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Attitudes and writing

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Attitudes and writing a study of attitude change over a semester
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Hornak, Ann M
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English
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208 leaves : illustrations ; 29 cm

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English language -- Rhetoric -- Psychological aspects ( lcsh )
College students -- Attitudes ( lcsh )
College students -- Attitudes ( fast )
English language -- Rhetoric -- Psychological aspects ( fast )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 201-208).
General Note:
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree, Master of Arts, English.
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Department of English
Statement of Responsibility:
by Ann M. Hornak.

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|University of Colorado Denver
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ocm31508799
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LD1190.L54 1994m .H67 ( lcc )

Full Text
ATTITUDES AND WRITING:
A STUDY OF ATTITUDE CHANGE
OVER A SEMESTER
by
Ann M. Homak
BA.., Allegheny College, 1989
A thesis submitted to the
Faculty of the Graduate School of the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
English
1994


This thesis for the Master of English
degree by
Ann M. Homak
has been approved for the
Department of
English
by
4/3?/W
Date /


Homak, Ann M. (M.A., English)
Attitudes and Writing: A Study of Attitude Change Over a Semester
Thesis directed by Professor Liz Hamp-Lyons
A teacher-researcher case study was used to explore the attitudes that
students, enrolled in a freshman-level, ten-week writing course, hold toward
writing and themselves as writers. The entire class of thirteen students
agreed to participate in the questionnaire and in-class writing portions of the
data collection. Five of these thirteen students volunteered to participate in
the case study, which included questionnaires and in-depth interviews, each
given three times through the ten-week semester, along with random, in-class
writing about attitudes and writing. Three of the student volunteers became
the focus of the three cases included in this study. The data were examined
for patterns that would show the progress and possible effects of students'
attitudes toward writing and themselves as writers. Analysis of the data
indicated that students' attitudes influence their approach to writing, and that
acknowledgment of and work with such attitudes may lead to resolution or
restructuring of those attitudes that affect students' success. The findings of
this study showed that case study participants entered the course with
positive attitudes about learning and negative attitudes regarding their
abilities as writers: the students were at first fearful, to different extents, of
writing and doubtful of their abilities. Discovering and addressing these
fears and doubts during the semester positively affected the students'
attitudes. Overall, the findings suggested that just as students' attitudes


affect their learning, teacher and student awareness of these attitudes can
influence the effects of negative attitudes, and may cause the students to
restructure their negative attitudes toward a more positive inclination. The
study also showed that the teacher's attitude toward students' attitudes and
students' writing efforts also affected students' responses to writing and
attitude change; it is important for teachers to acknowledge students'
attitudes because attitudes exert such powerful influences over their reactions
to the class and to the subject.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidate's thesis. I
recommend its publication.
Signed


CONTENTS
CHAPTER Page
I. INTRODUCTION AND PROBLEM STATEMENT...........................1
Introduction............................................1
Background and Significance of the Problem..............6
Statement of the Problem...............................10
H. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE....................................12
Research into Attitude and Attitude Formation..........12
Research into Attitude and Its Relationship to Writing.15
Writing Attitude Studies...............................17
IE. METHODOLOGY.................................................25
Teacher-Research and Case Study........................25
Educational Context.................................. 31
Selection of Participants..............................32
Data Collection and Analysis.......................... 35
Questionnaires................................,..35
In-Depth Interviews..............................37
In-Class Writing.................................39
IV. CASES.................................................... 40
Nadia..................................................40
Evan................................................. 50
Mike................................................. 62
Discussion.............................................74
Similarities and Differences.................... 74
Student Attitudes Affect the Teacher's Attitude..78
Adjusting Teaching to Attitudes..................80
V. IMPLICATIONS FOR TEACHING...................................83
Importance of a Teacher's Awareness of Attitudes.......83
Affecting Future Classes and Future Students...........86


Page
APPENDICES
A. Attitude Surveys and Questionnaires..........................90
B. Semester Syllabus and Course Calendar.......................104
C. Consent Form................................................110
D. Questionnaire 1.............................................112
E. Questionnaire 2.............................................114
F. Questionnaire 3........................................... 116
G. Nadia's Questionnaire Responses.............................119
H. Evan's Questionnaire Responses..............................126
I. Mikes Questionnaire Responses..............................133
J. Interview Questions 1.......................................137
K. Interview Questions 2.......................................140
L. Interview Questions 3.......................................143
M. Nadia's Interview Transcripts...............................145
N. Evan's Interview Transcripts................................161
O. Mike's Interview Transcripts................................174
P. In-Class Writing............................................188
Introductory Letters..................................188
Journal Entries.......................................191
Letters to Outside Reader.............................195
Closing Letters to Instructor....................... 199
REFERENCES.......................................201


CHAPTER I
INTRODUCTION AND PROBLEM STATEMENT
Introduction
My second semester of teaching writing was almost my last. After
feeling successful during the previous semester, I now dreaded going to
class and facing what I was beginning to see as malevolent faces. A few of
the students, those it seemed who spoke the most and the loudest, were
filled with comments that included: "I don't need this class," "This is a
stupid requirement," "No offense, but this requirement really doesn't
apply to me," "It's not you, it's the course," "I don't see how this
freshman-level course applies to meI______________(am a senior, am a
transfer student, took AP English in high school) and have received good
grades so far," and many more that made me doubt whether I would be
able teach these students anything that they might feel was worthwhile.
The writing course is a core university requirement that not all
students are willing to take, some because of the reasons listed above. But
it is a requirement that students must fulfill regardless of their skill level.
At first, I took the stance that I knew I had done a good job the semester
before so I could handle such comments. These few students also
questioned my assignments, my mini-lessons, and my guidance on their
papers, and almost everything that happened in class. It seemed that if


they weren't disagreeing with me or frowning upon something that the
class was doing, they were rolling their eyes, yawning, or just not
participating. Regardless of what I tried to do to get them interested or
involved, they seemed to prefer being discontent.
As the weeks of the semester went by, I found myself less and less
willing to attempt to reach the class; subconsciously, I was letting the
responses of a few students affect my responses and reactions to the entire
class. I had to force myself to continue conferences and I procrastinated
until the last minute to read their papers, racking my brain for positive
comments that I felt they didn't pay attention to and that I was growing to
believe they didn't earn. I discussed the situation with colleagues and
mentors and tried their suggestions, but nothing seemed to make either
my attitude or the class atmosphere improve. I began to reconsider
whether to teach the following semester and made an unconscious
decision just to survive the current semester as best I could with the least
amount of harm to either myself or the students.
Finally the semester ended. After portfolios were read and grades
were in, I apprehensively sat down to read the course evaluations, telling
myself that I could at least learn something from the experience even if I
never taught again. I was astoundedthe majority of the evaluations
were positive. As I continued reading, my first reaction was that this
couldn't be the class I dreaded going to three days a weekmy evaluations
must have been mixed up with someone else's. But no, my name was at
the top of each sheet.
While reading the students' written comments, I belatedly realized
2


that my perceptions of the entire class' attitudes had been influenced by
my interactions with those few students who were discontent and
resistant. I read comments that echoed what the students who had been
discontent all semester had been saying, and I could see that their
comments were repeated by a few other students. (The following semester
a student from that class saw me and apologized for the class' behavior,
and specifically for those few students who had led a discussion of what
should be written in course evaluations.) Although there were negative
comments, they seemed to be from a small, disgruntled group of
studentsor disciples of that groupand most of the remaining
comments were positive and/or constructive. As a whole, the
evaluations revealed that the majority of the students hadn't thought it
was a useless class: they thought it had been worthwhile, and most of
them.ended the semester feeling more confident in their writing abilities
(a goal I strive for, but one I believed had not been achieved well that
semester).
I had never heard these positive thoughts and attitudes voiced, not
even in individual conferences and meetings. Because I had not heard
positive comments, I assumed there were none, and I responded to the
entire class based on the negative attitudes of a few students. I had never
overtly asked the students what they believed, expected, or felt about
writing or about the class; instead, I had relied on my own observations
and intuition to inform me about what they believed, expected, and felt
about writing and about the class. I had allowed the obvious negative
attitudes of a few students to affect me and my teaching, and through this
3


to set the tone for the class.
I began to wonder how the class might have been different if I had
known the attitudes of each student. What unknown issues could I have
addressed if I had asked those few discontented students to tell me about
their attitudes? What beliefs, expectations, and/or feelings were affecting
the students and their writing that I was unaware of or perhaps perceiving
in a different way? And possibly the student who was silent and seemed
withdrawn the entire semester was not bored, but confused or fearful. If I
had asked this student why he seemed so quiet, would I have received a
response that could help me to work with him? A response such as "I'm
fine," or "I dont like to talk in front of the class," may have given me
some insight into the individual, but probably could not have given me
enough information to help that student be more comfortable or involved
with the course or with writing.
Most of my colleagues and mentors whom I approached with my
difficulties that semester had experienced similar situationssituations
that they did not relish but were not sure how to address except to
persevere. What happened that semester overwhelmed me. I did not
want to experience such a situation with another class, so I needed to learn
how to discover students' attitudes in order to better deal with similar
situations.
The students attitudes had affected their learning, and, as Pamela
Gay states,
Teachers need to become aware of the role of the cognitive
dimension of attitude (beliefs) in the development of writing
abilities. In the act of writing, most student writers
experience some attitudinal interference which might be
4


reduced through effective teacher intervention. (1983, p. 102)
If I could help students to acknowledge their attitudes about writing, then
perhaps I could work with them to change these attitudes. I could use
student input to help me understand the students and to teach them
effectively.
Student attitudes had affected me as an individual as well: my
perceptions of the students and their attitudes during that semester
influenced my teaching. Knowledge of students' attitudes may help me to
re-assess my own perceptions and misperceptions of the students. This
awareness might guide me to create a class atmosphere based around what
the students believe, expect, and feel about writing and themselves as
writers, not solely on what I pre-planned they would need to learn or what
I assumed they thought about writing.
My experiences with this particular class underlie the questions
defined in the next section of this chapter. My interactions with these
students illustrated that the attitudes of student writers affect their
learning and potentially my teaching, particularly when students are
enrolled in a required and, therefore, not necessarily chosen course.
5


Background and Significance of the Problem
But how could I get students to think about their attitudes toward
writing and themselves as writers? If they achieved this understanding,
how were they going to share this knowledge with me? Before I address
issues of methodology, a definition and explanation of attitude is required.
Attitudes are the affective or emotional responses that individuals have
toward people and things, responses that are created out of the beliefs and
expectations (Brophy & Evertson, 1981) that individuals have toward a
situation. These beliefs and expectations are created by multiple
experiences with the specific action or event in questionin this case,
writing. To show how experience creates beliefs, feelings, and
expectations, which support attitudes, consider this example: just as the
stability of a house depends on the strength of its foundation and supports,
attitudes are founded in experiences and supported by the expectations,
beliefs, and feelings gained from these experiences.
6


Students' experiences with writing (or any other subject) are the
foundations for their beliefs, expectations, and feelings about writing,
which, in turn, are the supports for their attitudes regarding writing. No
student's experience is identical to another's, so that the basis for each
student's beliefs, expectations, and feelings are different and, consequently,
all attitudes are unique and individual.
Beliefs are statements perceived as true whether they are or not, and
they often form the basis for attitudes relating to other people and
situations. Expectations are cognitive and intellectual predictions about
what something will be like or what someone will do (Brophy & Evertson,
1981). Beliefs and expectations come to bear on a situation that an
individual already has some experience with and are also influenced by
information from other sources such as friends, parents, newspapers,
magazines, television, books, and teachers (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975). A
student in a writing class may never have taken a writing class before, but
any previous experience with writing (their own writing, writing teachers,
writing classes, school in general) will be reflected in this student's
reactions to a writing class.
Another example might be the student who, enrolled in a writing
class, has received negative comments or poor grades on past writing
assignments. This student may be hesitant about writing, believing that
she will again receive negative comments and/or poor grades. She expects
that she will not succeed and perhaps feels badly about her inability to do
well in writing. She may also have extrapolated from her previous
negative experiences that she will never be able to write well. Her
7


attitude, supported by these expectations, beliefs, and feelings about
writing, is probably at the very least negative toward herself as a writer, if
not also negative toward writing in general. Because of this attitude, the
student may avoid or resist future writing experiences in an unconscious
attempt to protect herself from future negative experiences.
This student's subsequent hesitant attitude affects not only her
attempts at writing, but may affect how others perceive her as an
individual. A student who is resistant or who avoids an activity (writing
in this case) may be perceived by a teacher as having a negative attitude. A
teacher's perception of the students affects the students, perhaps even
before any writing is handed in: "Teachers' impressions of students can
act as self-fulfilling prophecies in the classroom. If teachers believe that
certain students are bright and others are dull, they may teach in ways that
help confirm these beliefs" (Brophy & Evertson, 1981, p. 10). The teacher
in this hesitant student's case does not necessarily understand why the
student is hesitant or avoids writing, and, therefore, may not address the
issues that underlie the hesitation or avoidance. The teacher may
perceive this student's reaction as a negative response to classroom
writing or to the class itself. The student's actions have created an image
of her that may or may not be true and, regardless of the verity this image,
the student will probably not succeed in the class unless she approaches
the teacher with her fears, or unless the teacher attempts to discover what
this student thinks about writing.
New experiences may cause individuals to restructure their beliefs
and expectations about a situation. Teachers can address students'
8


attitudes to attempt to strengthen positive beliefs, expectations, and
feelings, or have the students reconsider negative beliefs, expectations, and
feelings. This potential for change in attitudes is possible because attitudes
change from person to person and day by day.... [Many]
factors can influence behavior and resulting beliefs . [and]
contribute to the development of an attitude. School
achievement, self-concept, school environment, home
environment, parental attitude, teacher attitude, gender,
socio-economic status, individual interests, instructional
strategies, maturation, and intelligence are among the most
prominent factors. (Cothem & Collins, 1992, pp. 86 and 89)
As Cothem and Collins explain, students bring multiple and vastly
individual past experiences to the classroom. The attitudes supported by
these experiences are what teachers work with daily, whether they do it
knowingly or not. Asking students to reflect on their attitudes about a
subject and finding ways for students to express those insights to the
teacher provide a place for the teacher to gain an understanding of the
students' attitudes and needs. With this knowledge, the teacher can help
students deal with issues that may hinder their learning. This knowledge
may also enlighten the teacher's perceptions of the students, allowing her
to re-evaluate her own attitude toward individual students and the class.
An understanding of my difficult students' attitudes may have
made a big difference in the way I perceived the class, influencing my
effectiveness as a teacher. I believe that if I can come to know how my
students feel about writing, what they expect from writing, and what they
believe about themselves as writers, I can work with them to try to alter
negative attitudes and strengthen positive ones. Thinking about their
writing, their relationship with writing, and themselves as writers may
9


give the students the opportunity to reflect upon and re-evaluate their
attitudes. Understanding the attitudes of students may affect how I work
with them in the classroom and may also offer insight into the attitudes of
other students who are at the same writing level.
Statement of the Problem
This teacher-researcher case study focuses on the attitudes of
freshman-level, required writing course students and their potential
attitude change over a semester. Specifically, the study looks at three case
study subjects who, through questionnaires, interviews, and in-class
writing, respond regarding their attitudes toward writing and themselves
as writers. The study addresses attitudes through the following four
questions and variations of these questions:
1. How do you feel about yourself as a writer?
What do you see as your strengths, weaknesses, likes,
dislikes, abilities, inabilities, skills, needs, etc.?
2. What is your attitude toward writing and why do you
have this attitude?
3. What goals do you have for your writing?
What do you hope to gain from this course?
4. What do you believe makes a piece of writing good?
Studying the students' responses to these questions may give me access to
students' self-perceived attitudes, beliefs, and expectations regarding
writing, providing the information needed to address these issues with
the students. Asking students to inform me of their attitudes eliminated
the possibility of false assumptions that I might make from observation
10


and general student-teacher interaction alone.
With the goal of gaining an understanding of students' attitudes, I
questioned the students throughout a semester, noting any change in
attitude and its effect on their writing and their perceptions of themselves
as writers.
11


