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A study of collaborative writing response groups and writing anxiety among female community college re-entry students

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A study of collaborative writing response groups and writing anxiety among female community college re-entry students
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Wiant, Fredel Marie
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Women college students ( lcsh )
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College students' writings ( lcsh )
Adult education of women ( lcsh )
Adult education of women ( fast )
College students' writings ( fast )
Community college students ( fast )
Women college students ( fast )
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Includes bibliographical references (leaves 118-121).
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Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree, Master of Arts, Department of English
Statement of Responsibility:
by Fredel Marie Wiant.

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Full Text
A STUDY OF COLLABORATIVE WRITING RESPONSE GROUPS AND
WRITING ANXIETY AMONG FEMALE COMMUNITY COLLEGE RE-ENTRY
STUDENTS
by
Fredel Marie Wiant
B.A., University of Denver, 1966
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
English
1997


This thesis for the Master of Arts
degree by
Fredel Marie Wiant
has been approved
by
Date
Benita Dilley


Wiant, Fredel Marie (M.A., English)
A Study of Collaborative Writing Response Groups and
Writing Anxiety among Female Community College Re-entry
Students
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Richard
VanDeWeghe
ABSTRACT
Female re-entry students (those twenty-five and or
older), who represent an increasingly large segment of
the community college population, frequently experience
severe writing anxiety because of barriers created by
prior socialization, low self-esteem, and non-academic
demands upon their time. Collaborative writing
response groups may help to reduce their anxiety by
providing positive socialization, support, and
opportunities for writing. The literature in the field
documents the value of this method, but discusses some
problems. The positive and negative aspects discussed
in the literature are exemplified by comments collected
from female re-entry students in a typical community
college basic writing course. Based upon the review of
the literature and the concerns expressed by students,
guidelines are suggested in order to make collaborative
groups a more effective tool to assist in reducing
writing anxiety among such students.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the
candidate's thesis. I recommend its publication.
Signed
in
}


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I would like to thank the sixteen women in my fall
semester 1996 English 100 classes at Pueblo Community
College who cheerfully and without reward gave both
time and effort to record their thoughts and reactions
to the class. Without their efforts, this study would
not have been possible.
I would also like to acknowledge the staff of the
Learning Resource Center of Pueblo Community College
for their assistance and support.


CONTENTS
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION.................................1
Purpose.....................................2
Rationale...................................3
Project Overview............................7
Limitations of the Study....................8
2. REVIEW OF LITERATURE........................10
Enrollment Trends..........................10
Characteristics of Female Re-Entry
Students...................................11
Writing Anxiety............................14
Collaborative Writing Groups...............21
3. PRESENTATION OF DATA........................35
Characteristics of Female Re-Entry
Students...................................35
Writing Anxiety............................41
Collaborative Writing Groups...............45
Summary and Analysis of Data...............57
4. RECOMMENDATIONS AND CONCLUSIONS.............63
Using Groups...............................63
Establishing Groups..................63
Getting Started......................69
v


Task Design..........................72
Monitoring...........................73
Evaluation...........................75
Summary of Recommendations...........77
Recommendations for Further Research.......7 8
Conclusion.................................80
APPENDIX
A. ENROLLMENT DATA FROM PUEBLO COMMUNITY
COLLEGE, FALL SEMESTER, 1996................82
B. ENROLLMENT COMPARISON: COLLEGE ENROLLMENT
DATA TO STUDY ENROLLMENT DATA...............84
C. CONSENT FORM................................85
D. SELECTED PERTINENT EXCERPTS FROM STUDENT
JOURNALS....................................8 6
WORKS CITED..........................................118
vi


CHAPTER I
INTRODUCTION
The face of the typical community college student
is changing. More and more adult students are taking
advantage of the convenience and lower tuition that
community colleges offer, and an increasingly large
proportion of these students are women who are
returning to school after a lapse of at least several
years since their last experience with formal
education. These students have commonly been referred
to as "non-traditional" students, a label which appears
to suggest they are not the norm; however, as the
enrollment figures will show, they now compose a near
majority of community college students, so the term
"non-traditional" is rapidly becoming inappropriate.
This study will use the increasingly common and more
accurate term "female re-entry students." These women
are re-entering the educational establishment from home
or from the workplace and bring with them a level of
maturity and a variety of experiences that set them
apart from recent high school graduates. Because they
are becoming an increasingly significant sub-group of
1


