Dissertation Research

Transcontextual Writing Development among Young Men

This 18-month ethnographic study investigated the development of four young men’s writing practices across multiple contexts in an urban setting, with a focus their participation in one out-of-school educational organization. Using a nested case study design, learners and their learning contexts were sampled as cases of writing development. Two layers of interpretive data analysis were employed. The first drew upon discourse analyses of interviews, observations, and youths’ composed products to determine participants’ writing practices. The second utilized an analytical visualization scheme to map dynamics of change in those practices across contexts.

Focusing on developmental trends among participants, two practices—reminiscence and anticipation—were revealed as instrumental in shaping the young men’s pathways. These developmental practices facilitated growth aligned with participants’ writing preferences and purposes, which were derived from past experiences and desired future identities made meaningful in the present through reminiscence and anticipation. Additionally, participants employed writing as rhetorical praxis in negotiating identities across contexts, influencing their development via writing practices taken up and resisted across contexts. The development of the out-of-school educational organization in which participants engaged was found to be acutely dynamic, responsive, and permeable to the practices of its participants, and the traditions of contexts within which it was situated. This resulted in increased diversity and mobility in the resources available, which reciprocally influenced growing dispositions toward adaptation and mobility among the young men. Contexts’ influence on developmental pathways was tempered by participants’ orientation toward learning contexts as resource banks. Young men drew from practices and participant structures available in each context aligned with their emerging preferences and purposes. Evidenced in these textual, rhetorical, literary, and contextual ways, the young men displayed agency in directing their developmental pathways.

This research produces new knowledge about how writing development occurs in and across contexts, and reveals several ways in which young men were meaning-makers, attentive to their learning, and desirous of socially and artfully engaged futures. Further, this study represents an empirically-grounded example of still-nascent learning ecologies and lifewide approaches, which understand learning as inherently transcontextual, and it calls for studies to attend to individuals as central in forging developmental pathways.

I recently discussed this work with Kris Gutierrez and Elyse Eidman-Aadahl in a webinar sponsored by the National Writing Project and the Connected Learning Research Network:

My work has been supported along the way in several venues, one being the Dean’s Grant for Graduate Student Research. My presentation on my early theoretical work is below. I totally geeked out:

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Anna Smith, PhD, educational researcher & teacher educator blogging about composition in the digital age, contexts for learning, theories of development, and global youth.

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