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situated achievements of novices learning academic writing as a cultural…

de Karen P. MacBeth

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Few studies on teaching and learning academic writing consider the unspoken, taken-for-granted assumptions and competencies that underlie academic conventions (e.g., thesis, conclusion, evidence, plagiarism) or what novices must do to learn them.
The prevailing view is that these conventions can be taught explicitly; however, many are unspecified by textbooks and syllabi, and some even defy definition by practitioners.
For novices they constitute a cultural curriculum, cultural in the sense that they are
indexical to social practices that only make sense to insiders. While there might be general agreement that all curricula are cultural, how they are has been largely untouched in the literature. The purpose of this study is to show how these conventions are cultural phenomena by examining the pedagogical practices and competencies that students and teachers must negotiate in order to recognize, assess, and use them.

Three conceptual questions framed the research: (1) What do students do to make sense of a curriculum that assumes resources they do not have; (2) How is the curriculum cultural, and (3) What can naturalistic inquiry offer to our understanding of learners and pedagogy that other methodologies cannot. Analysis was informed by readings in naturalistic inquiry in sociology, anthropology, ethno-methodology, and education. The study draws on a corpus of materials from an intermediate level class in entry-level academic writing for ESL students for the duration of an academic quarter. The corpus includes videotapes of the class sessions, audiotapes of the tutorials, and students' written work. The researcher was the instructor of the class.

Findings suggest that far from being a one-way transmission of explicit knowledge, learning academic conventions involves on-going, methodic, interpretive work. Furthermore, a paradox emerges whereby learners are required to know already what they are attempting to learn how to do as a condition of making sense of their instruction in how to do it. The paradox gets worked out through the joint efforts of a formal curriculum of models and exhibits, and a learning curriculum of tutorials, which function as an apprenticeship of sorts in learning academic judgments.

Contrary to prevailing views that academic writing conventions can be taught as a set of skills, this study shows that they stand on behalf of pervasive, situated, cultural practices of the academic writing community, and thus learning them requires a curriculum of judgments rather than skills. This curriculum entails, among other things, discovering and resolving a number of paradoxes by those who would learn and teach it.

---Karen P. MacBeth, thesis abstract ( )
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