17.1237, Review: Applied Ling/Writing: Kostouli (2005)

Mon Apr 24 22:08:24 UTC 2006

LINGUIST List: Vol-17-1237. Mon Apr 24 2006. ISSN: 1068 - 4875.

Subject: 17.1237, Review: Applied Ling/Writing: Kostouli (2005)

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Date: 17-Apr-2006
From: Vera Sheridan < Vera.Sheridan at dcu.ie >
Subject: Writing in Context(s) 

-------------------------Message 1 ---------------------------------- 
Date: Mon, 24 Apr 2006 18:05:53
From: Vera Sheridan < Vera.Sheridan at dcu.ie >
Subject: Writing in Context(s) 

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/16/16-3033.html 

EDITOR: Kostouli, Trantafillia
TITLE: Writing in Context(s)
SUBTITLE: Textual practices and learning processes in sociocultural 
SERIES: Studies in writing 15
YEAR: 2005

Vera Sheridan, School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies, 
Dublin City University


This edited volume contains ten papers which present research 
carried out across Europe and the Americas in a variety of educational 
settings and research approaches, and held together by the common 
theme of writing as sociocultural practice. It is the sixteenth of an 
international book series focusing on studies in writing aimed at 
researchers and practitioners working in the broad field of education.  
The series draws on theoretical issues which are examined in both 
quantitative and qualitative frameworks, across a range of nationalities 
and educational settings so that this volume is highly representative of 
the aims of this series. Readers would have a wide range of scholarly 
interests in writing, covering diverse perspectives such as cognitive, 
socio-cognitive and developmental psychology as well as 
psycholinguistics, text linguistics and curriculum development.  As 
researchers are often practitioners, this overview will group the 
research papers according to three academic settings, namely writing 
at university or college, high school and, finally, primary school 

University Contexts
Three papers relate to this area: Adler-Kassner & Estrem, McAllister, 

Adler-Kassner & Estrem question whether there is any difference in 
the process of academic writing in a first year course in an American 
university, Eastern Michigan University, with writing that occurs in non-
academic contexts. They raise this question as it then poses a 
teaching question of how to make research activity and academic 
writing meaningful and relevant, so that it engages such students.  
Significantly, they stress that academic discourse is not the 
homogenous entity that academics often perceive it to be and that 
students have to engage with a range of discourses in academic 
writing with which they need to engage critically in order to produce a 
variety of genres.  They consider the act of writing to be both a public 
and political act and that writing is situated in a particular local 
context.  They provide an outline of the writing course at Eastern 
Michigan University where students carry out ethnographic field 
research where observations generate research questions which are 
grounded in local social and cultural practices and where writing 
reaches multiple audiences via the occasion of a public forum, the 
Celebration of Student Writing.  Though this is the final paper in the 
collection, it provides an accessible introduction to the type of 
questions that a sociocultural perspective generates in contrast to 
prior cognitive approaches to writing. 

McAllister provides a social constructivist framework in a qualitative 
paper which examines small-group approaches rooted in to academic 
writing by measuring the way group conditions shape the writing 
process.  Research findings suggest that writing collaboratively, 
particularly in permanent groups, is more beneficial than writing in 
isolation.  These findings also reposition the teacher as a facilitator in 
a classroom community where students engage in discourse about 
writing rather than writing silently in a more traditional classroom 

The final university-level paper by Ferenz, which is also qualitative, 
focuses on postgraduate Masters and Doctoral students who are 
writing in English as their second language and the language choices 
they make during the planning process. Ferenz [2005] examines how 
academic social networks aid students in their acculturation towards 
membership of a particular academic discourse community and how a 
non-native speaker's academic social network acts as a significant 
language source in text production.

Secondary or High School Contexts
Three papers relate to this context: Donahue, Folman & Connor, 

Donahue's chapter stems from a larger study of 250 texts collected 
over 5 years in the USA and France and offers a discourse analysis 
perspective on these texts.  Donahue takes Bakhtin's view that texts 
function in a complex dynamic interaction with other texts and that this 
perspective provides a way of reading student text creation which 
focus on dynamic negotiation as well as originality.  Findings show 
that these school texts certainly share what the school community 
values in writing and that students also make their own meanings 
within them.  Discourse analysis provides a systematic description of 
the texts and a broader focus on the social and cultural contexts of 

The educational contexts of an American and an Israeli High School 
create cross-cultural differences in academic writing as Folman & 
Connor demonstrate.  Their paper examines academic writing in a 
quantitative comparison of synthesizing styles.  Results showed that 
the two cultural groups were at different acculturation stages along 
the approximate system of research paper writing and that both 
groups had incomplete mastery of the process. Clearly, the process of 
acculturation into the writing practices of a particular educational 
system takes time and each system's cultural values have a direct 
bearing on student writing though in complex ways.  

Myhill's discussion of British children's school writing also focuses on 
this process of acculturation and Myhill notes the emphasis on what 
children 'can't do' rather than on what they 'don't know' in terms of 
prior knowledge. She argues that prior knowledge has a direct 
bearing on how a child approaches text construction and that 
pedagogical practices do not consider what prior knowledge a child 
does or does not have.  The general approach to writing is based on 
genre knowledge, namely that knowledge of a genre is empowering, 
particularly for minority children.  However, Myhill considers that the 
emphasis on genre can make writing a reproduction of what is valued 
in the classroom.  This contrasts with an emphasis on how children 
can learn to negotiate their prior knowledge with what is presented to 
them in the classroom and so understand how to communicate their 
own meanings.  

