Appendix: Additional Notes on the Study

I was concerned that the following discussions–of the use of pseudonyms, the length of the study, and beginning research questions–would disrupt the continuity of the early chapters. I have included them in this appendix as a supplement to those chapters.

The Use of Pseudonyms

Pseudonyms have been used for all students, staff, and parents who appear in my text. Pseudonyms have also been used within children’s texts and other classroom documents. With reproductions of children’s texts in figures, the procedure was to either white-out the actual names of the participants or to cover them with a small piece of paper and then hand write or type pseudonyms in the blank spaces created. Photocopies of these “original” documents were then made.

Many children used the names of classmates and themselves in their texts. I argue in chapters 3-6 that the meanings of children’s texts were often heavily dependent on this use of children’s names. I “doctored” original documents in this way, then, in order to aid readers’ understanding of children’s texts and my interpretations of them.

At times, I had to be creative in my use of pseudonyms in my text and in quotations from my fieldnotes. For example, in chapter 6, the unconventional spelling of one of the children’s names was important for my interpretation of another child’s story. Thus, I used an unusual spelling of the name Jill (“Jil”), as a pseudonym throughout my text. I also altered fieldnotes that I quote in that chapter to fit the pseudonym–instead of the original discussion of how the child’s actual name was unconventional, I noted how “Jil” was spelled with only one “l” and how this might provide a clue to the interpretation of another child’s story.


At several points in chapters 1 and 2, I comment that I taught writing 5 days a week throughout the 1989-90 school year. I want to provide a bit more specification of the length of the study, however, since I do not report on the entire year’s teaching in this text.

My study focuses on the students’ and my experiences of the writing workshop. Our writing workshop ran from the beginning of the school year (late August) through the end of March. There was one extended break from the writing workshop during these months. Children left for the winter holidays on December 20 and didn’t return until the 2nd week of January. However, even then, the workshop did not begin again until the 1st week of February, for several reasons. I wanted to concentrate for a few weeks on an undergraduate course for future teachers that I was teaching at the university, and I had some writing I wanted to finish. In addition, Grace had several weeks’ worth of standardized tests to administer in January and she had been concerned about finding time for them. Consequently, when I suggested in December that I might not begin the workshop immediately after the holidays, Grace readily agreed. She used writing workshop time for these tests. She also used the break from writing workshop to catch up in other subject areas.

Thus, the writing workshop ran for approximately 5½ months of the school year, and my text is based primarily in the teaching and data collection I pursued during those months.

The workshop was officially “shut down” just before the children’s spring break. Our work together after the break was organized differently than it had been in the writing workshop. In fact, during April and May my students and I pursued what I call a “collective writing project” in chapter 7. Children wrote biographies of important women in their lives (including mothers, grandmothers, aunts, teachers), after a series of experiences including reading published biographies and interviewing women from the community. Individual biographies were collected and published in a volume entitled Important Women in Our Lives. Each child received a copy, and a copy was also given to the Clifford library–the librarian attended our presentation of the volume to the school principal and attached an official call number and check-out card to it as part of the ceremony. Around the edges of these activities, colleagues and I prepared for and conducted extended interviews of children. These interviews focused on children’s experiences of the writing workshop.


In an early memo characterizing my study, I wrote that “two broad areas for investigation and analysis … linked to the writing workshop approach’s conception of the teacher role” would guide at least my initial research in the field (Memo, 7-27-89). I noted that the emphases were tentative, since one of the purposes of the project was to identify the special problems and issues that attended teaching and learning within writing workshop classrooms. I characterized the first broad area of concern as follows:

A key task for writing workshop teachers is establishing a classroom environment that supports growth in writing. What is involved in setting up such an environment? Graves and Calkins of course, offer practical suggestions. but what actually happens when a teacher attempts to teach in this way? What enables and constrains teacher efforts to establish such an environment? What materials, routines, and classroom norms are involved? What (if any) changes in materials, routines, and norms occur across a school year? (Memo, 7-27-89)

This first group of questions was informed by ethnographic and sociolinguistic reports of classrooms in which teachers and students misunderstood each other because they were acting on different assumptions of what was appropriate behavior and speech (e.g., Heath, 1983; Philips, 1983; Michaels, 1981). Misunderstanding was likely as my students and I groped to figure out how to do things in a classroom with new materials, routines and norms. The last two questions, especially, show an ethnographic interest in describing what patterns of interaction actually emerged, and possible changes in those patterns as the year progressed.