CHAPTER II
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
The following review focuses on the areas necessary to the study's
questions and method: research into attitude and attitude formation;
research into attitude and its relationship to writing; and research into
writing-attitude studies.
Research into Attitude and Attitude Formation
Attitudes are formed by affective and cognitive reactions to
experiences (Edwards, 1990), and are based upon beliefs, expectations, and
feelings that are established from past experiences (Brophy & Evertson,
1981). Attitudes can affect how individuals respond and react in a given
situation and help in decision making regarding specific activities, people,
and situations:
attitudes vary in intensity, quality, and degree on a
continuum from negative to neutral to positive . that
which is learned from one experience (stored as
feeling/attitude towards a specific event/idea) may help in
dealing with another experience. Experiences are then
bound, based on resulting feelings, by similarities (or
categorized according to differences), thus the learner
increases the store of knowledge which can be utilized in
decision-making. (Cothem & Collins, 1992, p. 88)


Thus, attitudes help individuals deal with present events by basing
current actions on stored knowledge gained from past experiences.
Because attitudes are created by experience, culture (family, peers, role
models, teachers) plays an important role in the "development of beliefs
due to the need for recognition and acceptance from .. those people
deemed most influential due to frequency of contact or familiarity"
(Cothem & Collins, 1992, pp. 88-89). Attitudes are formed
not only through reason, but also through the affective
component [which includes] emotions, feelings, or drives
associated with an attitude object, whereas the cognitive
component [includes] beliefs, judgments, or thoughts
associated with an attitude object. . More often than not,
affect and cognition jointly determine the course of attitude
acquisition. (Edwards, 1990, pp. 203-204)
Though attitudes are creations of multiple beliefs, expectations, and
feelings that are based in past experiences, it is important to note that
neither one belief, nor one expectation, nor one feeling alone upholds an
attitude: "We might consider each salient belief as weighted according to
strength. The stronger the belief, the higher it appears in the hierarchy of
beliefs. The sum of these beliefs finally tips a person's attitude in one
direction or another" [emphasis mine] (Gay, 1983, p. 10). The more
experiences that an individual has had with a particular situation, then
the more beliefs, expectations, and feelings have been created so far by that
person about the situation, and the sum of these will affect how he/she
responds.
Beliefs, expectations, and feelings regarding a situation are usually
formed as quickly as events happen and add to the individual's store of
13


beliefs, expectations, and feelings about the situation (Fishbein & Ajzen,
1975). Therefore, it is also important to perceive attitude as a developing
network, emphasizing the intertwining of beliefs, expectations, and
feelings, and stressing the interdependence of affective and cognitive
issues on attitude development and support (Cothem & Collins, 1992).
Knowing attitudes is important because attitude affects or directs behavior
(Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975; Koballa, 1992). Though, as stated above,
addressing one belief, feeling, or expectation will not necessarily change an
attitude, "repeated positive evaluations of affective factors can serve to
change behavioral intentions. In turn, beliefs become more positive,
influencing the orientation of attitude" (Cothern & Collins, 1992, p. 87).
Because attitudes form and change throughout people's lives (Koballa,
1992), as an individual experiences more regarding a specific attitude
situation, that person's attitude is strengthened or weakened in response
to new beliefs, feelings, and expectations that come from this new
experience. This affects how an individual will behave or respond toward
that situationan important point when considering that attitude affects
the "motivation and performance of students" (Wolcott & Buhr, 1987, p. 4).
Researchers have acknowledged the power of attitudes on learning
to write: "[W]e'd underestimated how important attitudes are, how much
good ones fertilize writing, how much bad ones poison it" (Nelson, 1991,
p. 99). An awareness of negative or mixed attitudes is necessary before any
kind of positive influence on them can be attempted, for, as Nelson also
noted, "awareness . was prerequisite to growth: AWARENESS ==>
ATTITUDE ==> BEHAVIOR ==> WRITING" (1991, p. 100).
14


Acknowledging and addressing attitudes are prerequisites for any change
in behavior that could affect an individual's writing, because people's
attitudes lead them to act in certain ways (Brophy & Evertson, 1981).
Also important is that thinking about attitudes toward a specific
situation "[m]akes one aware of one's existing attitudes .. [which]
facilitates making other associations about the attitude relevant material"
(Hutton & Baumeister, 1992, p. 69). An individual's attitude about writing
affects her use of the knowledge she may possess, so that conscious
attention to an attitude may lead to a change in that attitude.
Being aware of students' attitudes about writing and about
themselves as writers is necessary in order "to examine the attitudes and
beliefs that students hold about writing and their competence as writers.
Such beliefs may influence what and how they compose" (Graham,
Schwartz, & MacArthur, 1993, pp. 237-238). By learning about students'
attitudes, a teacher can begin to separate assumptions and preconceptions
about students from the students' actual attitudes (Cothem & Collins,
1992) and begin to find ways to work with these students.
Research into Attitude and Its Relationship to Writing
Students bring attitudes about their world and about themselves as
learners to the first day of kindergarten, and expand and change these
attitudes as they progress through life and its experiences:
A child is not an empty vessel when he enters school; he
comes replete with a set of abstractions about the world and
15


himself, some of which he may have acquired ready-made
from others but some of which he generated himself from
his own experience. It is these latter that are troublesome to
others, obscure to himself, and not very amenable to
influence and possible correction. . Yet they determine a lot
of his behavior. And control of behavior becomes possible
only as awareness of these abstractions arises.... at any time
of life we are constantly processing new experience up
through the cycle of sensations, memories, generalizations,
and theories. (Moffett, 1983, pp. 24-25)
Children in the early grades of school approach writing with a zeal that
decreases as they proceed through higher grades (Zemelman & Daniels,
1988). This zeal aids in their learning of writing, for, as Daly (1985)
observes, a positive attitude about writing has an impact on the
development and support of writing skills. But, as Zemelman and
Daniels also note, students' attitudes about writing change based on the
experiences they have had with writing, the expectations they have grown
to have about their writing, and the beliefs they have created from their
encounters with writing, and they often change toward the negative:
"Unfortunately, in a school writing class, students often arrive with the
wrong expectations about the subject, the class, and the group; they have
already learned to dislike writing and predict failure and bad feelings for
themselves" (1988, p. 62). The teacher who works with students to help
them acknowledge their expectations and attitudes may produce an
opportunity to affect these attitudes positively.
Knowledge of students' attitudes is necessary for the teacher to
understand the individuals she is teaching: "[Pjrior to performance there
exist attitudes which affect performance. Attitudes toward writing are an
integral part of the composing process, but. . we understand little of how
16


students feel about writing: what their perceptions are of it and what
values they place on it" (King, 1979, p. 1). If teachers can become aware of
students' attitudes, they can work with students to overcome negative
attitudes that may impede writing progress, for effective work with
writing cannot begin until teachers have knowledge of the possible causes
of the problems (Gay, 1983).
In order to encourage positive experiences with writing, teachers
need to know what the students believe, expect, and feel so that they may
address negative attitudes that affect the students' learning and class
experience.
Writing Attitude Studies
Daly and Miller (1975a), Emig and King (1977), Pianko and Rogers
(1977), and Giordano (1987) have all created Likert-type scales to help
teachers become aware of the attitudes of their writing students. These
various studies were considered based on either their methodology or
their findings or both, but while these scales address writing attitude, they
focus primarily on writing apprehension. In "The Empirical
Development of an Instrument to Measure Writing Apprehension," Daly
and Miller explain that a writing-apprehensive student "will avoid
communication situations or react in some anxious manner if forced into
them because he foresees primarily negative consequences from such
engagements" (1975a, p. 243). While some students who exude a negative
attitude may be writing apprehensive, not all students who express a
17


negative attitude in the classroom necessarily feel negative about their
writing abilities and, therefore, may not be considered truly apprehensive,
at least to the degree that they avoid all writing situations. And, while
much research has focused on writing apprehension, little research seems
to have been done on general attitudes of writing students.
In a course such as the one this study is based on (a freshman-level,
core writing requirement writing class), some students placed in the
course may have the attitude that their writing skills are above the level of
the course: they may believe that their skills are already adequate and so
are negative about the course and the writing. Other students may be
indifferent to the course and writing because it is a requirement, not a
choice, and regardless of how they feel about writing, they need to take the
class to graduate. Still other students may not fear writing, but
acknowledge outright that they lack the skills necessary to achieve in
school and so enroll in the course to develop skills. All of these students
are not necessarily apprehensive about writing, yet they may exhibit a
negative attitude about writing and the class. Some students, though, may
be truly apprehensive.
Daly (1979) states that "Teachers obviously play an extremely
important role in the lives of their students. If writing apprehension does
affect the students, then teacher reactions to it are important for a clear
understanding of the construct and its effects" (p. 43). As described above,
not only writing apprehension issues affect students' ability and desire to
write. Knowledge of these issues and attitudes may help a teacher react
appropriately to those attitudes. But, as writing apprehension and
18


reactions associated with apprehension may lead the teacher to perceive
the student as having a negative attitude (Daly, 1979), studies dealing with
writing apprehension are viable sources for the search for student
attitudes.
Daly and Miller (1975a) created a writing apprehension scale to
assess the level of writing apprehension in students. This Likert-type
instrument asked students to respond, on a scale from "firmly agree" to
"firmly disagree," to twenty-six questions dealing with anxiety about
writing in general, teacher evaluation of writing, peer evaluation of
writing, and professional evaluation of writing, together with questions
concerning the atmosphere and situations in which the students
commonly wrote (pp. 244-245). Although this instrument measures
writing apprehension, it does not offer methodological options for
working with these students in the classroom.
Daly continues his research into writing apprehension in his 1979
study, "Writing Apprehension in the Classroom: Teacher Role
Expectancies of the Apprehensive Writer," in which he expands his study
of writing apprehension to include teaching-relevant issues such as
teacher perception of apprehensive students. Here, Daly indicates that
there are connections between teachers' perceptions of writing
apprehensive students and teachers' expectations arising from these
perceptions. A student whom teachers may perceive as a highly
apprehensive student may be evaluated less positively than a student who
is perceived as having low apprehension toward writing. More
importantly, Daly discovered that the teachers in his study perceived
19


highly apprehensive students as less able to succeed in school and less
likely to succeed in the future. Furthermore, the teachers were not likely
to other teacher positive recommendations of these students, potentially
affecting their future learning experiences (1979).
Apprehension not only affects a student's ability to perform in
school, but also negatively influences his relationship with and guidance
from teachers. The results of Daly's study argue that teachers need to be
aware of students' individual attitudes so that teachers' assumptions can
be challenged and re-evaluated. The ways teachers perceive apprehensive
students may direct how these students are treated in class and may define
the expectations (or lack of expectations) that are placed on them in school,
which may inhibit these students' successful development and
maintenance of writing skills (Daly, 1985).
Emig and King created the Emig-King Writing Attitude Scale (1979)
to assess students attitudes toward writing. Based on the New Jersey
Writing Project Scale, they asked students to respond to a Likert-type, five-
point scale of forty items focusing on three categories: student's preference
for writing, student's perception of writing, and student's process of
writing. This scale was used primarily for the assessment of student
attitude and noted students' responses to the questions, but it did not
address any methodological treatments for the attitudes the scale
identified.
Pianko and Rogers created the P&R Writing Attitude Form (1977) to
assess college students' attitudes about writing. This is the only
assessment of attitudes that contains items supplied by the subjects
20


themselves: the other attitude/apprehension studies noted in this study
present items for subjects to respond to, but do not ask for a response in
the students' own words. Pianko and Rogers used their scale to identify
student preferences in writing, based on George Kelly's theories of
personal constructs (1955).
Kellys theories stated that people constantly test the world and
their experiences against sets of constructs they have formed regarding the
world and various experiences (1955)each new experience is tested
against a model of that individual's world (as based on his or her
experiences). When an individual encounters a new experience, he tests
that experience against prior experiences to predict what to expect, believe,
or feel about this new experience (he tests the new information against a
prior construct regarding such a situation), and either the previous
construct breaks down the new information to fit into the construct or the
construct is restructured to accommodate the new information.
Individuals are constantly trying to predict, and therefore, control
their worlds (Kelly, 1955, p. 14). Constructs help people predict what will
happen in any given situation and, depending on how a present
experience fits or does not fit with the prior construct, constructs help
people know how to act or react in the new situation. Constructs are
constantly being tested and revised as often as individuals have
experiences (1955). Pianko and Rogers applied Kelly's theory to attitude
research and asked students questions regarding eight components of
writing situations and experiences, including forms the writing takes,
mode the writing is in, audience for the writing, and purpose for the
21


writing.
The Florida Writing Project first used the Emig-King Writing
Attitude Scale for Students (1979) to assess writers' attitudes; later, O'Neal,
Guttinger, and Morris of the Florida Writing Project refined a Bay Area
Writing Project instrument to more specifically fit the goals of their
project, creating the Florida Writing Project Student Survey (1983). This
survey was used as a measure of writing attitudes for students in grades six
through twelve. Using a Likert-type scale, students were asked to respond
to statements regarding their writing and their writing skills. This survey
provided information on the success and direction of the Florida Writing
Project, implying that students' attitudes about writing reflect instructional
success.
In 1979, King furthered her assessment of writing attitudes by
creating The King Construct Scale. This scale, based on the P&R Writing
Attitude Scale and given to twenty-five high school students, consisted of
twenty-five questions reflecting four areas of the writing process: the
students' purpose for writing, the students' source of the writing (topics
chosen or assigned), the students' audience, and the students' chosen
writing mode. This scale aspired to find methodological ways of dealing
with student attitudes, first by asking the students to respond to questions
about writing, and second by creating a list of students' writing preferences
gained from their responses to the scale. King found that the majority of
the students in this study preferred self-directed personal writing and a
free choice of topics, as opposed to the writing that their teachers were
assigning (p. 14). While this scale assesses students' attitudes about writing
22


and offers suggestions for methodological re-evaluation, it suggests
applying a general cure to the individual differences of a group of
students. The study does not deal with the individualities of students and
their varied reactions to writing that teachers confront everyday.
For her case Study, "How Attitude Interferes with the Performance
of Unskilled College Freshman Writers," Gay (1983) used the Daly-Miller
Attitude Scale to assess the attitudes of three writers at Old Dominion
University in order to ascertain how their past experiences with writing
affect their current attitudes about writing. Through the attitude scale,
observations, and individual interviews with three college-level students
and their high school writing instructors, Gay investigated the students'
writing histories and their teachers' perceptions of these students to
understand what helped the students develop attitudes toward writing.
To a large extent, Gay found that students' beliefs about writing are shaped
by their teachers' beliefs about writing, along with the teachers' reactions
to the students as individuals (1983, p. 101). A teacher's attitudinal
influence greatly affects students' attitudes toward the subject, as well as
influencing students' sense of their ability to succeed in the subject.
Giordano developed a Writing Attitude Inventory (1983) with the
intention that teachers would administer it to their classes. The infor-
mation gained from this inventory was intended to help teachers be aware
of student characteristics that are associated with positive or negative
attitudes toward writing. Giordano based the need for teacher awareness
of students' attitudes on the premise that changing a negative attitude was
a precondition for learning, remediation, or evaluation (p. 221).
23


