School administrators, teachers, and parents are deeply concerned about the college-readiness of students, particularly in writing. Yet, definitions for “college-readiness” have often been dictated by corporate interests and assessment groups — not by teachers, schools, or universities. Furthermore, English teachers in secondary schools have limited opportunities to witness college writing expectations, while college-level teachers can rarely gain access to the high school writing contexts with which their students are familiar. Christina Ortmeier-Hooper and I have been working with a group of writing teachers across institutions to build an affinity space that bridges this gap. The Dialogues bring high school and college writing teachers together to study how we prepare students for the analytical, expository, persuasive, and creative writing that is necessary for college-level academic study. Together with our participating teachers, we presented a public action-research colloquium at UNH on September 16, 2016 (“Traditions, Transitions, and Transformations: Student Writing and College-Readiness”). Later on, we took this research to the NCTE Annual Convention. You can read more about our work in this UNH Magazine feature about collaborations with local schools, or in our paper in the ICLS 2018 conference proceedings.
Affinity Spaces & Qualitative Methods for Studying Online Spaces
Little research documents the content that young people create and share in online social networking forums — virtual worlds, art communities, fanfiction archives, role playing sites, and the like. My work on adolescents’ multimodal writing in Neopets agrees with this assertion: Games like Neopets, book- or media-based fandoms, and art- or fiction-based forums are not well-understood. Many of these affinity spaces stretch across several sites and are loosely connected by features like hyperlinks or twitter hashtags. But how can we study engagement in these spaces when members’ activities are diverse, multi-sited, self-directed, collaborative, and blended across online and offline sites? Jen Scott Curwood, Jayne Lammers, and I write about extending qualitative methods to examine the complex conversations, texts, and artifacts that travel through affinity spaces as members work and learn together, drafting and revising their ideas.
Assess-As-You-Go: Online Writing and Peer Response
During my postdoc, I worked with the Assess as You Go and Scholar teams (here is a high-level overview of these projects) to build and implement new online tools to enable multimodal writing and peer response in classrooms. Designing and testing Scholar allowed us to see the openings and limitations that new tools may provide for teachers. I worked with teachers to create a space for Scholar in their classrooms, design formative assessments that encourage peer review, and understand how students and teachers interact in and around this technology. Becca Woodard, Sarah McCarthey, and I recently published “Teachers as co-authors of student writing: How teachers’ initiating texts influence response and revision” in Computers and Composition. This piece details how students in three classrooms responded to each others’ writing using Scholar, and what role teachers’ initiating texts (assignments, rubrics, etc) played in setting up this classroom discourse.
Bidirectional Artifact Analysis: Methods for Examining Creative Processes
In creative writing and arts environments, peer and mentor response are central to young artists’ work. In these spaces, ideas, drafts, and revisions often become collaborative and multivocal over time, and a final artifact rarely reveals the process of its development. Because I want to understand the complex ways in which writers and readers (and artists and critics) work together, new methods have become necessary. Erica Halverson and I have begun to develop bidirectional artifact analysis, a technique that brings together a variety of data types and qualitative analytic methods to allow researchers to map and articulate relationships between creative processes and products. While typical descriptive analyses move forward, we have found that moving bidirectionally — from final product backward and from initial idea forward — helps us trace participants’ learning through artifacts, reflections, critiques, and revisions.
Writing for Whom?: Audience and Creative Writing
The increasing influence of social media and technologies for writing have led to rapid evolution in young people’s writing and written collaborations. My dissertation examines such changes by looking at the confluence of writing, available audiences, participant structures, and motivations to write. I did so by spending time with young writers in three settings: an 11th grade English classroom, a creative writing camp, and the online game Neopets. This case study design holds creative writing practice constant across the contexts in order to better understand what happens when writers stand “among” different audiences (Lunsford & Ede, 2009) — mentors or teachers, peers, and public audiences. Using several qualitative analytical techniques, the study explores how available audience(s) and feedback from readers in each setting affect writers’ individual and social understandings of their writing and of themselves as writers.
Barrel of Monkeys: Creative Arts Ethnography
Even while participation in creative endeavors like arts education is seen as abstractly beneficial, these programs are rarely connected to accepted measures of progress, like writing proficiency or standardized testing scores. In this 2008 study, I spent six weeks in an urban (90% low-income) neighborhood school that partners with Barrel of Monkeys (BOM), a Chicago theatre troupe, for a residency in its fourth grade classrooms. BOM actor-educators teach creative writing and improvisation workshops and work with students to craft several stories. At the residency’s conclusion, actors perform short plays adapted from these stories, thus legitimizing the students as authors and playwrights. To document what students, teachers, and BOM members perceived as benefits of this experience, I (1) observed each of the actor-educators’ planning sessions, teacher planning sessions, and in-school residency days; (2) collected student story artifacts; and (3) interviewed the actor-educators, classroom teachers, and school principal.
Journalism.net: Epistemic Game
My masters thesis, Writing Beyond the Curriculum, examined a technology-supported, epistemic role-playing-game called Journalism.net in which students became local reporters. They learned about local issues, interviewed experts, drafted stories, and published their work online. Along with several members of the Epistemic Games Group, I designed, ran, and collected data on this game in several different versions and under several different mastheads from 2004-2006. Initially, middle school students in UW-Madison Education Outreach programs used Byline publishing technology to become science reporters in a version called Science.Net. Rising 7th-9th graders published the Wisconsin Science Journal in partnership with the UW-Madison PEOPLE program. Finally, we collaborated with a journalism graduate student to develop a version of the game that focused on community issues in South Madison and published under the South Madison Times masthead.