What I Read in a Doctoral Level Research in Writing Course

Bangert-Drowns, R., Hurley, M., & Wilkinson, B. (2004). The Effects of School-Based Writing-to-Learn Interventions on Academic Achievement: A Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research, 74(1), 29–58. doi:3516060

Robert Bangert-Drowns, Dean of Education, at SUNY Albany and his SUNY colleague, Barbara Wilkinson, Associate Professor published this frequently cited meta-analysis in the Review of Educational Research, a peer-reviewed journal. In it, Banger-Drowns and Wilkerson dispute the “strong text” view of writing advocating for shorter, more contextualized opportunities for students to write-to-learn. The authors reveal that “the simple incorporation of writing in regular classroom instruction does not automatically yield large dividends in learning,” In fact, counterproductive effects were shown in some studies where longer, out of context writing assignments were evaluated. This bodes well for inquiry, or problem-based learning, as students and teachers can negotiate writing that is contextual to the task at hand.  Flexibility is the key to writing being an opportunity to reflect learning but also for the student to show achievement in writing, itself. The implementation of writing stems also showed a positive effect on metacognitive processing. Self-reflection, where students wrote about their current understandings, confusions and learning processes, yielded a better understanding of the tasks and higher quality writing. The authors encourage teachers to assist students in the self-evaluation and reflection practice.

Beauvais, C., Olive, T., & Passerault, J.-M. (2011). Why are some texts good and others not? The relationship between text quality and management of the writing processes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 103(2), 415–428. doi:10.1037/a0022545

This study builds upon the suggestions of Kellogg and Raulerson (2007) who determined that just knowing about writing requirements is not sufficient to produce consistent quality written pieces. Their conclusion which supported Zimmerman (2006) was that “deliberate practice” was necessary for text quality by giving writers opportunities to apply their knowledge. The authors are all professors at Universite´ de Poitiers and Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France. Published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, a peer-reviewed publication, the results and implications of the two quantitative experiments that the researchers undertook are reflected in this article. There are numerous practices that classroom teachers would benefit from implementing as indicated by this study. To produce quality texts, students need to understand the procedural differences between different kinds of texts. Furthermore, students should set goals while analyzing the writing situation before starting to write, even before pre-writing. Finally, goals should be different for each writing experience.  What was particularly interesting about the experiments was when teachers gave an anticipatory set of directions that included the request for quality, students composed better quality texts. Most teachers have high expectations for their students but do they verbalize them in such a goal-directed way? Where the results were shown in this case was the pre-writing step. Students asked to produce high-quality work, wrote more elaborate planning documents. This effort produced higher quality.  I selected this article because I thought it referred to source selection as students perform research in inquiry learning. It has a tertiary connection to the field of inquiry but a direct connection to my curricular practice as a high school AP Language teacher. If students are taking on inquiry and their findings are produced by way of written composition, encouraging students to produce quality work and insisting that pre-writing be a vital component to the task should reflect the findings in this study.

Benson, S. (2010). “I Don’t Know If That’d Be English or Not”: Third space theory and literacy instruction. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 53(7), 555–563.

To expand the body of work related to Third Space Theory to include literacy, Sheila Benson observed students in a remedial English class over the course of a year noting when the students resisted and participated in learning and how, when and why they interacted in Third Space Multimodal scenarios. Benson began by asking these four questions- “What if teachers were to view student resistance as an effort by the student to reclaim some sense of expertise and ownership of the assignment? What might happen if students were allowed freedom to alter a learning activity, in which they don’t already have control and skill, in ways that would incorporate the knowledge and skills they already have? Could assignment guidelines be created that allow students to explore third space for their purposes as well as the official curriculum standards’ purposes? What if multimodal assignments were used to open a third space that teachers and students explored together? (2010). Benson expanded the study by Moje et al. (2004) of third space content learning and Bhabha’s initial concept of third space (1994) to add value and engagement. Bhabha (1994) imagined third space as an area of political resistance; Moje et al. projected greater student engagement by acknowledging students’ relevant connection to their learning in the third space. Benson uses third space theory as a lens to examine how students attempted to introduce their prior knowledge into the challenged space of this particular language arts classroom in ways that better allowed students to participate in literacy learning. Students mostly resisted because all the text was traditional print and the assessment was text-based. Multimodality could have been a means by which the students and the teacher created a third space together, shifting the balance of power and reducing student resistance, allowing the teacher to recognize the students’ expertise in digital production.   Tags: Literacy, Multimodal, Third Space

