
English Education
Thesis Advisors
Blau, Sheridan
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 6, 2020