But there was also a fairly strong teacher-researcher flavor to these questions. As Cochran-Smith and Lytle (1990) note:

The unique feature of questions that prompt teacher research is that they emanate solely neither from theory nor from practice, but from the critical reflection on the intersection of the two. (p. 6)

I was interested in what actually happened when I tried to enact a certain vision of teaching and learning writing in the classroom; I was interested in the “discrepancies between what is intended and what occurs” (Cochran-Smith and Lytle, 1990, p. 5). In a later proposal, I appropriated Berthoff’s (1987) notion of the classroom as a philosophical laboratory, and said that the strength of my work rested on bringing “theory to bear on practice even as practice corrects theory” (Proposal, 11-89).

The second broad area of concern looked to the writing conference:

The primary instructional strategy within the writing workshop approach is the writing conference, a teacher-student conversation about student texts and writing processes. What happens within these writing conferences? From the teacher’s perspective, what difficulties are involved with responding to young writers’ written texts? From the students’ perspective, how do writing conferences help or hinder their writing? How do these conferences influence the writing that children do in the classroom? (Memo, 7-27-89)

These questions, especially the first three, were informed by a small body of research on teacher-student writing conferences that suggests that breaking out of traditional teacher-dominated patterns, and embracing the models put forward by Murray (1985), Graves (1983), and Calkins (1986)–what I call following the child in chapter 1–may actually be quite difficult. Jacob (1982), for example, in a study of writing conferences in a junior college setting, found that teachers controlled writing conferences much as they did traditional lessons; Jacob described the discourse as “unilateral, from instructor to student” (p. 386). Michaels, Ulichney, and Watson-Gegeo (1986), and Freedman (1987), found that teacher goals and implicit expectations for children’s writing tasks overpowered student intentions in the writing conferences of sixth and ninth grade students.

Florio-Ruane (1991) suggests various sources of difficulties in transforming writing conference talk: contextual constraints such as limited time, mandated curriculum, and the school’s evaluative climate; the knowledge (often limited) that teachers and students bring of writing processes, schooling, and each other, to their conversations; and traditional discourse patterns that make it difficult for students to “assume rights to initiate talk, determine topic, or serve as ‘experts’ even about their own writing problems and purposes” (p. 374). Ulichney and Watson- Gegeo (1989) point to mandated writing tests, minimal support for teacher efforts to transform practice, and pressure to improve achievement test scores as factors that undermine workshop and process writing efforts and goals.

I was interested in what would happen when I tried to enact a different sort of school talk in writing conferences. I was particularly interested in the difficulties attending response as socioanalysis (discussed in chapter 1). Why? Simply supporting student intentions and material in writing conferences–following the child–appeared to be hard enough to accomplish. Response as socioanalysis required me to support and question student material. In questioning that material, from my position of authority in the classroom, I once again ran the risk of shutting down, silencing student voice in the classroom. Rather than pushing our thought and action forward to a more critical evaluation of our situation, response as socioanalysis could encourage students to not speak their mind, or to look for the correct thing to say to please the teacher.

The final question above, about the influence writing conferences had on student writing, was motivated by my growing theoretical interest in Bakhtin. I was interested in examining how children appropriated what was said in the writing conferences for their future efforts at writing and revision. How would children (if they did) appropriate teacher words for their own purposes in their texts? Would they appropriate the teacher’s words, or would the teacher’s words appropriate them? The teacher-student writing conference seemed a particularly interesting place to “test” Bakhtin’s work, and see what purchase it provided on a complex speaking/writing situation involving participants who brought varying purposes and unequal power to their talk.


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