Boss, S., Johanson, C., Arnold, S. D., Parker, W. C., Nguyen, D., Mosborg, S., & Bransford, J. (2011). The quest for deeper learning and engagement in advanced high school courses. The Foundation Review, 3(3), 12–23. doi:10.4087/FOUNDATIONREVIEW-D-11-00007

Can project-based learning help diverse learners succeed in challenging academic studies? Led by Susie Boss, a journalist for the George Lucas Educational Foundation’s Edutopia and a team of professors and researchers from the University of Washington published their findings from an empirical study of Advanced Placement test scores in the Foundation Review. The team studied a large group of AP classes some of which were taught in the traditional “content loading” way and some were set up as project-based learning classes. Their goal was to “develop and assess the impact of project-based learning on upper-level courses in high school.” They were working on the premise that Advanced Placement (AP) courses might overly accentuate accelerated content at the expense of deeper conceptual learning. The researchers found that Open Access accounted for more students enrolled in the classes and taking the tests, but more students failing the test. They wondered if incorporating an inquiry approach would counteract this trend. After two years, they found that students in PB-AP courses were performing as well as students in traditional AP classes. This bodes well to replicate across the nation, especially in lower SES schools where students might need alternatives to traditional content delivery methods.

Gutiérrez, K. D. (2008). Developing a sociocritical literacy in the third space. Reading Research Quarterly, 43(2), 148–164.

Kris Gutierrez argues for concept revision and rethinking Vygotsky’s (1997) Zone of Proximal Development concerning what and how young people think and learn, particularly those of the non-dominant culture. Gutierrez performed an empirical case study of the Migrant Student Leadership Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles to account for the participants’ collective Third Space and sociocritical literacy. Gutierrez offers examples of several participants’ “syncretic testimonial” (autobiography) as well as transcripts of program leaders’ discussions encouraging students to write their stories. When the program re-configured the framework of academic literacy and instruction to include hybrid language practices, social theory, play, imagination and historicizing literacy practices, participants transformed from feeling invisible to become empowered members of their communities. Eighty percent of the subjects continued to secondary education compared to a control group who did not attend the Institute where only 20% continued their schooling after high school.

Kirkland, D. E. (2008). “The Rose That Grew from Concrete”: Postmodern blackness and new English education. The English Journal, 97(5), 69-75. doi: 30046887

Kirkland studied a group of young academically “struggling and troubled” Black male students for three years and concluded that the students were far from illiterate. In fact, Kirkland realized that the students read in ways that English teachers fail to “value, respect and acknowledge” (69). He traced the emergence of post-modern New English Education that incorporates the canon and adds hip-hop and other new literacy experiences to facilitate critical thought and reflection in the high school English classroom. Kirkland reviewed neo-normative concepts of the 21st-century classroom- technology, diversity, and hybridity- and reflected on how English teachers can adapt and integrate these elements into their teaching practices for better and more meaningful relationships with their students. Kirkland included a Venn Diagram that demonstrates the divide of Official Space Within the English Classroom and Unofficial Space Inside Students Lives. Overlapping on the diagram are standards, student choice, and what Kirkland calls “Multiple Englishes.” He defined “postmodern blackness” to incorporate shifting cultural, social, economic and technical conditions. Seventy percent of all hip-hop songs are purchased by middle-class Whites. Kirkland cited bel hooks’ statement that hip-hop transcends the boundaries of class, gender, and race and could even construct empathy not necessarily for shared experiences and conditions but for “recognition, solidarity, and coalition” (73). The implication for English teachers is that New English Education needs to reflect that as students are making meaning of assigned texts in the classroom, alternative texts are making meaning to individual students outside of it. Teachers need to reflect that “ideas, experiences, realities, and languages are multiple, diverse, and constantly in negotiation” (74).