These studies and their scales and inventories are very helpful in
the assessment and measurement of students' attitudes toward writing.
(For the various attitude scales and questionnaires discussed above, see
Appendix A.) The work of these researchers is valuable to this study
because, as the next chapter details, they provide a basis for the
investigation into student attitudes and their effect on students' writing,
along with students' perceptions of themselves as writers.
However, few of these studies go further into what to do with this
knowledge, that is, how to apply this knowledge in the classroom so that it
can affect students. All but one of the studies discussed above require
students to choose answers from questions supplied by the researchers,
rather than asking students to reflect in their own words on their
attitudes, beliefs, expectations, and feelings toward writing and themselves
as writers. The studies acknowledge the impact attitude has on writing
and on learning to write, but primarily offer ways to discover attitudes.
Knowing how to uncover students' attitudes about writing and
themselves as writers is but a precursor to working with these attitudes.
Both uncovering and working with students' attitudes is the focus of this
study.
24


CHAPTER IE
METHODOLOGY
Teacher-Research and Case Study Rationale
As discussed in the previous chapter, teachers often see problems or
difficulties in their classrooms, but just acknowledging that something is
wrong is not enough: teachers need to investigate these situations to
discover the cause. Teachers are in a position to both observe and affect
their students for they are directly and intimately involved in the
classroom experience. Asking for students' responses to classroom
activities can help teachers gain insight into their teaching. Once a
question or problem has been identified, then the teachers can take on the
role of teacher-researcher in considering what they have observed and
what the students say.
Teacher-research defines who is doing the researchthe classroom
teacher, not an outside observer. The fact that the classroom teacher is the
one investigating a question, though, does not necessarily create thorough
teacher-research. Thoughtful and planned observation and a close study
of the findings are required for teacher-research to be useful and valid.
Teacher-research is beneficial because the teacherthe individual in
closest contact with the students and the issueis the one conducting the
study and asking the questions. The teacher in this role can make the


study a beneficial part of the learning process for the teacher and the
students, not merely a series of questions being posed by an individual
who seems to have no stake in the students involved in the study.
Barnett, in his article "Linking Teaching and Research" (1992),
describes the logical connection between teaching and research as activities
"so closely woven that they are inseparable. ... At its best, the teaching
situation takes on much of the character of the research process, with an
open dialog between the students and teacher.... The teacher may lead
the discussion or the activity, but he or she is also learning from the
students" (p. 632). The position that teachers hold in the classroom can aid
a study. But along with this advantage, teachers need to take the time to
reflect on their teaching experiences and adjust their plans in response to
these reflections for the act of teaching to be considered a form of research.
It is through teaching that potential solutions can be found; to
separate teaching and research in these situations is to lose a piece of
invaluable informationstudents' inputfor, as Ray states, "The teacher-
researcher point of view [is] that learning and knowing are collaborative,
and that teachers learn as much from their interaction with students as
students learn from their teachers" (1992, p. 177). Elbow takes this
perspective on teacher-research a step further, noting that
even though we are not wholly peer with our students, we
can still be peer in [the] crucial sense of also being engaged in
learning, seeking, and being incomplete. Significant learning
requires change, inner readjustments, willingness to let go.
We can increase the chances of our students being willing to
undergo the necessary anxiety involved in change if they see
we are also willing to undergo it. (1983, pp. 332-333)
26


In this way, the teacher-researcher not only learns from and with students,
but models an attitude of learning for her students: that they are all in the
process of learning from each other. By listening to what students say and
by sharing a sense of mutual learning, a teacher "begins to look at his
students' difficulties in a more fruitful way: he begins to search in what
students write and say for clues to their reasoning and their purposes, and
in what he does for gaps and misjudgments" (Shaughnessy, 1977, pp. 292-
293). Not only is a sharing of knowledge and understanding between
students and teachers gained through teacher-research, but teacher-
research also lends itself to critical reflection (Barnett, 1992).
North states, in The Making of Knowledge in Composition (1987),
that practitioners are mainly interested in the question, "What do we do?"
and scholars with, "What does it mean?". Researchers ask, "What
happened (or happens)?" Combining teaching and research in a search for
understanding makes it possible to ask both "What do we do?" and "What
happened (or happens)?" in order to better comprehend what goes on in
writing classes and what teachers can do with the information they
uncover.
Case study methodology extends these questions to focus on "how"
and "why" (Merriam, 1988; Yin, 1989). Case study examines a specific
phenomenon in its own environment where it is impossible to separate
variables from their context (Feagin, Orum, & Sjoberg, 1991; Yin, 1989).
Lauer and Asher (1988) support the need for context in the understanding
of case study research questions when they acknowledge the multitude of
questions and issues that teachers note daily in their classrooms from
27


student behavior, results of instruction, what works and what was
difficult, and so forth (p. 23). Case study values the interactions available
in classrooms: "For a teacher to observe and inquire into and reflect on
the events and persons in his classroom is to use methodology in keeping
with his role as an educatormethodology that does not alienate him or
intrude on his teaching" (Bissex, 1990, p. 70). Indeed, like teacher-research,
the input and interaction of teacher and students makes for "research
focused on discovery, insight, and understanding from the perspectives of
those being studied [and] offers the greatest promise of making significant
contributions to the knowledge base and practice of education" (Merriam,
1988, p. 3).
Drawbacks to case study research, though, hinge on the necessity of
reliance on research interpretation, potentially resulting in bias and
narrowed perspectives (Merriam, 1988). One way to attempt to adjust for
these potential difficulties is to take advantage of the ability of case study
research to use any and all forms of data collection (Merriam, 1988),
ensuring that the perspective of those being studied is thorough.
" [Qualitative research assumes that there are multiple realitiesthat the
world is not an objective thing out there but a function of personal
interaction and perception" (Merriam, 1988, p. 17), and the ability of case
study to deal with a variety of evidence (Yin, 1989) can help researchers
"get as close to the subject of interest as they possibly can, partly by means
of direct observation in natural settings, [and] partly by their access to
subjective factors (thoughts, feelings, and desires)" (Yin, 1989, p. 29).
Through this multiple data one can attempt to overcome personal bias in
28


the study.
Teacher-research and case study both search for understanding and
do not attempt to prove that something does or does not occur (Bissex,
1990), but rather strive to note the reasons behind such an occurrence. The
goal of understanding what the students believed made obvious the need
for student/teacher interaction and for knowledge of student and teacher
perspectives. The choice of a qualitative research methodology came from
a need to interact with the class, to actively inquire about their perceptions,
and to create, as Marshall and Rossman define qualitative research, a
systematic inquiry [which] must occur in a natural setting
rather than an artificially constrained one such as an
experiment... [it is research] that entails immersion in the
everyday life of the setting chosen for study, that values
participants' perspectives on their worlds and seeks to
discover those perspectives, that views inquiry as an
interactive process between the researcher and the
participants, and that is primarily descriptive and relies on
people's words as the primary data. (1989, pp. 10-11)
Qualitative research methodologies provided multiple perspectives,
which allowed for a multi-faceted investigation of a single social
phenomenon (Feagin, et al., 1991) from which to try to understand
students' attitudes. These perspectives allowed me to study the class in
action, over timea trait that is a goal of case study research. I chose the
case study approach because, according to Feagin, et al., case study
provides a way of studying human events and actions in
their natural surroundings. ... to record people engaged in
real-life activities. ... to discover complex sets of decisions
and to recount the effect of decisions over time . [to]
provide a full sense of actors' motives that eventuate in
specific decisions and events ... [to] see human beings up
29


close, get a sense of what drives them, and develop claims of
how their personal as well as collective lives have been
created ... and to display the patterns of everyday life as they
change. (1991, pp. 7-12)
With the information from questionnaires, interviews, and in-class
writing, I was able to cross-check data, triangulating it to check and re-
check attitudes in the classroom. Triangulation of sources, or "the act of
bringing more than one source of data to bear on a single point," let me
build each source of information upon the previous. The data from these
different sources could then be used to "corroborate, elaborate, or
illuminate" the research (Marshall & Rossman, 1989, p. 146).
The data collection was scheduled during the semester in three
sessions corresponding to the three months of the semester:
DATA COLLECTION SCHEDULE
June Introductory Letter to Instructor
Questionnaire 1
Interview 1
July Questionnaire 2
Journal defining attitude
Interview 2
August Questionnaire 3
Letter to Outside Reader
Closing Letter to Instructor
Interview 3
Subsequent sections of this chapter detail the educational context of the
study, the selection of participants, and the data collection and analysis.
30


Educational Context
The University of Colorado at Denver (UCD) is a state-supported,
urban, non-residential university located in the center of the city of
Denver that shares its campus with a state college and a community
%
college. UCD is not an open-admissions institution, but students may take
courses as non-degree students.
The University requires two writing classes as core requirements,
English 1020Writing Workshop II, and English 2024Intermediate
Composition. English 1010Writing Workshop I is a preliminary course
that offers under-prepared students more thorough instruction in basic
writing skills and it is taken for elective credit. English 1010 is required if
students are not placed in English 1020 based on their writing placement
essays. The placement essay (a timed writing based on one of four essay
questions provided by the Writing Program) is written on the first class
day by all students enrolled in English 1010 and 1020. The current writing
staff reads and evaluates each essay, placing students in the classes that
would benefit them most. These placements are made regardless of
students' perception of their own placement and skill level.
English 1020 focuses on building academic writing and critical
thinking skills. English 1010 focuses on the discovery and development of
ideas and purpose, focus and organization, and a sense of personal voice
and style, as well as mechanical and grammatical skills. English 1020
&
students show a working knowledge of these basic writing skills, whereas
31


students placed in English 1010 generally have great difficulty with many
basic writing skills, including brainstorming, idea development,
organization, audience awareness, style, voice, grammar, and mechanics.
Students who enroll themselves in English 1010 tend to lack
confidence in their writing skills and believe that they need to learn basic
writing skills. Those students who are placed into English 1010 from
English 1020 may feel inadequate or disgruntled by placement in a lower-
level class; they begin to question their abilities or the abilities of the
people who read their placement essay. Both the students who place
themselves and those who iare placed in English 1010 have the potential to
feel negative about their writing abilities and the writing course.
Selection of Participants
Thirteen college students took a ten-week, summer semester
writing course, English 1010. During the academic year there are usually
five to ten sections of English 1010 offered and ten to fifteen sections of
English 1020 offered. During the summer semester when this study was
conducted, there was one section of English 1010 and four sections of
English 1020. Nine of the study participants enrolled themselves in
English 1010 and the other four were placed from English 1020 into
English 1010. (For Semester Syllabus, see Appendix B.)
The field of research for this study was limited to this section of
English 1010. These thirteen students served as questionnaire and
observation participants. Of the thirteen students, eight were female and
32


five were male; nine were native speakers and four were non-native
speakers. Their ages varied from late teens to early fifties, and their school
ranking from freshman to senior and undecided. All thirteen students,
via their enrollment and agreement, participated in the questionnaire and
in-class writing aspects of the research by signing a consent form in which
they agreed to participate willingly in the research (see Appendix C).
After the students had agreed to participate in the study, I asked for
volunteers who would be willing to discuss attitudes in interviews for the
case study component of the study. The interviews were to be conducted
individually, three times throughout the semester (beginning, middle,
and end) for 30-45 minutes per interview. Before individuals volunteered,
I explained that the subject matter of the interviews would center around
attitude issues that would be discussed in class. I invited the entire class to
volunteer, explaining that I wanted to know what they thought about
writing and themselves as writers.
Seven people originally volunteeredthree women and four
menthough five people actually went through the interview process.
The two students who volunteered but were not interviewed could not
find times when we could meet or did not show up at the times we had
agreed upon. One of these students set up another time, but ended up not
making it to that meeting either and we canceled the interview at that
point.
Of the five individuals who went through the interview process,
two were women and three were men: one of the female participants was
African-American and in her fifties, the other female participant was
33


Caucasian and in her early twenties; the three male participants were
Caucasian, two were in their early twenties, and the third was in his late
thirties. All five participants spoke English as their first language and
came from varied educational experiences and areas of study.
PARTICIPANT INFORMATION
Gender Age range Race Area of studv Year in School Native language
* Female 20s Caucasian undecided Sr. English
If Male 20s Caucasian Business Fr. English
* * Female 50s African-American Psych./Philo. Jr- English
* * Male 20s Caucasian Business Fr. English
* * Male 30s Caucasian Art and English Fr. English
*case participants
**case subjects
Two of these five Students participated in two interviews that took place
during the second week and the eighth week of the ten-week semester.
These individuals did not complete all three scheduled interviews because
they were unable to meet with me during the assigned second interview
week, making a third interview repetitive because of the closeness of the
interview periods. A third student also participated in only two
interviews because he withdrew from the summer course (with my
knowledge) during the eighth week of the semester, therefore missing the
third interview that was scheduled during the tenth week of the semester.
The remaining two interview participants met with me three times: the
second week, the sixth week, and the tenth week of the ten-week semester.
34