community college students, it is appropriate that
special attention be given to their needs.
As a group, female re-entry students often share
common characteristics, some of which may hamper their
ability to be successful. Among these common
characteristics is writing anxietythe fear of writing
for a critical reader. A number of authors, some of
whom are cited in the Review of Literature (Chapter 2),
have suggested that collaborative writing groups may be
successful in overcoming this problem, but little
research has been done specifically to determine
whether this pedagogical method contributes to reducing
writing anxiety among female re-entry students in the
community colleges.
Purpose
The purpose of this thesis is to examine the
problem of writing anxiety among female community
college re-entry students and, by noting the journal
entries of one particular group of these students, to
examine the contributions that collaborative writing
response groups may make in overcoming writing anxiety.
After establishing a rationale for treating female
re-entry students as an identifiable and important sub-
2


group, this study examines the literature concerning
the characteristics of these students, possible causes
of writing anxiety, and the strengths and weaknesses of
collaborative writing response groups as a pedagogical
technique in overcoming the fear of writing. The
student journal entries are examined in order to
establish the validity of the information from the
literature. After analyzing the data, a set of
guidelines is proposed for more effective use of
writing groups with the subject population.
Rationale
The problems encountered by female re-entry
students in community colleges first came to my
attention when I began teaching English 100,
"Composition Style and Technique," generally considered
a basic or developmental writing class, at Pueblo
Community College in January 1995. Those enrolled
either have scored in the mid-range of the college
placement test or have successfully completed English
060, which focuses on grammar and mechanics. Students
must complete English 100 before taking Freshman
Composition, English 121, unless they have "tested
out" by scoring at the required minimum level on the
3


placement test and writing a composition deemed
proficient by the English department chair. English
121 is a required class for students working toward an
associate's degree but is not required for most
vocational certificate programs; for those in the
certificate programs, such as culinary arts, auto body
repair, or dental hygiene, English 100 is often the
terminal English course. Therefore, English 100 has
dual, and sometimes conflicting, objectives: preparing
transfer students for academic writing and providing
vocational students with basic communication skills
necessary for the workplace. Combining these divergent
features in a single course can be difficult at best,
but the literature will show that collaborative writing
groups can assist in achieving both academic and
vocational objectives by providing a real and diverse
audience as well as a cooperative work situation.
An additional factor in the rationale is the
number of female re-entry students enrolled in
community colleges. Of the 231 students enrolled in
the author's classes over the past seven semesters, 150
(64.9%) have been women. Of those, 73 (48.6%) can be
classified as re-entry students; that is, those who are
generally defined as 25 years of age or older, have
4


been out of school for five or more years, and have
returned to a formal educational setting (Morrison 26).
These figures, based on class enrollment records,
indicate that female re-entry students represent a
significant and increasing sub-group of the community
college student population. Data from the Office of
Admissions and Records at Pueblo Community College for
fall semester 1996 show that 40% of total enrollment is
composed of females 25 years of age and older (see
appendix A). The higher proportion (48.6%) of older
women enrolled in my English 100 classes (see appendix
B) may reflect directly on the issue of writing
confidence and competence. For example, a few women in
my classes have reported to me that they opted to take
the basic writing class rather than attempting to "test
out" by writing an essay, even though their placement
scores suggested that they would be successful in the
regular freshman composition class, because they
assumed their high test scores must have been
inaccurate. External factors that may also influence
the number of re-entry students in English 100 are
varying class hours (evening classes, one of which is
included in this study, tend to have older students)
5


and distribution of full-time versus part-time students
(more women than men carry a full class load).
The numbers demonstrate that female re-entry
students are a sizable, and therefore significant, sub-
group of community college students. Based on the
author's observations and the evidence in the
literature, which is presented in Chapter 2, they are
also identifiable because of certain shared
characteristics. Not only are they older than
traditional college students, they are also much more
motivated. Although their level of writing skills has
been, in general, higher than the other students, they
are far less confident of their ability. They almost
all share a greater respect for the authority of the
teacher, which frequently results in requests for
reassurance from the instructor that they are "doing
this right." They tend to see lack of error as the
primary criterion of "good" writing. Although they
often recopy papers several times to eliminate errors
or improve legibility, they will only revise for
content if the instructor makes specific
recommendations, and they attempt to reproduce exactly
any idea or wording she has suggested.
6