Peck, W. C., Flower, L., & Higgins, L. (1995). Community literacy. College Composition and Communication, 46(2), 199-222. doi: 358428

Peck, Flowers and Higgins examine the historical and theoretical context and the implications of community literacy by studying the impact of the Community Literacy Center (CLC), a collaborative six-year initiative between the Community House and The National Center for the Study of Writing and Literacy at Carnegie Mellon situated on the Northside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Community literacy is a search for an alternative discourse embracing four aims- social change, intercultural conversation, a strategic approach, and inquiry. Through anecdotal, qualitative accounts, the authors shared the experiences of a student -toying with the idea of joining a gang- explaining his side of a fight, a tenant detailing with problems in her community and Carnegie Mellon students realizing that their concepts of literacy may be limited. The authors concluded that community literacy is intercultural and multi-vocal. If more universities, especially those located near or in urban centers could facilitate writing programs like that of the CLC, then more articulate grassroots action would emerge from often disenfranchised neighborhoods and citizens.

Plakans, L., & Gebril, A. (2012). A close investigation into source use in integrated second language writing tasks. Assessing Writing, 17(1), 18–34. doi:10.1016/j.asw.2011.09.002

Plakens, a professor The University of Iowa, Department of Teaching and Learning, and Gebril, from The American University in Cairo, English Language Institute, used a mixed-method approach to study undergraduate students at a Middle Eastern University and reported their findings in Assessing Writing, a peer-reviewed international scholarly journal. The journal provides a forum for ideas, publishes research findings and articles that reflect the current practices on the assessment of written language. Their group consisted of 145 students who worked on a reading-to-write task and completed a questionnaire. Nine students  participated in think-aloud sessions and interviews. The qualitative data revealed patterns, which were quantified by a questionnaire that used descriptive statistics and chi-square tests. The study was an attempt to exemplify the composing process while working on the reading-to-write tasks especially regarding source analysis. The researchers found that the sources shaped participants’ opinions about their topic “providing ideas on this topic, supporting writers’ opinions, and serving as a language resource Plakens & Gebril, 2012). The study is a recent review of students’ thinking process as they reviewed sources supporting open-ended questions. For inquiry learning, students need to know how to find reliable and valid sources to support their arguments. The study showed that students who “think aloud” as part of their writing and researching process produce better writing by way of more elaborate, sophisticated responses.

Ranker, J. (2007). A New Perspective on Inquiry: A Case Study of Digital Video Production. The English Journal, 97(1), 77–82. doi:30047212

Struggling students need “opportunities to use print and produce meanings in diverse and multifaceted ways,” argued Jason Ranker, associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Portland State University in the English Journal, a peer-reviewed periodical. Ranker’s case study followed two fifth grade girls over the course of eight months. Ranker and the classroom teacher determined that “the students did not need a reductionistic and behavioristic curriculum focusing on literacy ‘skills’” at the expense of “engaging, motivating and intellectually challenging opportunities to use print and produce meanings in diverse and multifaceted ways.” Thus, they established a project that included a variety of choice in topics and modalities, including “visual, audio, gestural/performative and linguistic.” Ranker and the classroom teacher found that the girls looked forward to working on their project and felt that they had a clear purpose for reading and writing, establishing a recursive relationship between the communicative modes they selected- making a documentary on African American history and presenting it to their class and academic reading, writing and speaking.