Primary School Contexts
Four papers relate to this area: Spinollo & Pratt, Ongstad, Allal et al.

Spinollo & Pratt draw out distinctions in children's informal experiences 
of texts in two different contexts in Brazil, namely a middle-class 
environment in contrast to street children.  Their most valuable finding 
is that street children had greater contact with newspaper articles 
whose headlines they 'read' through literate teenagers they interacted 
with as well as watching television through a window or listening to 
radio programmes. The street children also liked to be well-informed 
as newspapers are a potential source of information about people 
they know, as in the example of police shooting a friend's brother; in 
effect, the street children associate these newspaper 'stories' with 
personal accounts of their own lives.  Street children emerge as 
having sophisticated knowledge of the text genre of newspaper 
articles which middle-class children did not share. Spinollo & Pratt 
consider that the production of a text does not provide full evidence of 
a child's knowledge of a particular genre and that researchers also 
need to consider the richness of the resources that children bring with 
them to an educational environment as well as the complexities of the 
communicative processes in them.

This perspective provides a link to Ongstad's study of two primary 
school pupils in a process approach to the teaching of writing.  The 
children write in a workshop following activities where the children 
worked with a range of materials which they then write about in their 
workshop books.  Ongstad considers this is to be a rich site for 
exploring the texts which children produce and also states that these 
texts can only be fully understood by attending to the contextual 
layers that the children know and value. These include the 
relationship between the peer world of the child, the meanings in this 
peer world and the texts produced from the social interactions in this 
environment as well as the writing that the school itself wishes to 

Allal et al's longitudinal study examines the relationship between the 
processes of social interaction, both teacher-led and peer-to-peer, 
and the characteristics of texts produced in the classroom in 3 fifth 
grade [10-11 years] classes in the public school system in Geneva. 
The research aims to understand the role of social mediation in both 
text production and revision. They note that whole class discussion 
produces guidelines that could be used for drafting and revision of 
work but that students rarely referred to them explicitly.  They 
conclude that the guidelines appear to serve as a mental aid for 
structuring an approach to writing rather than for metacognitive 
reflection on the processes involved.  

Finally, Kostouli examines participant's engagement in a writing 
conference in two Greek primary school classrooms, with a 
conference being teacher-student interaction on a one-to-one basis.  
One class is mainly middle class and the other working class and 
Kostouli examines scaffolded and collaborative learning in how 
students take up or reject scaffolding provided by the teacher.  In 
addition, she examines how both partners are active participants in 
the creation of knowledge and finds that the teacher reinforces the 
dominant middle class perspective in one class and excludes those 
who are not.  In contrast, the working class children in the other class 
who did respond to the teacher's perspective were frequently 
unsuccessful in their response.  The teacher altered her demands as 
she was aware of this difference.  Kostouli adds that class does not 
account for everything that occurs in the classroom and looks to 
further research such as on gender or why some children dominate a 


As Kostouli's useful introduction notes, there is clearly a shift from 
investigating writing as only a cognitive process. Researchers now 
examine the writer's situatedness in a web of social relations and 
sociocultural factors and how these influence an individual's 
acculturation towards membership of a particular discourse 
community.  From this perspective, this collection is a welcome 
addition to ongoing debates regarding writing processes particularly 
as each paper provides the academic reader with a useful review of 
relevant literature.  This edited volume also ranges widely across 
differing educational environments so that it provides a broad 
perspective to the study of writing in social contexts.  It also includes 
research on first and second language users who are involved in the 
writing process and in this regard Ferenz's paper acts as a key to the 
book as a whole. However, as academic readers may focus on the 
writing practices of a specific group, the range of this volume may be a 
drawback from a more focused research perspective.  

There are some excellent additions to the papers in appendices and 
the taxonomy for research paper evaluation provided by Folman & 
Connor needs to be foregrounded for both theoretical and practical 
purposes.  There are also examples of student work in Adler-Kassner 
& Estrem's paper which illustrate their course and are useful for 
anyone engaged in course design or in revising existing classroom 
practices.  In addition, Spinollo & Pratt's approach to the literacy 
experiences of street children in Brazil deserves a wide readership in 
terms of their rich findings of the literacy experiences of street 
children.  Finally, Ongstad's inclusion of the literacy texts and 
drawings produced by the children in his case study is useful as it 
provides an apt foil to the discussion.

One drawback is that some of the papers are written in a dense style 
so that the reader has to work hard in order to arrive at some 
noteworthy findings and discussions.  Overall, this is a volume which 
has much to offer anyone interested in how and why students produce 
the texts they do. 


Vera Sheridan is a lecturer in language and intercultural studies in the 
School of Applied Language and Intercultural studies at Dublin City 
University.  She has worked in Europe, the Middle East and Southern 
Africa teaching English across a range of educational settings.  
Recent research focused on language, culture and identity among 
members of the Vietnamese community in Ireland.  Current interests 
relate to the intercultural and academic skills of postgaduate students 
who have come from abroad to study in an Irish university.

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