Data Collection and Analysis
In this study, questionnaires sought general information from
the class about their attitudes toward writing and themselves as writers.
Interviews provided more personal and direct information from five
specific individuals regarding these topics. Observation and students' in-
class writing served to expose other attitudes and/or corroborate
information revealed in the questionnaires and interviews. The cases are
reported as detailed narratives with information from the questionnaires,
interviews, and in-class writing.
Questionnaires
Three times during the semester (the first week, the fifth week, and
the tenth week), I asked all thirteen students to reflect on their attitudes by
filling out questionnaires that focused around the four questions listed at
the end of Chapter I: how they felt about themselves as writers, what their
attitude was about writing, what goals they had for their Writing, and what
they considered to be good writing. I hoped that by having the students fill
out questionnaires, I would learn what they thought in response to these
four questions, and why they held these beliefs.
Questionnaires in this study were used as
an instrument of communication, a two-way conversation
between the respondent and ... researcher .. designed to
help keep the researcher objective, to help him avoid
35


inflicting his own values and perceptions on the respondent
and then subsequently saying that this is what the respondent
actually meant. (Labaw, 1980, p. 11)
Most of the questionnaire questions were open-ended, or were closed
questions followed by requests for explanations of the response. The
students were thorough in filling out the questionnaires for the most part,
and did not respond with only yes and no, but expanded upon their
answers. The questionnaires were kept anonymous during the semester,
but were coded by the students with the last four digits of their student
identification numbers, allowing me to identify the questionnaire
respondents at the end of the semester for case study purposes. (For
Questionnaires 1,2, and 3, see Appendices D, E, and F; for Case
Participants' Responses, see Appendices G, H, and I.)
The students responded to the questionnaires three times during
the semester in order to indicate any change in response, for "multiple
administrations of such assessments allow for changes in attitudes to be
identified, creating the opportunity to alter instruction where needed"
(Cothem & Collins, 1992, p. 91). The questionnaires built upon each other,
with the first informing the second and the second informing the third, so
that I was able to address issues that came up in class, to reword questions
in order to ask for more explanation of previously given responses, and to
repeat questions to show changes in response. New questions were added
and previously asked questions were altered to gain more thorough
information and expose issues that had developed in the course. The
students were, therefore, familiar with some of the questions on
questionnaires two and three, and so had the opportunity to reconsider
36


their previous responses. The repetition of questions was intended to
help the students reflect on their attitudes and to help both the students
and me notice any possible changes in the attitudes.
The questionnaires were designed to reveal a general idea of the
students' attitudes. To get more specific responses and clarify the reasons
and bases for these attitudes, I relied on personal interaction with the
participants.
In-depth Interviews
The purpose of the interviews was to discuss the four questions
first posed in the questionnaires in depth with five students in order to
understand more thoroughly the attitudes that they held:
In most cases there are no independent sources of validation
of survey question responses, particularly on attitudinal
questions. One set of attitudinal responses can be checked
against another in the same or another survey, but most
survey researchers do not check their attitudinal findings
against, for example, in-depth interviews with a small
sample of respondents, . The scholar who uses the case
study can check such matters, both by asking several
different people the same, in-depth questions and by
checking with alternative and independent sources of
information. (Feagin, et al., 1991, p. 12)
Speaking one-on-one with these students provided background and reality
checks for the questionnaire responses.
The in-depth interviews were valuable because they allowed time
for student-teacher interaction that was not directly associated with class
37


activities or assignments. They were necessary because "learning and
knowing are collaborative, and . teachers learn as much from their
interaction with students as students learn from teachers" (Ray, 1992, p.
177). The interviews were intended to encourage students' self-reflection
about their attitudes and abilities, to clarify their questionnaire responses,
to question more deeply these ideas and responses, and to trace more
thoroughly the reasons behind any attitude change.
Just as the questionnaires built upon each other, each interview
built upon questions asked in the previous interview. Some questions
were taken directly from the questionnaires for clarification of responses
as well as to help the students connect the questionnaires and interviews
and, consequently, stimulate students' self-reflection regarding how they
responded on the questionnaire and what they said in the interview. The
series of interviews also helped to clarify my interpretations of the
students' attitudes. (For Interview Questions 1, 2, and 3, see Appendices J,
K, and L; for Case Participants' Interview Transcripts, see Appendices M,
N, and O.)
All interviews took place at the convenience of the students, on
campus and during school hours, and lasted a maximum of 45 minutes
each. With the permission of the interviewees, the interviews were
conducted and tape-recorded in the privacy of the Writing Program Office,
behind closed doors. The tapes were transcribed by a private
transcriptionist.
The questionnaires provided a forum for general responses and the
interviews allowed a place for more detailed personal responses. The in-
38


class writing gave the students places to free-write about attitude.
In-Class Writing
The in-class writing included introductory letters from student to
teacher, journal entries (topics both assigned and student-chosen), process
logs, and end-of-semester letters to outside readers and the instructor. For
these writings, I suggested questions and topics to get the students to think
about why they feel and believe what they do about writing, with the hope
that eventually they would add their own questions as they began to
clarify their writing attitudes. These in-class writings were written
randomly over the semester, dependent upon class activities, class
discussions, and questionnaire responses. (For Case Participant In-Class
Writing, see Appendix P.)
Self-reflection by the students is essential for the class to be student-
centered and active in learning (Barnett, 1992). Written input gave the
students a place to put their voices in the studya goal for qualitative
research that "values participants' perspectives on their worlds and seeks
to discover those perspectives, that views inquiry as an interactive process
between the researcher and the participants, and that is primarily
descriptive and relies on people's words as the primary data" (Marshall &
Rossman, 1989, p. 11). I learned about the students as individuals through
these writings and grew to know the attitudes and goals they brought with
them to this writing class.
39


CHAPTER IV
CASES
The three cases that follow explore three students' attitudes toward
writing and themselves as writers. The four general interview questions
are used for the focus, showing how these writers feel about themselves as
writers, what their attitudes toward writing are, what they hope to gain
from the class, and what they believe makes a piece of writing good. Each
student brought individual beliefs, expectations, and feelings about
writing to the class. The cases aim to show these students' attitudes and
why or if their attitudes changed over the semester.
Nadia
In the beginning of the semester, I was not sure how Nadia felt
about being placed in English 1010 from English 1020 after writing the
placement essay. Was she disappointed that her writing skills were not
acceptable for English 1020? Was she angry? Did she agree with her
placement or was she resigned? During our June interview, I found that I
needn't have worried about Nadia being unhappy about or having a poor
attitude toward her placement in English 1010. In our first interview on
June 17, two weeks after the class started, Nadia explained how she felt


about being in English 1010: "I actually enrolled in 1020 and didn't quite
know what class I needed to be in so I took the test and that told me where
I needed to go___I felt that I needed, desperately, an English class
English compositionbecause my writing is atrocious, very bad. My
organization is terrible" (Interview 1, p. 1,11 3-11). Nadia defines
composition as "setting up a sentence, diagramming a sentence,
punctuation ... and organizing ... [and believes that] I probably just need
to start from the first English class you could ever give a kid" (Interview 1,
p. 4,11 200-201 and 203-204). Nadia feels that her writing is "atrocious":
I really don't know how to write a real essay or a real
summary. I don't know. I'm doing what I think is a
summary or I guess I don't know if I'm really writing this
thing in the right order ... I dont know if I'm really doing it.
. .. I'm so worried about commas and periods and then what
is an adverb, is everything in past tense . (Interview 1, p. 4,
11169-171 and 174-176).
Nadia's goal is to learn the rules of writing.
Nadia, an African-American woman in her late fifties, decided to go
to school to relieve her "empty nest syndrome," as all of her three
children are adults now and out on their own. She is in school to study
philosophy and psychology, and knows that she needs good writing skills
because, she says writing is "important in every aspect of your life"
(Interview 1, p. 1,140). But she states that she
never really wrote a lot. I had a problem with dyslexia. ... I
had a problem of writing things out. I don't know how I got
over the part of reading, maybe because I wanted to read so
badly.... I went all through life without knowing [I had
dyslexia]. I was probably in my early twenties before I realized
I had dyslexia.... I do a lot more talking than I do writing.
(Interview 1, p. 2,11, 64, 67-69, 77-79, and 85-86)
41


Writing takes a lot of time for Nadia, and she describes that as another
concern of hers, "What will be the drawback is when will I find the time to
do it [writing]" (Interview 1, p. 7,1 353).
When asked on the first questionnaire how she feels about writing,
Nadia says that she is "anxious" about writing, because when she writes
she feels as if she is "in a hurry. I feel frustrated because I can't put my
thoughts on paper correctly" (Questionnaire 1, questions 3 and 3a), and
when she starts to write she doubts herself, asking, "Oh why did I pick
this? How am I going to narrow this down, there are so many sections of
this subject. I guess that's what I mean by anxious, and anxious knowing
that my writing is so unorganized" (Interview 1, p. 3,11115-117).
Throughout the first interview and the first questionnaire, Nadia
refers again and again to her lack of knowledge of the rules of writing,
which cause her to believe that her writing skills are "poor ... I need good
order and punctuation," and to rate herself as a writer also as "poor1 . .
I know I can do better if I knew how" (Questionnaire 1, questions 9 and
9a). She believes that she is lacking knowledge of the rules of writing and
that learning them will make her writing better. What she wants to gain
from this class came across strongly in our first interview: "I needed a
class to give me the skills_[I]f I could overcome this fear of
organization, punctuation, composition more than anything, I would
probably write [more]" (Interview 1, p. 3,11152-153 and 155-156).
Nadia acknowledges that she has difficulty with writing and has to
learn "composition," but this does not detract from her eagerness to learn
42


how to write: "I am excited about [writing] because I think I can write
really nice things. I think of a lot of nice things in my mind, and I usually
say to myself, 'Boy, if I could just put this thought on paper.' I think I
could possibly be a writer if I really put my mind to it, if I knew how to
organize" (Interview 1, p. 1,11 29-31).
She states both in the first interview and on the first questionnaire
that her attitude about writing is positive: "I know it's positive because I
enjoy reading.... I think there may be a writer someplace deep down
because of the things I think about" (Interview 1, p. 4,11168 and 161-162).
She feels that she has worthwhile ideas, stating, "I can be creative. I can
definitely give you all the research in the world" (Interview 1, p. 4,1192),
but the factual, composition issues "make it hard, and I guess that's what
makes me real anxious and frustrated" (Interview 1, p. 4,11 186-187). From
these comments I can see that Nadia's desire to learn is what is positive,
not necessarily her attitude about her own ability to write. Her attitude
about writing at this point in the semester is hopeful, rather than positive:
she believes that she can leam how to write, but believes that she cannot
write well. She expects that she will leam how to write. Her attitude
about herself as a writer also leans toward the negative, though she does
not consciously state this. Nadia believes that she "could possibly be a
writer," but at this moment, definitely believes that she is not.
Two weeks later, Nadia completes the second questionnaire. She
still states that her attitude about writing is positive, but now that is
because "writing is not as hard as it was on 6-1-93" (Questionnaire 2,
question 2a), not because she wants to learn how to communicate well-
43


she is focusing on the act of writing. Nadia is beginning to write about
what she feels about her writing, rather than what she feels about the
learning process as she did in the first questionnaire.. She feels "better and
more confident" about her writing, and rates herself as "fair5 . I'm
better than I was a few weeks ago. I'm not good yet" (Questionnaire 2,
questions 7 and 7a). She acknowledges that though she has learned a lot,
"I think I need some improvement in my writing skills to make my
writing have a flow" (Questionnaire 2, question 4a). She no longer sees
her writing as poor, but chooses the questionnaire response, "OK but
needs some improvement" (Questionnaire 2, question 4). Nadia is
beginning to take her focus away from correctness and composition to
look at another level of her writing.
On July 17, a little less than two weeks after she fills out the second
questionnaire, Nadia and I have our second interview that she begins by
saying, "I believe I'm not as afraid of writing as I was before. I sit there and
[think] oh you can do this.... [I]t's getting easier to organize because my
structure is stronger. I have gotten some good information and good
books on how sentences and clauses are put together. Now I do know
what a compound sentence is. I didn't know what any of those things
were when I started. Now it makes sense" (Interview 2, p. 1,11 3-4 and 8-
12). Nadia knew at the beginning of the semester what she needed to
learn and, though I may not have believed that her writing would
improve by knowing the exact definitions of compound and complex
sentences, she feels that she needs this information in order make
progress.
44


Most of this second interview centers around Nadia's feelings of
achievement regarding punctuation, sentences, etc., and her sense that her
"composition is getting better" (Interview 2, p. 1,11 43). But, she also says,
"I still need to work on organization and thought, and I still need to work
on subjects and verbs" (Interview 2, p. 1,11 47-48). Overall, she says that
she has an easier time writing and feels more comfortable with it. Her
attitude about learning to write is still very positive, and she feels
"excited" about writing: "I guess it's just a process of learning and I usually
just eat up those things of learning. . Writing is not as hard as I though
it was" (Interview 2, p. 2,11 62-63 and 69). Nadia feels that she has
improved her writing and this affects her attitude toward writing. Her
attitude is now positive about her writing, not just positive about learning
to write.
During the second interview, Nadia reiterates what she wrote on
the second questionnaire, that her attitude about herself as a writer has
changed. She sees herself as "improved, better organized . more
informed" (Interview 2, p. 3,1120). She now believes that writing is "not
as hard [or] difficult to get into ... because I know what my disabilities are.
This [writing] is something that has to be worked with" (Interview 2, p. 3,
11146-147 and 150-151). It is her positive attitude about learning and her
willingness to work hard to understand that helps her learn to write: "I
expect what may be too much for me. I expect to eventually write
something that can be published, but that's me. I always point to Go. But
if I don't, I won't try" (Interview 2, p. 3,11153-154).
Though in the sixth week of the semester Nadia feels she has
45


progressed and that her writing is improving, she still has doubts about
the correctness of her writing: "Sitting at the computer and typing it out
and wondering if I have my grammer [sic], I think that is the worry part
[sic] for me. It's a worry, like ... do I have the wrong adverbs, is there
another word I can use" (Interview 2, p. 3,11164-165 and p. 4,11167-168).
With four weeks of the semester remaining, Nadia's attitude about
writing is still somewhat fearful; she is concerned that it will not be
"right," but is determined to make it right.
The third and final questionnaire is administered on the final day
of class, August 5th. Portfolios are due that day, along with an in-class
writing reflecting on the semester and her show portfolio. Nadia seems
tired and overwhelmed, and it shows in some of her questionnaire
responses. Whether she is beginning to realize that she still has a lot to
learn or whether she is tired of making the effort it takes for her to write is
unclear. Nadia states that she has "a better understanding of how to
write" (Questionnaire 3, question 3a), but that her writing skills are "still
poor" (Questionnaire 3, question 4) because she needs "help with
grammer [szc] and mechanics. I don't feel strong in these areas"
(Questionnaire 3, question 4a), and that her "grammer [szc] and mechanics
are better although their [szc] are not great" (8a). As her instructor, I know
that Nadia's writing has improved throughout the semester, but she
indicates that her achievements are not enough.
As opposed to the beginning of the semester when she felt anxious
about writing, Nadia now states that she feels "excited" about her
writing"I feel aroused to get in motion to write and stimulated with
46


ideas" (Questionnaire 3, questions 1 and la). She states that her attitude
about writing is positive. She writes that her writing has changed in
"organizing thought and paragraph [sic]" (Questionnaire 3, questions 2 and
5a), and that she has learned "how to free write, how to limit my topic,
how to support my topic and organization" (Questionnaire 3, question 10).
Nadia does acknowledge that she has learned more about writing, but her
comments throughout this questionnaire reveal that she also realizes that
she has more to learn. Again, contradictory to her statements about being
a poor writer, Nadia rates herself as a "6" (Questionnaire 3, question 8),
higher than she rated herself in the previous questionnairean
indication that she does feels she has learned about writing.
Our third and final interview takes place the day after the final day
of classes, during the first week of August. In this interview, Nadia
summarizes her experiences with writing throughout the course. She is
able to reflect on her actions throughout the semester and make some
very astute acknowledgments of her actions and thoughts throughout the
semester:
I like writing.... I didn't at first. I think it was because of
fears I had of failing, and I didn't know how to really write.
But I've always wanted to write. I was just afraid, being the
age that I was, saying, 'Hey, I really don't know how to write a
paragraph.' So then faced with this you have to do it. It's just
a realization, reality really, that you need writing. As a
student I need to know how to write well. . I'm not afraid
anymore. I've stopped fighting against it.... I've always
wanted to learn how to write; I was just afraid to ask because
of my age. ... I don't have that fear anymore. I don't have
that yoke anymore holding me back. (Interview 3, p. 1-2,11 fi-
ll, 46,51-52, and 54-55)
47