Ranker cites Snyder (1998) from her book Page to Screen: Taking Literacy into the Electronic Era to explain how new literacy practices are increasingly screen-based as opposed to print-centered which is counter to the academic literacies traditionally articulated at school. He mentions the work of Kress (2000 and 2003) to maintain that video projects and those in other digital formats represent the multimodal ways literacy will be expressed in the media age. This “synergy between text and image can create new possibilities for literacy and inquiry learning.”


Wolk, S. (2008). School as Inquiry. The Phi Delta Kappan, 90(2), 115–122. doi:20493570

Author Steven Wolk is an associate professor of the Teacher Education at the University of Chicago. Wolk argues in his peer-reviewed Phi Delta Kappan article that for students to become lifelong learners and engaged citizens, they need opportunities to experience inquiry-based teaching which can transform the classroom and spark a love for learning. Wolk believes that we need to change our concept schools’ primary purpose, which has been to prepare people for the world of work. His premise is that we should prepare students to be fully realized human beings and to do this, schools should actively “teach a love for learning, caring and empathy, moral consciousness, media literacy social responsibility ecological literacy peace and nonviolence, creativity, and imagination intellectual curiosity, and global awareness.” Implementing an inquiry-based methodology in the curriculum is a way to teach these values, making learning more meaningful.

Lacking today, according to Wolk, are internalized habits of mind that include a sense of “awe of our existence, filled with questions, and excite [ment] to observe and understand the world.” Inquiry-based teaching invites and expects teachers and even administrators to use inquiry in their daily practice so that it becomes more than a pedagogical theory. Since Wolk is writing about a systemic approach, he sees inquiry learning as transforming the entire culture of a school.

Wolk clarifies several misconceptions of inquiry learning. It can be “hands-on”, but it doesn’t need to be. There are still times when direct teaching is the most appropriate way to introduce information. It is not “discovery learning,” or just letting students study whatever they want. Rather, inquiry-based teaching is “collaborative, investigative and deeply intellectual.” The teacher plays an active part in the process to establish high expectations, a clear purpose and a deeply engaging experience for students. Wolk likens the teacher’s role as the “architect of learning.” Wolk relates a series of concepts that must be considered for Inquiry Learning to transpire. It must have authenticity. The workspace must be conducive to students learning in this mode. Students are expected to ask questions and perform investigations. The teacher should help students procure real-world resources. In collaboration or alone, the student should recognize that there are multiple perspectives and multiple answers to the questions. Through dialogue and discussion, students can prioritize, rank, judge and evaluate concepts that come about because of the inquiry. If a safe and streamlined process is established, students will experience self-efficacy and joy in their learning and empowerment and agency in their findings. Teachers must teach and model the skills and tools of inquiry, perhaps using a reciprocal teaching method where there is a role for whole class teaching and structured collaboration, then student-initiated inquiry.

Wolk rallies against the current model of inquiry learning and content learning as “mutually exclusive,” and he uses a garden as a metaphor. You can dig all you want, but if you don’t understand how a garden works, you won’t yield vegetables. He also incorporates the importance of learning that takes place outside of school. It is still the teacher’s role to deliver academic knowledge but then to provide a structure where students can use this information as the next steps for research, creation, production, and discussion.

Wolk expresses that the first step is helping teachers understand the need for a transitioned role in the classroom and the school. Teachers should consider themselves “content creators” instead of “content deliverers.” Something that stuck with me that Wolk said is that “If my great-grandma walked into a classroom today, she would know exactly what to do: sit down, be quiet, listen to the teacher.” From my schooling experience to present day, I agree. Even with technology, our bell schedule, and authoritarian, positivist approach to discipline establishes a culture of control. Inquiry learning might be dismissed for its loud and chaotic nature. If I am to incorporate PBL into my classroom more regularly, I need to have clear lesson plans supported by research. This article helped me define what PBL and inquiry learning is and is not. It provides an excellent framework for me to re-conceptualize my teaching practice.