Nadia was unable or unwilling to voice her fear of writing so strongly in
either the beginning or the middle of the semester. Being able to write
and talk about writing and how she relates to writing seems to have
allowed Nadia to work through her fears. Her writing and talking helped
me to know to bolster her sense of progressthat she was learning.
Though she holds high expectations for her writing, Nadia is happy with
any kind of learning no matter how small. This is the realization that she
seems to come to at the end of the semester: that she has learned a lot
about writing and feels better about her own writing and her ability to
learn how to write, but she also knows that there is still a lot to learn. This
does not worry her, though it did on the third questionnaire: she now
accepts that she has more to learn, and perceives her skills as a writer as
"fair. I need a lot of improvement in grammar and in punctuation, but I
think I can overcome it. .. I think I have good ideas.. .. maybe I'm a 7 or 6
now, I've found that even if you were a 10 there is still room for
improvement" (Interview 3, p. 1,11 33-34, 36, and 40-42). This has always
been Nadia's attitude toward writingthat she can learn to do it and that
there is always more to learn.
The questionnaires, interviews, and in-class writings show that
Nadia's attitude toward writing progressed in three stages through the
semester: at the beginning of the semester she acknowledged that she had
a lot to learn; in the middle of the semester she was beginning to see that
she could learn how to write; and at the end of the semester, Nadia seems
to have consolidated these two beliefs, expectations, feelings to realize that
she still had a lot to learn, but had the ability to do it, stating: "I think I
48


have a healthier attitude about writing ... I have to take some more
writing classes and I won't be so dreading to take th[e] class because I can't
write. Now that I'm learning that I can write it won't be so hard for me"
(Interview 3, p. 3,11 62-65). Nadia needed an experience that showed her
that she could write, regardless of her beginning skill level. At the end of
the semester she no longer focuses so strongly on her belief that she
needed to learn the basics of writing. Part of this may be because she feels
that she gained an understanding in these areas; another part may be that
since Nadia found that she could learn to write, these issues were no
longer so drastically important.
Nadia's overall belief in her ability to learn and her strong desire to
learn, even when she doubted herself and feared failure, help her to be
more comfortable with writing: "Whatever was gonna be out there for
me I was gonna be the sponge ... I did other reading too.... I went back
and got some old books from my kids ... it helped me to know how to
[write]. . One can never know everything, not everything at all"
(Interview 3, p. 3,11136-137,141,147-148, and 154-155).
At the end of the third interview, Nadia adds her own views on
attitude and learning:
Your attitude affects everything, not just your writing. I
notice there are days when I'm tired, I dont feel like writing.
I also know this fear of writing made me tired physically
because I really was afraid of doing it and I would be ... like a
ball of nerves trying to get unwound. My attitude was like I
really dont want to do this and that made me tired. Your
attitude pretty much does it all for you. I figure you've got to
keep a good attitude, (p. 4,11188-194)
Her good attitude about learning helped to develop her good attitude
49


toward writing.
Evan
In the first sentences of Evan's introductory letter to me, he
straightforwardly explains his attitude toward writing and goals for this
course, stating,
Writing has always been a chore for me, the words just never
come easily. But after this class is finished, and I am able to
sit down and write without much anxiety or stress, I will
consider my primary goal accomplished. I also write very
slowly .. and I would like to be able to write and not have it
take all day to get an assignment done. I'm also a poor
speller, but that's what spell check is for. If it wasn't for this
modem miracle, I might give up writing all together. (I'm
just kidding.) (Introductory letter, 111-6)
He expands on these ideas in the first questionnaire, stating that his
attitude about writing is "negative," because "It takes me to [sic] long. I
simply cannot write quickly" (Questionnaire 1, questions 2 and 2a). He
also states that he feels "indifferent" about writing: "My writing could be
better, but I dont think its [sic] really all that bad" (Questionnaire 1,
questions 3 and 3a).
My first impressions of Evan are that he is distant, sitting in the
farthest comer of the classroom at the computers with his back to the class,
and perhaps a bit derisory of the course. I can briefly see from his
introductory letter that his writing skills are basically strong, with just a
few areas to work on. He recently returned to Colorado from California
50


where he attended the University of California at Irvine for about two
years. This is Evan's first semester at UCD and he is majoring in business.
He explains his major, saying, "It is my third official major. I might even
change it again. I'm hoping to find something I really like, and I figure I
have at least thirty or so more possibilities. My main educational goal at
this point is to graduate by the time I am thirty. That leaves seven more
years so I'm in good shape. What can I say? I have trouble making up my
mind" (Introductory Letter, 1114-18).
Both Evan's writing in the introductory letter and the first
questionnaire contain elements of sarcasm, though at this point I am
unable to identify whether the sarcasm is directed at the course, the
subject, or Evan himself. He states that he is taking English 1010 because
"it's required" and "only because it is a requirement" (Questionnaire 1,
questions 6 and 10), leading me to wonder whether the sarcasm is directed
at the course. He rates himself as a writer as a "7" out of a possible ten
points, stating that, "I'm not bad, but I certainly have plenty of room for
improvement, and I would like to be a better writer in general"
(Questionnaire 1, questions 9 and 9a).
On June 24, Evan and! meet in our first interview. Evan enrolled
in English 1010, because, he says, "I figured I probably wouldn't do well in
1020, just because it's been a while since I've done any writing for a class or
anything" (Interview 1, p. 1,115 and 7), but, he states, "I figure it's a class I
can do well in. My writing isn't that bad" (Interview 1, p. 1,1 9).
Evan does not believe that he is a strong writer though, saying, "To
be a really good writer you have to have some kind of in-bom talent, but
51


as far as a writer who can communicate clearly, then I think [that anyone
can learn how to write]" (Interview 1, p. 1,1114-15). He believes that "the
big thing" about learning to write "is learning the mechanics . and just
having a clear purpose" (Interview 1, p. 1,1118-20).
As for his own writing, Evan feels
occasionally frustrated just because I always know I can do
better and I want to get it right.... [Frustrated means] just
knowing I can do better because that's just one reason I dont
like to write. I dont like to proofread because I'll read
through it and I'll just be thinking this is so awful I just want
to start over. (Interview 1, p. 2,1149-50 and 52-54)
Though Evan states in both the first questionnaire and the beginning of
this first interview that his writing is not "too bad," as we proceed through
the first interview, he seems to change his mind about his writing abilities
and says that his writing is really not very good. He explains that previous
papers "always turned out better than I thought they would. I would turn
in a paper and think this is so awfulI'm going to do so bad on thisand
then I would get a good grade on it" (Interview 1, p. 2,11 73-75). Receiving
a good grade on papers that he thought were "so awful" didn't make him
reassess his attitude about his writing, instead he told himself, "I got
lucky" (Interview 1, p. 2,1 79).
He explains that his attitude about writing is "indifferent, probably a
little more negative, just because like I said I never like what I write"; he
says that he thinks that his writing skills are "pretty much okay, but
occasionally I can do very well, but I never think so myself" (Interview 1,
p. 2,11 84-85 and 92-93). Evan gives mixed reports about his attitude
toward writing. He states that his writing is usually graded well, but he
52


does not believe that it is any goodhe is just lucky to get good grades.
When I ask him to rate himself as a writer, he says, 'Td say I'm a 7,
but when I'm actually reading it I would rate the paper at a 4 or 5"
(Interview 1, p. 2,1100). But Evan acknowledges this conflict in his
impressions of his writing, stating that "Things are generally a lot better
than I perceive them" (Interview 1, p. 3,1102). Evan seems to both believe
that he is a good writer and not believe that he is a good writer.
He states that his strength as a writer is that "grammatically I'm not
too bad ... I don't know what else" (Interview 1, p. 3,11106-107). It is
much easier for Evan to point out his weaknesses as a writer: "Spelling
and one weakness is actually just getting down to doing it," and he says
that he also wants to improve on "organization. I want it to be clear,
flowing. I always struggle with transitions [but] I can usually get a good
transition if I work at it" (Interview 1, p. 3,11113-114). At this point in the
semester Evan focuses primarily on general, topical aspects of writing
grammar and spelling. He is very unsure about his true abilities, though
he believes that he will still be able to get good grades. This is an unusual
perceptionhe believes that he cannot write, but that he can receive good
grades on his writing.
Evan states, "When I first have my ideas I expect to immediately
put it [sic] on paper and it will be clear and great and everything, but when
I read through it I think where did I go wrong" (Interview 1, p. 3,11121-
123). At this point in the first interview I am beginning to see that Evan
expects his writing to be perfect in the first draft. When he re-reads a first
draft and sees errors or unclear sections, he gets frustrated and begins to
53


doubt his writing abilities.
Evan acknowledges that he is teacher- and grade-centered. He states
that he writes his papers to his teachers and says, "Generally I don't like it
if it's not going to be a good grade" (Interview 1, p. 4,1187). His focus on
what he believes the teacher wants and what he perceives he needs to get a
good grade makes writing more difficult for Evan, as he explains, "If I'm
just writing on my own I dont worry about it [writing], but if I'm writing
for a paper then that's when I stress about it" (Interview 1, p. 4,11189-190).
"[P]eople who communicate an idea," create good writing, according
to Evan. Poor writing, he says, has "bad grammar. It just makes me
cringe" (Interview 1, p. 4,1194). These perceptions of good and poor
writing reflect Evan's values of good grammatical skills and a clear point
in his own writing. He states that his goal for the class is "to practice my
writing so it's easier to doputting ideas on paper" (Interview 1, p. 4,1
209). Evan ends the first interview explaining, "I do feel I have room for
improvement. I'm kind of a perfectionist, so I would like to be able to
write something down and have it be great. I would like it to come easier.
I have a friend who journals and he can just snap it out. I wish I could do
that" (Interview 1, p. 4-5,11 213-216). These concluding words summarize
Evan's first interview: he wants to be able to write more easily, which he
translates into more quickly, and he wants his writing to be perfect the first
time. Evan is a perfectionistif he sees a mistake, the entire paper is
ruined in his eyes.
In an in-class journal, when I ask the class to define attitude, Evan
writes the following:
54


Attitude is your general feelings toward something, such as
life. My personal attitude is one of cynicism, and you could
say that I'm a pessimist. The effect of my attitude, as you
might guess, is not always very good. When you expect the
worst, that is often what you get. Whether real or imagined,
my glass always seems to be half empty. This keeps me from
doing many things, out of fear of failure or what ever [sic].
Sometimes, however, I am pleasantly surprised. After
expecting the worst, and the worst never happens, I can end
up happier with the result than if I had been expecting things
to turn out well in the first place. (In-class writing, 111-8)
This paragraph validates statements Evan made in his first questionnaire
and first interview regarding not being satisfied with his writing and being
a perfectionist: his attitude toward writing is pessimistiche chooses to
believe that he will not do well so that when he does succeed he is
"pleasantly surprised." His attitude is pessimistic, but he further states,
"This philosophy doesn't really hold true for my learning potential,
however. I realize that with learning, what you put in is what you get out.
.. But I feel that way about my writing, if I sit down and put in the effort, I
will produce a piece of writing that is fairly decent" (In-class writing, 11 8-
13). Perhaps Evan is beginning to realize that writing rarely is perfect the
first time, and that it is acceptable if his writing is not perfect, as long as he
puts in a genuine effort.
On July 5, Evan completes the second questionnaire. He states that
his attitude about writing is no longer negative, but "otherbetween the
two [positive and negative]," because, he states, "I'm feeling better about
picking subjects now. it [sic] is becoming easier to pick topics"
(Questionnaire 2, questions 2 and 2a). Evan also writes that he feels
"curious" about his writing, instead of frustrated as he did on the first
55


questionnaire, stating, "I think that I'm improving, but I have a ways to go
... I know that there is always room for improvement" (Questionnaire 2,
questions 3, 3a, and 4a).
Evan does not seem to be quite as sarcastic or cynical about his
writing, rather he seems to be starting to honestly think about writing, and
possibly see some strengths in his abilities. He rates himself as an "8"as
a better writer than he rated himself on the last questionnairesaying "I
feel that I can communicate my ideas clearly, but my style could use some
improvement" (Questionnaire 2, questions 7 and 7a). Clear writing is an
important goal for Evan, and his statement that he feels he is able to
achieve this shows that his attitude toward his writing is changing for the
better.
In the second interview on July 15, Evan is much more positive
about his abilities. Rather than focusing on his inabilities in writing, he
says "[I have] learned to expand my ideas a little better ... to better state
things, take a better look at it [writing].. .. I've learned that I'm not that
bad of a writer" (Interview 2, p. 1,1119-20 and 23). This sounds positive
Evan believes that he is improving as a writer, and is able to see these
positive changesbut he states that he has learned that he is "not that bad
of a writer because, he says, "Eve gotten decent grades" (Interview 2, p. 1,1
25). He is still strongly grade-oriented and acknowledges his achievements
by the grades he receives, not through a sense of personal accomplishment.
He states that writing is "[a] little easier" (Interview 2, p. 1,1 29) now
than it was at the beginning of the semester, and says that his writing skills
are "pretty good, but still could be improved. I think you can always get
56


better" (Interview 2, p. 2,1 58). Evan no longer feels that his writing is
"just awful," but recognizes that improvement is always possible, even for
him. He states that his writing has improved and seems to be more
confident in his abilities, but although he stated that his attitude was
between positive and negative on the second questionnaire, in the
interview Evan says that he has
a little bit of a negative attitude just because I'm not always
sure I'm going to do very well. I think it's just me, the
personality I have, that I want to be just perfect and not being
perfect is just awful.... It's just the way I feel about other
things too. . sometimes I do recognize that I have written
something well, so it's pretty good. But a lot of times I look at
it as bad. (Interview 2, p. 2,1168-69, 71-72, 75, and 77-78)
His attitude about his writing is more positive now than it was at the
beginning of the semester, for he says, "getting the good grade always
helps. Yeah, I think I'm pretty sure that I have the ability to write well. . .
I feel a little bit stronger" (Interview 2, p. 2,11 83, 85, and 92). Evan seems
unsure about trusting his own judgment and his ability to write. Every
time he says something positive about his writing, he counters that
statement with a hesitant or negative thought.
Evan describes his perception of himself as a writer in the second
interview: "I see myself as someone who has the ability but sometimes
doesn't take the time to write or to actually put down something on paper
that is good. I'm so nervous about my writing because when I look at it I
don't always think it's very good" (Interview 2, p. 2,11 95-97). He perceives
himself as someone who can write and yet cannot write; it is almost as if
he is sabotaging his efforts at improving. This is a part of Evan's
57


philosophy as he explains himself in his definition of attitudeif he does
not expect something to succeed and it does then he can be pleasantly
surprised, rather than disappointed if he expects something to excel and it
doesn't.
Evan believes that he is gaining some strengths as a writer, for
instance he says, "I'm very individual. That is something I am trying to
strive for. When I write a paper, I want to be different.... I want my
personality to come through. It's kind of along the lines that it is
something uniquethe next person can't write it" (Interview 2, p. 2,11
110-112 and 131-132). Evan is beginning to look deeper into his writing. In
the first interview, he stated that grammar was his strong point in writing,
now he considers more complex criteria for his writing. His weaknesses
are, he says, "actually putting in time and effort. . [and] I have troubles
with conclusions" (Interview 2, p. 3,11113 and 124). But although Evan is
reflecting on more varied aspects of his writing, he states that the best part
about writing a paper is "[gjetting it back and finding it was well received
... [and] getting it done" (Interview 2, p. 3,11135 and 137). Evan is grade-
oriented and depends to a large extent on the input of outside influences
to help him decide if a paper is good, but this attitude may be changing, for
he states, "usually I look at it [my writing] and think it's not very good, but
there are other times that I look at certain aspects of it and think it's really
good, like a certain sentence" (Interview 2, p. 3,11 127-128).
Evan defines good writing as "something that is clear, concise, gets
to the point, doesn't get off the point, stays focused, [and] has good
mechanics." Poor writing, he says, has "Bad mechanics, bad organization
58


of ideas. It should be pretty clear" (Interview 2, p. 4,11196-197 and 201).
Evan has added more criteria to his idea of good and poor writing, and is
applying these criteria to his own writing. He clarifies his goals for the
remainder of the semester, stating that he wants "to continue to improve
and continue the writing so it can be easier" (Interview 2, p. 4,1 209). He
ends the second interview stating, "I am enjoying the class more than I
thought I would. I expected to just go in, write my papers as quickly as I
could, and hope for the best" (Interview 2, p. 4,11 214-216). Evan's attitude
about writing is changing.
In the third and final questionnaire on August 5, Evan seems to
move away from some of the beliefs he held at the beginning of the
semester and now feels more confident about his writing. He states, "I
think my attitude is on the positive side of the scale because I have more
confidence in my writing. If only I felt the same way about my spelling"
(Questionnaire 3, question 2a). He credits his more positive attitude to
positive feedback, writing, "Nothing improves your attitude like well
received papers" (Questionnaire 3, question 3a), and states that "I feel that I
am a decent writer, but there is always room for improvement. I think
that I was kind of rusty, and actually writing papers (and journals) has
improved my writing if for no other reason than it made me work"
(Questionnaire 3, question 4a).
Evan rates himself as a writer progressively higher on each
questionnaire. In the third questionnaire he rates himself as an "8,"
saying that "I feel fairly confident in saying that I'm fairly good, but I could
be better. In my opinion there is a greater gap between 9 and 10 [on the
59


scale] than all of the other numbers. I don't think I could ever be a 10"
(Questionnaire 3, questions 8 and 8a). Evan's attitude really seems to have
changed over the semester. His tone in answering questionnaire
questions is not so cynical, rather it is more reflective. He seems to know
his abilities and believe that he can improve upon his weaknesses, instead
of choosing to be cynical and believe that his writing will always be poor.
In Evan's letter to the outside reader, which he writes on the last
day of class, he strongly states his positive belief in himself as a writer,
along with his limitations:
I don't think that I was a bad writer to begin with, but now I
have more confidence in my ability. I think that I have room
for improvement, but I think no matter how many writing
classes I take I will feel this way. I feel that in writing, you can
always make a particular piece just that much better. Still, I
think that my writing is getting to the point where I have the
skills necessary to craft a well written and interesting piece of
writing, and for me, interesting is one of the keys to a well
written paper. .. When I started this class, I wasn't planning
on enjoying it very much. I figured it would consist of many
hours slaving over a computer writing about subjects I didn't
really care about. It took a little while, but eventually I started
to enjoy the experience. I think that when I started to realize
that I wasn't all that bad of writer [sic], the process became
more enjoyable, (p. 1,11 4-9 and 23-29)
Evan sounds much more confident and self-assured, both in and about his
writing.
In his closing letter to the instructor, Evan reflects on his past
attitude about writing and states that though he sees that it has changed,
he still recognizes some of the doubt he has in his abilities: "While I was
never in doubt that my writing was at least serviceable, I now think that I
can do a good job constantly. I still do have my doubts; I want my written
60


material to be perfect, and it never seems to be, and it still takes me a while
to compose anything. Still I think I write well and I hope to continue to
improve in the future" (11 6-12). Again, Evan sounds much more positive
about and confident in his ability to improve upon his writing, even if his
writing is not as "perfect" as he wants it to be.
In our third and final interview on August 5, Evan reiterates most
of the comments he makes in questionnaire 3 and the letters to the
outside reader and the instructor. He is honest about his writing,
acknowledging that he sees himself as a "fairly strong" writer; although he
adds, "I think I still won't be doing it [writing] as a leisure time activity, but
it wasn't too bad" (Interview 3, p. 1,1110-11). He believes that writing is
something that he will always be able to improve upon, saying, "I think
I'll always be learning. I think that's something that I can't be perfect, but
you can always improve upon yourself" (Interview 3, p. 1,1119-20). This is
an important statement for Evan-it shows that he realizes that he can't
be perfect and that not being perfect is acceptable, as long as the writing has
effort behind it.
He states that "just getting positive feedback ... [and] just being able
to see and hear that everything was okay" (Interview 3, p. 1,1 25 and p. 3,1
103), helped him to change his attitude. His attitude does affect how he
writes, for he says, "I'm sure it [my attitude] has to. I mean ... if I really
thought I was a great writer and I could crank out something just like that
I'd be a lot more inclined to write more" (Interview 3, p. 2,11 53-54). Evan
has held on to the belief that really good writers write quickly, easily, and
perfectly, and to an extent this is the example by which he judges himself.
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Evan began the semester not feeling confident in his writing
abilities and was more willing to expect that he was not going to do well,
than to hope that he would. He entered the class with fairly strong writing
skills, but with an attitude that held him back from expecting that he
would be able to learn and succeed. Evan's belief that his writing had to be
perfect changed as he wrote and progressed through the semester. His
grade-oriented attitude, though, did not. Evan began the semester writing
for the teacher in order to get a good grade, and ended the semester feeling
that although he believes that he is a better writer, what the teacher says
about his writing is what is most important. Overall, Evan gained self-
confidence and belief in his ability to write in English 1010an attitude
that he believes will help him do well in future classes.
Mike
Mike is a student in his late thirties who returned to school to get
his degree in English and Art. In his introductory letter he states, "I've
always liked literature and enjoyed reading. Am weak in grammer [szc]
though. Looking towards a teaching degree with English as somewhat
more practical than art. ... I began as an arts major years ago. Come to
believe this was impractical and drifted into Psych, but never completed a
degree. This seems to be the time" (p. 1,111-10). Mike clearly explains his
trouble with writing in the introductory letter, stating,
I have difficulty writing things for class work. This has been
a continuing problem with school, of course. I'm not sure
62


what's going on with this because I'm interested in writing
and often do enjoy writing, more or less eg [sic] letters. It
seems to be some sort of fear that involves procrastination at
the least and often, just not doing the writing. I would like to
get past this blockage. In fact I clearly have to in order to
achieve a degree, (p. 1,1111-22)
Mike also states his goals for writing and the class clearly, writing,
I'm interested in writing, but apparently have some
ambiguous attitudes @ [sic] it. I want to feel more confident
and comfortable @ [sic] writing.
I'm sincere about wanting to improve my writing
skills and despite the fear, decided I needed to take this class
now.
There is so much I need to learn about writing.
Grammer [sic], for one thing. Sentence structure. Paragraphs.
Punctuation. And attending more to spelling wouldn't hurt
either. One comparatively small thing that continues to be a
problem which I'd like to get resolved this semester is
whenhow to use apostrophys [sic] and s'es [sic] correctly.
(Introductory Letter, p. 2,1132-46)
Mike obviously has experienced problems with writing in the past and
seems very aware that he has difficulties. He seems "sincere" about
wanting to learn how to write, and wanting to become "more confident
and comfortable" with writing.
In the first questionnaire, June 3, Mike writes that his last
experience with writing caused "anxietyfear of not doing well"
(Questionnaire 1, question la). But in the next question he states that his
attitude about writing is "positiveI'm interested in writing and would
like to learn more about it in order to improve my writing skills and
confidence" (Questionnaire 2, questions 2 and 2a). He is "anxious" about
writing and feels that his writing skills "are poorI know I have a lot to
63


learn @ [sic] writing" (Questionnaire 1, questions 3, 4, and 4a). Mike offers
contradictory information in these few responses. The strongest response
is that he is fearful about writing, but he then continues saying that his
attitude about writing is positive. Mike is willing to learn how to write
and his attitude toward learning to write is positive, but his attitude about
actually writing is not positive, rather, it is negative for he feels anxious
and unable to write.
He is taking English 1010, he says, because "I want to know more
about writing" and "I don't think that I write well" (Questionnaire 1,
question 6). He reinforces these statements by rating himself as a "3,"
between poor and fair on the ten-point scale, explaining that "[I] feel I have
some basic ability, but need a good deal of help in order to write well"
(Questionnaire 1, questions 9 and 9a). Mike is strongly focused on his fears
and inabilities, and shows this in his introductory letter and the first
questionnaire.
Mike meets me for our first interview on June 17, which he begins
by discussing his enrollment in English 1010, stating, "I enrolled in 1020. I
wasn't sure what to be in and I was put in 1010. I went to the 1010 class
first. I'm not sure why I went to 1010..,. I'd taken it [1010] once before four
years ago or started taking it and I was just self-conscious because all of the
other students were much better" (Interview 1, p. 1,11 3, 5, and 12-13).
Mike is aware that he has difficulties with writing and these fears have
held him back from taking 1010 and confused him about his writing
abilities.
Mike says that he sees writing as "basically an art. . You learn the
64


principles and then apply them. ... I think a big part of it is reading and
trying to read what you like to read and read the type of writing you would
like to write. Part of it is imitation" (Interview 1, p. 1,11 23-24 and 27-28).
This understanding proves to be how Mike approaches learning to write
throughout the semester: he reads about writing, and reads about learning
how to write, but rarely puts his learning into action in this class.
He states that he does not write very much either in school or on
his own. He says he writes "[vjery little. I write letters sometimes and
journals sometimes. I haven't been very consistent with that [journals]. I
would like to work toward doing it consistently" (Interview 1, p. 2,11 51
and 53). Mike has many goals for his writing and this class, but most of
this interview focuses around his fear of writing. He is unable to identify
what makes him fearful about writingall that Mike is able to say is that
he is extremely fearful about writing: "I'm really interested in writing, but
at the same time I have such a fear of writing. ... I tend to deal with it [the
fear] with procrastination" (Interview 1, p. 2, 11 57-59).
In this interview, Mike restates his responses from the first
questionnaire: he feels "anxious" about writing, because of [t]he anxiety
of doing the writing, maybe it's like you're being judged, I suppose. Once
it's down on paper being judged" (Interview 1, p. 2,11 77 and 80-81). But he
is also "excited," he says, because "[i]t can be like drawing a picture"
(Interview 1, p. 2,11 77 and 82). Regardless of these fears, though, Mike
feels that his attitude about writing is "basically positive. At least that's
how I feel right now. That's how I approach this class. I still have trouble
doing the writing. I'm not sure why" (Interview 1, p. 3,11 125-126). Mike
65


has mentally prepared himself to make it through this class. He
acknowledges that he is fearful, and seems determined to get past these
fears and improve his writing.
Mike has had positive experiences with writing in the past, for he
states that "once I get going I do enjoy writing. Often times or a lot of
times it is just getting past the fear somehow and getting started"
(Interview 1, p. 3,11 134-135). At the third week of the semester, Mike has
yet to hand in any assignments other than the introductory letter and a
few in-class journal entries. He says he is working on "getting past the
fear," but that he is not quite sure how to do this. And as I really have
little idea of what is making Mike fearful, all I am able to do is talk to him
and prompt him to write, regardless of how "good" or "bad" the writing is.
Part of Mike's fear of writing is that he believes that he does not
know much about writing. He states that, "I think basically [I believe my
writing is poor] because I just don't know technically about writing. I'm
not real clear on paragraph organization. I just don't know much. . Like
what constitutes a complete sentence" (Interview 1, p. 3,11 143-144 and
154). Because of this lack of knowledge, he rates himself as a "3," saying, "I
picked 3 and I think for some reason I was scared" (Interview 1, p. 3,1148).
He is attempting to face his fear of writing by taking this class, for as he
states, "I think part of the reason I took this class was just to be forced to
write and hopefully to get more accustomed, more comfortable with
writing" (Interview 1, p. 3,11 156-157).
Mike indicates that another goal for his writing is "separating the
two divisions in writingthe creative part and then the revising part.
66


Often times when I try to start writing, the revising is right there. I think
that's probably what makes it difficult for me to get started all the time"
(Interview 1, p. 4,11174-176). He also says, "I tend to overwhelm myself
sometimes. I try too much" (Interview 1, p. 4,11 205-206). Grading also
makes it difficult for Mike to write and possibly is another source of his
fears: "If I can just get that [grading] out of my mind and start writing then
a lot of times I'll be okay, and then I can go back and revise and be okay
with that. But if that's [grading] foremost in my mind, like somebody
reading over my shoulder when I'm writing, that sort of thing" that is
what holds him back (Interview 1, p. 5,11 246-249).
Mike seems honest about his intention of wanting to learn to write
and the fact that he is afraid to write, but he is actually writing very little.
At this point in the semester, Mike has handed in an in-class journal
writing and the first short paper (a one-page introduction of a classmate);
the other students have handed in two short papers and two formal
papers, and are working on their third short paper. He is still avoiding
writing and the primary issues that seem to affect his ability to write are a
fear of not knowing the facts about writing (the technical aspects of
writing), and a fear of being judged through his writing. Mike puts a lot of
thought into his inability to write for school, and can spout theory
regarding his fears, but until he actually starts to write outside of class, I
am not sure if all of his fears are grounded and so cannot do much but
listen to him. The theme of his first interview focuses on Mike's goal for
the course. He states, "I guess the bottom line is that I want to be a little
more comfortable getting around or through or over whatever sort of
67


block I seem to have in writing" (Interview 1, p. 6,11 280-281).
In his in-class journal entry regarding attitude, Mike writes,
For me, attitude means the perspective from which we look
at the world. In other words how we choose to perceive the
way things are. One's attitude seems to be the key to
everything. It affects one's learning, as it affects all aspects of
ones [sic] life. Depending in whether we approach things
with a poositive [sic] or negative attitude, pretty much
predicts for us how things are going to go. I'm afraid of
writing. I'm not sure why this is. But rather strangly [szc], I
suppose, I like learning about writing. (In-class writing, 111-8)
This is the crux of Mike's difficulty with the class at this point in the
semester: he is busily attempting to learn about writing, but will not or
cannot actually write outside of in-class writing, and even then he does
not always write the journal in class. He enjoys learning, but the physical
act of writing still makes him afraid.
On the second questionnaire on July 8, Mike states that his last
experience with writing (a one-page introduction of another student in the
class) was "positiveI was able to enjoy doing it" (Questionnaire 2,
questions 1 and la). Mike seems to be more positive about writing and
less fearful in his responses on this questionnaire. He continues to state
that his attitude about writing is "basically positive," and elaborates on this
response by adding, "Maybe [it's positive]. I'm trying to relax about the
technical aspects and trying to enjoy the act of free writing" (Questionnaire
2, questions 2 and 2a). Mike is restating his position from the first
interview. His beliefs don't seem to have changed despite our
conversations and conferences. At this point, I am glad that Mike seems
to be more comfortable, but I am also beginning to doubt that he is telling
68


me what he truly thinks, for what he says and what he does do not
coincidehe says that he is beginning to enjoy freewriting, but I have yet
to see that he has indeed been freewriting. He may be telling me what he
believes I want to hear instead.
With the small amount of writing that he has accomplished, Mike
says that he now feels "excited" as well as "anxious" about his writing, but
also says that he is "beginning to learn that writing is even more
complicated than I'd thought" (Questionnaire 2, questions 3 and 4a). He is
not sure whether or not his writing has changed, for, he says, he is "still
having trouble separating the creative and editive [sic] processes"
(Questionnaire 2, questions 9 and 9 a). It appears that Mike is still working
to "psyche" himself up to get over his fears around writing, but he has
rarely picked up a pencil and worked on writing.
During the second week of July, Mike and I meet informally after
class to discuss the fact that he is not passing the course at the moment
because he is not fulfilling any of the assignments. I am concerned that he
is not writing much and I feel unable to help him work on his writing and
on his fears because I have not seen enough of his writing to discuss with
him. When we do talk, the discussion focuses around his fear of writing
in the abstract. We talk for a while and Mike reveals that as the days pass,
he grows more anxious because he is not sure that he can catch up on all
of the writing. We talk about how he needs to actually write, not just read
about writing, but that if it is the fear of grading that is keeping him from
writing, I will give him an incomplete for the class this semester on two
conditions: one, that he will continue with this summer class and attempt
69


to write the remaining assignments; and two, that he will take the same
class the following semester with me or another 1010 instructor. Mike
agrees to the conditions and seems relieved to be free of the pressure of
grades.
On July 17, Mike and I meet for our second interview. Mike
introduces the same difficulties that have been plaguing him throughout
the semester: he says,
I like the writing part of itlearning about it. Just to practice
is the difficult part for me. ... It's not going okay in that I'm
not keeping up with the work. ... I have some kind of fear of
writing, but I've been trying to get past that and so I dont
think, maybe that's not necessarily the number one issue. . .
one of the other things is that I don't have a typewriter,
which is silly, and another one is that my whole situation is
pretty hectic. (Interview 2, p. 1,114-5,10,13-15, and 21-22)
Mike is finding reasons to not write. He says that fear is not the reason he
is not writing, but it appears to be otherwise: fear of judging or fear that he
does not know enough about writing to write are some of the factors that
are keeping Mike from writing.
Throughout this interview, Mike reiterates and rephrases issues
that we have discussion in previous interviews and questionnaires. His
writing is not progressing and his attitude does not seem to be changing,
though he obviously wants it to or wants me to believe it is.
Mike is in the same dilemma that he entered the class inhe is not
writing much. He knows that he needs to write in order to feel more
comfortable with writing, but he cannot seem to do it: "I love to read
about it and learn about it, but if it's putting it into action, yeah, I really
have trouble with it" (Interview 2, p. 3,11130-131). Mike still feels that he
70


has "a lot to learn" (Interview 2, p. 4,1156), and acknowledges that he
needs to put his learning into action and write, for he says, "I think it
would be very helpful if I could start putting together what I've read, and
what I will continue to read, into actual practice. And also it will be much
more meaningful. Reading about writing theory is fine, but without the
real hands-on experience" it doesn't work (Interview 2, p. 4,11 162-165). He
states that his attitude is positive: "I think it's positive until I get to do it,
and then it changes to [hesitation] I'm not sure, it changes to negative or
just anxiety" (Interview 2, p. 4,11170-171).
After seven weeks in the semester, Mike's goal is the same as it has
been since the first day of class: "I think my basic goal is still to continue
the process of being less fearful of writing, relaxing and enjoying it more
and getting the practice, getting the actual writing time in that I'll need to
start becoming more familiar and more comfortable with the whole
process" (Interview 2, p. 8,11 385-388). Mike repeats almost exactly what he
stated at the beginning of June.
Mike did not continue attending class after the eighth week. Over
the entire eight weeks that Mike was in the class, he handed in the
introductory letter, one formal assignmenta one-page introduction of a
classmate, and two in-class journal writings. From what little I saw of his
writing, Mike did have a grasp of the basics of writing. His inability to put
pencil to paper, however, regardless of whether the writing was going to
be graded or not, overcame even his best intentions of mastering his fear
of writing.
On one level Mike was truthful with mehe did have a serious
71


problem with writing. But, though Mike wanted to overcome this
problem, his actions did not correspond with his desire to correct it. He
talked about changing his attitude, but did not take any steps to actually
work on improving his basic skills or becoming more comfortable with
writing. In some ways perhaps Mike took the steps he needed, just not the
steps that I suggested. I wanted Mike to write and not think about
grammar or correctness, but just put words on paper. Mike chose to read
about writing instead. Only Mike truly knows how he learns bestjust as
he perceives art as learning principles and then applying them, by reading
Mike may have found the way he needed to begin to overcome his fears.
Even after talking with Mike in two interviews, one informal
meeting, and two class conferences I do not completely comprehend his
fear. Fear of failure, fear of judgment, fear that he didn't know enough
about writing to writethese are the issues that we discussed, but found
no solution for. Perhaps my tolerance of his inability (along with an
understanding that we were working toward a solution) allowed him to
push his writing farther from his priorities. For example, at one point in a
conversation, Mike said that he wasn't writing because he didn't know
how to operate his new word processor. I gave him the option of hand
writing his papers, but he chose not to do that. Because he knew that he
wasn't going to fail, maybe Mike felt that he could continue to avoid
writing.
Reflecting on my experience with Mike has shown me other
options that may worked, for instance along with being supportive and
understanding I needed to have been more insistent on his handing in
72


any kind of writing. Mike also held some responsibility for fulfilling the
course requirementseven though he was fearful, he is the one in
control of his actions. Taking a overly strong stance with Mike may also
have proved too threateningthis is the sense that I acted on throughout
the semester. Though I tried to help Mike and though he seemed to truly
want that help, he didn't complete his end of our agreement and I "lost"
him and he succumbed to his fears.
I believe that intellectually Mike truly wanted to learn how to write.
Emotionally or psychologically he did not want to write, and, therefore,
did not writehe was afraid of not doing well or failing even though his
current actions (or lack of any action) were causing him to fail. One
positive point may be that though Mike knew that he had a problem in
his inability to write even the shortest of papers, he still attempted to do
something about writing. He read about writing and studied writing
theory. Hopefully, these first steps into understanding his fear will lead
him to write more next semester or attend another writing class. But
unless Mike addresses his fears around writing, his attitude will cause him
to continue to respond to writing as he did in this classfearfully,
hesitantly, negatively, and without writing.1
Mike did attend my English 1010 class the following semester. Because of our knowledge of each other
fained in the summer semester, and because I still believed that he could learn to write with less fear,
like and I were able to work together to help him to write. We set requirements for his attendance and
contracted that he would hand in each assignment on its due date, whether he felt good about the writing
or not. Based on our discussions of the previous semester, I felt comfortable setting such guidelines for
Mike, knowing that he could easily fall hack into not writing. Mike did fulfill all the assignments that
semester, proving to himself and me that he could do it. With revisions and all assignments completed,
Mike received an "A-" in the course. He left the course feeling somewhat better about his writing, but I
cannot say that he felt confident going into the next level writing class. If that teacher is not aware of
Mike's fear (because of his awareness, it is Mike's responsibility to some extent to make the new teacher
aware of his difficulties with writing), then he could veiy well slide back into his old habits of avoiding
writing.
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Discussion
Five students volunteered to be a part of this study, but I chose
Nadia, Evan, and Mike to write about for a variety of reasons. Nadia and
Evan were the only two students who completed the full questionnaire
and interview process, and so had the most complete history to work with.
Mike was the only student whose attitude did not seem to change, and
added a different perspective to the study. Along with these obvious
reasons for inclusion, Nadia, Evan, and Mike also held similar beliefs
about writing and themselves as writers, along with differing beliefs that
allowed for a varied look at students' attitudes.
Similarities and Differences
Nadia began the semester with a positive and determined attitude
about learning to write, but with a negative attitude about her writing
abilities. Her goal was to understand the technical aspects of writing, not
just memorize when to apply them; she wanted to know the rules of
writingeven down to diagramming a sentence. She felt that she lacked
all basic skills, but believed that she would be able to write because she had
great ideas and just needed to learn how to write them down correctly.
Evan's goals at the beginning of the semester were to gain
confidence and comfort when writing. He did not enter the class feeling
that he was a poor writer; he believed that his main strengths in writing


were his grammatical and mechanical skills. Evan knew from past
experience that he could get by with his writing skills, but he wanted to get
"A's" and be able to get them without too much effort. He was a
perfectionist and wanted his first draft to be thorough and correct.
Mike was extremely hesitant upon entering the course. He greatly
feared writing, but said that he could not define exactly what it was about
writing that he feared. He explained that he had failed classes in the past
because he was not able to write the assignments. Mike seemed to truly
want to learn how to write. He believed that his skills were poor and that
he needed to learn the basics of writing (like Nadia), such as the difference
between complex and compound sentences, and when to use apostrophes.
He also feared grading and being judged through his writingstrong
foundations for his abject fear and subsequent avoidance of writing.
These three students had two attitudes in common at the beginning
of the semester: they said were positive about their abilities to learn to
write and negative about their actual writing abilities. They entered the
class lacking confidence in their ability to write, but to differing degrees:
Nadia believed that she couldn't write, but was willing to try; Evan knew
from past experience that he could write successfully, but never felt
confident in that knowledgehe doubted his abilities each time he wrote
something; Mike said that he wanted to learn to write, but not only
believed that he couldn't write but also didn't write much, possibly
because of this belief. But these students also stated that they believed that
this class would help them to gain the writing skills that would improve
their writing. Along with believing in their abilities to learn, they also all
75


strongly believed that it was necessary to know the rules of writing in
order to write well.
Nadia made the effort to learn the rules, to discover the knowledge
that she felt she was lacking. She revised her papers until she understood
the issues that were incorrect, in order to be able to apply this knowledge
to the next paper. Evan shifted his focus away from grammatical
correctness to concentrate on his new-found ability to write "uniquely."
Mike stated repeatedly that he enjoyed learning about writing (i.e.,
grammar rules, other people's views on writing), but this did not affect his
writing. He did little writing throughout the semester and consequently
his attitude and fear around writing did not changehis attitude about
writing did not alter.
In the middle of the semester, all three writers noted their attitudes
toward writing as between positive and negative: Nadia and Evan felt that
they were learning how to write to their satisfaction, but were not yet able
to write well. Mike stated that he was learning about writing and that was
satisfying, but he was not writing much. Nadia and Evan were
progressing in their skills. They were writing in class and at home,
participating in class discussions and group work, and willing to talk about
their pieces with me to discover what worked and what didn't work.
Mike was not writing, except for a few in-class journal entries and the first
short paper. Each time we would meet he would say that he was
beginning to feel more comfortable with the idea of writing, but was still
unable to write. He could spout writing theory but was unable to apply
that knowledge to his own situation.
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By the end of the semester, Nadia and Evan professed that their
writing had changed, and with this so did their attitudes. Nadias attitude
about writing was now positive, but she also indicated that she knew that
she had a lot to learn in order to be a good writer. She felt that she had
learned a lot about writing and though she was a bit discouraged about
how much more she knew she needed to learn, she still felt confident in
her ability to learn more about writing in the next coursethis positive
attitude toward her ability to learn is what helped Nadia throughout the
course.
Evan fulfilled his goal of gaining more confidence in his writing.
He broadened his perspective of writing to include individuality and style
as strengths, along with his grammatical skills. Though Evan still wanted
to believe that good writers write quickly and easily, he was now satisfied
that he could write well even though it took him longer than he would
have liked. Both Nadia and Evan were looking forward to their next
writing class, because their positive experience in this course led them to
expect that they could experience another positive experience in the next
course.
Mike's attitude statements from the beginning of the semester were
more wishful than accurate. His attitude toward writing did not change
over the weeks that he attended class. I believe that he did want to learn
to write and that he did want to resolve his fear around writing. But Mike
did neither in this coursehe did not write and he did not lessen his fear.
Nadia and Evan wrote many pages during the semester, and with each
paper they felt that they had gained more. Because Mike wrote very little,
77


he could not see any improvement. He stated throughout the interviews
that he knew he needed to write, but he couldn't, or wouldn't. Instead he
read about writing and through this was looking for an outside answer to
his writing difficulties. He was able learn facts and theories about writing,
but this did not help him to actually write.
Student Attitudes Affect the Teacher's Attitude
The positive experiences that Nadia and Evan said they had in this
writing class made me feel effective. Nadia entered the class with pre-set
ideas about what she needed in order to improve her writing. She worked
to achieve this knowledge and by the end of the semester, though she
knew that she had more to learn about writing before she would be an
acceptable writer, she also acknowledged that she could learn how to write
and felt that she had learned. Evan's sarcasm and cynicism may have led
me to continue to perceive him as distant and bored; talking to Evan
helped me to see that he wanted to excel (he was extremely clear about
that) and was willing to work to excel. At the end of the semester, Evan
was much more relaxed about his abilities and seemed to enjoy writing
more than he did at the beginning (he had also earned an "A" in the
course and knowing Evan, this definitely helped his attitude). These two
students may not have enjoyed every moment of the class and may have
often felt inept or frustrated, but they left the semester feeling that they
had accomplished something. At the end of the semester, Nadia's and
Evan's attitudes were positive and they will take these attitudes to the next
78


writing course they take, affecting their success in that class.
I feel that Mike's experience was negative: he wrote very little,
showing that he still held a negative, fearful attitude about writing, and he
stopped attending the classpossibly meaning that he let his fear of
writing overcome his desire to learn to write. Working with Mike was
more of an overall frustrating experience than a positive or negative one.
At the end of the semester, I felt as though I had failed Mike because his
attitude did not change and he disappeared from the class. But I also felt
angry that I had spent so much time working with him and trying to find
solutions. I felt that I had been more than agreeable and understanding,
yet Mike just quit. From what writing of his I saw, Mike seemed to have
the ability to write, but I could not help him to see this. Talking to him
helped me to realize that he was unable to write because of a problem that
he had, not because of my teaching or something that occurred in the class.
I will work with Mike again if he comes to class next semester, but I now
know that we will have to set some guidelines for his writing and
attendanceI know Mike and his attitude, and can reflect on how to work
with him more successfully.
Learning about the students' attitudes helped me to see them as
individuals. At different points in the semester they were struggling, then
relieved, then excited, and then frustrated. Knowing that these students
were experiencing such attitude changes helped me to work with them.
For the most part I knew when and why they were frustrated, and so did
not perceive their facial expressions or actions as solely disinterested or
angry. They revealed to me in our discussions what they thought and felt
79


about writing and themselves as writers, which helped me work with
them and helped to make the semester successful.
Adjusting Teaching to Attitudes
Asking for student input throughout the semester allowed me to
make changes for both individuals and the group based on the
individuality of the students. The experiences that Nadia, Evan, and Mike
had with writing in the class affected their attitudes as much as their
attitudes affected their writing, and the one-on-one situations between
these students and myself greatly affected our class experience. I knew
from talking with Nadia that she felt uncomfortable with her lack of
knowledge and realized that she lacked knowledge, and through our
interviews I also found out that she had dyslexia. With this knowledge I
was able to address the issues that were affecting her. This knowledge also
helped me to respond in a manner that would work best for her: for
example, I needed to explain grammatical issues more in-depth for her
because she wanted to feel more comfortable with grammar, and I had to
write things down for her as well as verbally tell her. I may not have been
able to make these decisions about how to best work with Nadia based
solely on observation: without talking to her it may have seemed that she
was not paying attention or was not working.
I discovered that Evan valued teacher-input above his own
perceptions of his writing. This is a healthy attitude for a student to some
extent: he wants to do well in school. But, as a perfectionist, Evan was
80


unable to see the strength in his writing that he said his past teachers
noted. Through the interviews and questionnaires, I gained insight into
Evan's needs and was able to ask him what he though about his writing
before I made any comments on it, and for the most part his comments
were similar to what my comments would have been. Evan needed to
believe in his abilities, and my knowledge of this need helped me to
respond to him appropriately so that he was able to see constructive
comments as a way to improve, not as a slur to his perfectionist nature.
While both Nadia and Evan were not overly confident with their
writing abilities, Mike was extremely unsure of himself:he was unable to
get his focus away from his fear of writing and had no confidence in his
writing for he believed that he could not write. He was, by far, the most
difficult of the three students to work with because he was so nonverbally
resistantwhat Mike thought and/or told me and what Mike did were
often different things.
Our discussions helped me make the decision of offering Mike an
"incomplete" in the course. I knew that Mike's reluctance to turn in
writing assignments stemmed from his fear of grading. I hoped that I
could help him feel more comfortable about writing by removing part of
the reason for his fears; therefore, I urged him to write but told him that I
would not grade him on his writing, just on whether or not he wrote
this was a condition of his incomplete status. Instead of helping to release
his fear, I may have allowed Mike to continue to avoid writinghe knew
that he wouldn't fail because I had offered him an incompleteso he
continued his past behavior and, as he stated that he had done in many
81


other courses that required writing, he didn't turn in papers. Though
Mike did not hold up his end of our agreement, I did give him an
incomplete for the semester, with the hope that he would return and
believing that failing him would only further exacerbate his writing fears.
Working with these students helped me to adjust my teaching
strategies on an individual basis, but talking with these individuals also
helped me to realize what others in the class were feeling and
experiencing. If one of the students had difficulty with an assignment,
then I needed to think about possibly addressing this as a potential
problem for the entire class. Talking with these few students also helped
me to realize the importance of one-on-one interaction with students.
This contact is perhaps the strongest way to work with students in that it
directly affects both the teacher and the student.
82


CHAPTER V
IMPLICATIONS FOR TEACHING
Importance of a Teacher's Awareness of Attitudes
These case studies emphasized the important of a teacher's
interaction and attitude with her students and the subject. These three
students held their own beliefs, expectations, and feelings about writing,
and these beliefs, expectations, and feelings affected how they acted and
learned in my class. Asking the students to talk about their attitudes
(beliefs, expectations, feelings) gave me insight into them as individuals,
and my acknowledgment of their beliefs, feelings, and expectations made
them aware that I wanted them to succeed. Shaughnessy (1977)
emphasizes the role of teacher attitude in writing improvement, stating
that in order to help students, teachers must believe that students are
capable of learning to write.
As I found, talking to students individually, showing them that
they are progressing even if it is only in small steps, and having a positive
attitude about students' ability to learn all affect the atmosphere of the
class: a teacher can make "a working prediction that students will in many
ways succeed, and the prediction itself helps structure the situation to
enhance the likelihood of kids succeeding" (Zemelman & Daniels, 1988, p.
62). Asking students what they believe and think shows them that the


teacher cares about their perspective.
If the teacher takes the time to learn about her students' attitudes,
then she may not be misled by her observations. Even if what she learns
may not be easy to hear or easy to deal with, she will be aware that these
attitudes are an issue in the classroom:
Sometimes I get negative comments too. Ill find through
writing that they see no merit, no value to a particular
activity or study. On those days no matter how well prepared
the lesson, I must move away from the subject matter to
attend to attitudinal matters. Often, I think, most of us
teachers know the worth, the value of an activity, and we
assume that students are aware of our viewpoints when
that's not the case. (Turner, 1982, p. 221)
When the teacher is aware of students' dissatisfactions she knows what
she needs to work on or address with the class. When she addresses these
dissatisfactions shows the students that their thoughts matter in the- -
classroom. When the teacher takes students' opinions into consideration
it reveals the students' central position in the classroom, for even if she
does not change the situation she at least acknowledges that she is aware
of it and can explain to the class Jher purposes.behind the situation. Just as
a teacher cannot presume to know her students' attitudes and intentions,
students cannot presume to always know the teacher's.
Interaction with students and a concern for what they believe is
necessary. Some beliefs may be irrational, but it is those beliefs that may
make students hate or fear writing and, therefore, do poorly in a course.
Attempting to know such student beliefs is beneficial for the teacher's
frame of mind and is necessary in order for the teacher and the students to
work with these beliefs. Negative and/or irrational attitudes may also
84


create a more widespread sense of discontent that can affect an entire
classroominfluencing the learning of all of the students, along with
affecting the teacher's effectiveness.
Students with difficulties (lack of confidence, fears, poor attitude)
may benefit most from discussions with the teacher and from
questionnaires that make them think about writing as a subject, not just as
papers to write. Student-teacher conferences in which the subject of
writing is discussed may help students to re-consider their difficulties to
find a way to overcome that difficulty. Such meetings may also offer
opportunities for the students to see the subject from the teacher's
perspective: they could be a time for students to ask questions about why
they are writing this assignment, why they are reading from a specific
book, why they are in this class, and they could present an opportunity for
the teacher to talk about her philosophies about the subject and her goals
for the class. Meetings such as this can connect the student with the
teacher: just as if a student feels important if the teacher knows his name,
personal contact may Strengthen the student's sense that his achievement
in the class is important to the teacher and that the teacher believes that he
can succeed. Talking with the teacher can also give the students insight
into the teacher's intentions, for teachers as well as students hold
attitudes.
Conferences also offer the teacher insight into individual students,
but also can help the teacher to create a larger picture of the attitudes of the
entire class. This information can be used to address difficulties with
material and with the class. Knowing what students think about the class
85


can help the teacher's effectiveness if she reflects on it in light of her
teaching.
Knowing attitudes takes some of a teacher's self-inflicted pressure
away. Carol Elliott saw such pressure in her observations of one teacher in
her teachers' class, and could tell that this teacher has "been assuming all
the responsibility for the learning that goes on in her classroom. If the
students fail, it's her fault" (1984, p. 166). Talking to students about their
attitudes is a way for teachers to begin to learn more about their students.
Teachers can discover who wants to learn, who wants to just pass the
course, and who is angry about being in the class. This knowledge can
help the teacher to work more objectively with students by helping her to
avoid creating subjectively based perceptions and instead allowing her to
address students' self-stated attitudes.
Students choose, whether consciously or unconsciously, how much
of themselves to reveal in the questionnaires and interviews: "While
self-reporting is problematic because of possible distortion . we are also
guided by our 'distortions' or personal truths. We are guided by what we
believe to be true" (Gay, 1983, pp. 40-41). Mike told me that he wanted to
learn how to write, and while I believe that this is true, his actions did not
support his statement. Teachers have the classroom opportunities to see if
students act from the attitudes that they wrote or talked about.
Affecting Future Classes and Future Students
I will take what I gained from these students to future classes, and
86


use it to create the next class. But I know have tools that can help me to
understand and work with the next group of individuals. The experiences
from this semester can help me, but I cannot expect that with the
knowledge I have gained that I can create a learning atmosphereeach
class is individual and what was accepted readily by one class may be
rejected by another. By looking at each class as individuals and not
expecting that one learning experience will solve all difficulties, I can use
my knowledge of how to uncover student attitudes to help my next
teaching experience.
Acknowledging attitudes, though, does not guarantee that the class
will run smoothly, that each student will feel successful, or that the
teacher will truly understand each student. Because attitudes are based on
past experiences and are slow to change, one cannot expect to completely
change students' attitude in ten or fifteen weeks. If a student has a
negative attitude and the class offers him a positive experience, the new
experience may eventually cause his attitude to changethat is success. A
teacher's acknowledgment of students' attitudes does not ensure that she
will change her own attitude toward certain students or a negatively
biased class: "Teacher recognition and revision of [her] misconceptions . .
does not guarantee, however, that classroom instruction will change and
learners will benefit" (Gay, 1983, p. 103). But such recognition is the
starting place for a class that is beneficial to both the teacher and the
students.
If an entire class broadcasts negative attitudes, then acknowledging
those attitudes that created that atmosphere may affect the class for the
87


better, or maybe not. Perhaps the teacher could initiate a class discussion
that focuses on the difficulties of a few students (after asking their
permission and not singling them out in the discussion). After hearing
what other students think about the issue, the students may have learned
something about themselves and the teacher may have resolved the issue.
Such a discussion at least offers the opportunity to bring the issue out into
the open, instead of letting it grow in the students' minds. Leaving a
negative attitude alone will probably only cause it to grow more negative
and it is the development of a positive classroom situation that is the goal.
An atmosphere such as the one discussed above opens the responsibility
for learning to both the students and the teacher, for "knowledge and
truth in education are not so much found through objective inquiry a
socially constructed through collaboration among students, teachers, and
researchers" (Ray, 1992, p. 175).
This study explored students' attitudes over a semester. Other areas
of attitude to explore include how a teacher's attitude affects a class; how a
teacher's attitude changes in response to a class or an individual; and how
a teacher's attitude toward writing and about herself as a writer affects how
she teaches a writing class and responds to writing students.
It is important for teachers to acknowledge students' attitudes
because attitudes exert such powerful influences over how people react.
They affect how people perceive individuals and how individuals
perceive people. Knowing these attitudes can help teachers and students
relate to one another more clearly, and can help the teacher to help her
class learn, for, as Shaughnessy points out, "programs are not the answers
88


to the learning problems of students . teacher are and that, indeed, good
teacher create good programs, that the best programs are developed in situ,
in response to the needs of individual student populations" (1977, p. 6).
The process of discovering students' attitudes causes teachers and students
to become more knowledgeable about one another. Knowing attitudes can
help teachers and students create a learning atmosphere that is positive
and rewarding for all involved.
89


Appendix A
Attitude Surveys and Questionnaires
Daly-Miller Writing Apprehension Scale (1975a)
Cch.'P-
THE 26-ITEM VERSION OF DALY-MILLER
WRITING-APPREHENSION SCALE
Directions: Below are a series of statements about writing. There are no right or wrong
answer to these statements. Please Indicate the degree to which each statement applies
to you by circling whether you (1) strongly agree, (2) agree, (3) are uncertain, (4) disagree,
or (5) strongly disagree with the statement While some of the statements may seem
repetitious, take your time and try to be as honest as possible.
5n A wX U D SO'
1. 1 avoid writina. 1 2 3 4 5
2. 1 have no fear of mv writina beina evaluated. 1 2 3 4 5
a 1 2 5 4 5
4. 1 am afraid of writina essavs when 1 know they will be evaluated. 1 2 3 4 5
5. Takina a comoosition course is a very friahtenina exoerience. 1 2 3 4 5
a Handina in a comoosition makes me feel aood. 1 2 3 4 5
7. My mind seems to ao blank when 1 start to work on a comoosition. 1 2 3 4 5
a Exoressina ideas throuah writina seems to be a waste of time. 1 2 3 4 5
9. 1 would eniov submittina mv writina to maaazines for evaluation and DubTicatiaa 1 2 3 4 5
10. 1 like to write my ideas down. 1 2 3 4 5
11. 1 feel confident in my ability to dearty exoress my ideas in writina. 1 2 3 4 5
12. 1 like to have mv friends read what 1 have written. 1 2 3 4 5
13. I'm nervous about writina. 1 2 3 4 5
14. Peoole seem to eniov what 1 write. 1 2 3 4 5
15. 1 eniov writina. 1 2 3 4 5
16. 1 never seem to be able to dearly write down mv ideas. 1 2 3 4 5
17. Writina is a lot of fun. 1 2 3 4 5
18. 1 exDect to do poorty in comoosition dasses even before 1 enterthem. 1 2 >3 4 5
19. 1 like seeina my thouahts on oaoer. 1 2 3 4 5
20. Discussina mv writina with others is an enjoyable exoerience. 1 2 3 4 5
21. 1 have a terrible time oroanizino mv ideas in a comoosition course. 1 2 3 4 5
22. When 1 hand in a comoosition 1 know I'm ooina to do ooortv. 1 2 3 4 5
21 It's easv for me to write aood comoositions. 1 2 3 4 5
24. 1 don't think 1 write as well as most other oeoole. 1 2 3 4 5
25. 1 dont like mv ccmoositions to be evaluated. 1 ' 2 3 4 5
26. I'm no pood at writina. 1 2 3 4 5


Emig-King Attitude Scale for Students (1979)
Sex; M_____ or F
EMIG-KING ATTITUDE SCALE FOR STUDENTS
For each item, circle your response.
1. I write letters to my family and friends. Almost Always i Often 1 Sometimes 1 Seldom 1 Almost Never 1
2. On my own, I write stories, plays, or poems. Almost Always Often ! Sometimes 1 Seldom I Almost Never _l
3. I voluntarily reread and re- vise what I've written. Almost Always i Often 1 Sometimes 1 Seldom 1 Almost Never 1
4. When I have free time, I prefer writing to being with friends. Almost Always r Often 1 Sometimes 1 Seldom 1 Almost Never 1
5. I prefer topics I* chcose myself to ones the teacher gives. Almost Always I Often ! Sometimes 1 Seldom 1 Almost Never 1
6. On the whole, I like school. Almost Always 1 Often 1 Sometimes 1 Seldom 1 Almost Never 1
91


7. I usa writing to help me study and learn new sub- ject.- . Almost Always 1 Often Sometimes 1 Seldom 1 Almost Never 1
8. Girlt enjoy writ- ing more than boys do. Almost Always .Often Sometimes Seldom Almost Never
I ! f ! 1
9. Z like what I write. Almost Always 1 Often 1 Sometimes 1 Seldom 1 Almost Never 1
10. Writing is a very important way for me to express my feelings. Almost Always ! Often 1 Sometimes 1 Seldom 1 Almost Never 1
11. Doing workbook exercises helps me improve my writing. Almost Always L. Often 1 Sometimes ! Seldom _! Almost Never 1
92


12. A student who writes well gets better grades in many subjects than someone who doesn't. Almost Often
Always sometimes Seldom
L- ( 1
13. When I have free time, I preier writing to -read- ing. Almost Always 1 Often 1 Sometimes * Seldom 1
14. Z do school writ- ing assignments as fast as Z can. Almost Always Often Sometimes Seldom l
1 1 f 1 f
IS. Z get better grades on topics Z choose myself than on those the teachers assign. Almost Always Often Sometimes Seldom Al Ner
. f 1 1 ! !
16. Z write, for the school newspaper/ literary magazine/ or yearbook. Almost Always Often Sometimes Seldom Almc Neve
! 1 1 |
17. Z voluntarily keep notes for school courses. Almost Always Often Sometimes Seldom Almc Neve
* I I I 1 I
x-
to H When Z have free time/-Z prefer writing to sports, games or bobbies. ' Almost Always Often Sometimes Seldom Almo Neve
1 I 1 _J J
93


19. Z leave notes for my family and friends. Almost Always 1 Often f Sometimes f Seldom ! Almosi Never 1
20. The teacher is the most important aud- ience for what Z write in school. Almost Always Often Sometimes Seldom Almost Never
f I 1 I !
21. Students need to plan in writing for school themes. Almost Always I Often 1 Sometimes 1 Seldom I Almost Never 1
22. When Z have free time, Z prefer writing to watch- ing television. Almost Always Often Sometimes Seldom Almost Never
! ! 1 1 1
23. Z write better than Z.speak. Almost Always I Often ! Sometimes 1 Seldom 1 Almost Never !
*24. Good writers spend more time revising than poor writers. Almost Always 1 Often 1 Sometimes 1 Seldom 1 Almosi Never f
25. * Z accept positions in groups that in- volve wri ting. Almost Always Often Sometimes Seldom Almost Never
/ 1 1 1 ! 1
26. Z write h atter than Z red. Almost Always 1 Often 1 Sometimes 1 Seldom Almosi Never 1 '
94