Thinking about the needs and characteristics of
this particular group of students and reading about new
teaching techniques led me to experiment with
collaborative writing response groups in my classes,
beginning in fall 1995. After using the method for
three semesters, from fall semester 1995 through summer
semester 1996, the observed results were mixed. In
order to understand the strengths and weaknesses of
this technique, I decided to make an intentional study
of the effectiveness of such groups on the confidence
and competence of female students over 25. That study
was undertaken during fall semester 1996, and this
thesis reflects the results of that study.
Project Overview
On the first day of the semester, female students
age 25 and over were asked to remain after class for a
few minutes. The study was explained to them in
general terms, without telling them that the focus was
specifically on writing anxiety and collaborative
learning, and a written explanation and consent form
was given to them (appendix C). Those who wished to
participate selected a blank journal coded for
anonymity. They were instructed to record their
7


reactions to the class throughout the semester and turn
in the journal on the day of the final examination.
There were twenty-two women who initially took
journals. Six of them either dropped the class or
decided not to return their journal. In all, sixteen
completed journals were turned in. The journals were
read and indexed for comments that related specifically
to the subjects covered in this study. Selected
excerpts from each student's journal appear in appendix
D as a contextual reference for the individual sections
used in the body of the study. All journal excerpts
have been transcribed verbatim.
Limitations of the Study
The reality of the classroom is that several
teaching methods may be used simultaneously so that one
cannot isolate the effectiveness of collaborative
writing groups from the possible effectiveness of other
pedagogical techniques. Therefore, no conclusions can
be drawn about the direct link between collaborative
writing groups and a measurable decrease in writing
anxiety. However, the purpose of this ethnographic
study was primarily to understand the strengths and
weaknesses of collaborative writing groups as one
8


method of reducing writing anxiety, so showing direct
links is not essential for establishing validity.
A second limitation is the necessarily subjective
analysis of student journal entries. In spite of
conversations and observations that generally confirmed
the entries, the classroom context and the bias of the
instructor may have affected the interpretation of the
student comments.
Finally, despite the safeguards outlined in the
methodology, students may have been reluctant to give
negative responses because of the desire to please the
instructor, one of the characteristics of female re-
entry students.
In spite of these possible limitations, however,
this study provides an opportunity to go beyond theory
and to examine the relationship between collaborative
writing response groups and writing anxiety as
expressed by the women themselves. The study serves as
a resource for instructors, especially those in
community colleges, who wish to become more familiar
with the characteristics of female re-entry students
and provides support for using collaborative writing
response groups as one possible pedagogical method for
increasing writing confidence.
9


CHAPTER 2
REVIEW OF LITERATURE
Enrollment Trends
The trend toward an increasingly older and female
student population in colleges is well-documented. In
1988, Hirschorn reported in The Chronicle of Higher
Education that there were "6 million adult students who
study for college credit every year, and that 45% of
all undergraduate and graduate students are now over
25." He noted further that women "make up 60 per cent
of the adult student pool." In 1990, Watkins reported
that "From 1970 to 1985, for example, enrollment of
students 25 and older increased by 114 per cent, while
the number of those under 25 grew by only 15 per cent"
(A12). Mary Kay Morrison of Muscatine (IA) Community
College, commenting on the statistics provided by
Watkins and Hirschorn, notes:
Of these students, 67 percent are studying
for either an associate's or a bachelor's
degree. This should dispel the notion that
most adult students are in graduate
school. (21)
10


Much of the current growth in adult enrollment has
come from two-year community colleges. Their impact
can be seen in this passage by Mark Reynolds of
Jefferson Davis Community College (AL):
Although the first two-year colleges were
established over ninety years ago, most have
opened only in the last thirty years. Their
number now totals nearly 1,400 public and
private institutions, enrolling nearly six
million students--about 45 percent of all
students in higher education and almost 55
percent of all first-time students. (1)
Billie Wright Dzeich, associate professor of
English at the University of Cincinnati, observes:
[B]y the end of the 1970 's, the enrollment
balance had shifted and women had become the
new majority in higher education. Nowhere
was this development more striking than in
the community colleges. (57)
Enrollment data from Pueblo Community College,
both in the author's classes and for the school as a
whole reflect these figures and therefore establish the
validity of using this site as a base for this study.
Characteristics of Female Re-entry Students
The literature delineates the characteristics of
female re-entry students considered as a group: a high
level of motivation, fear of returning to school,
11


concern about "fitting in" with younger students,
multiple conflicting demands on time, personal problems
that interfere with school, insecurity about ability to
succeed, desire to establish a meaningful relationship
with the instructor, and writing anxiety.
Robert F. Sommer, assistant professor of English
at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, lists the
characteristics of returning adult students:
Anxiety concerning ability and expectation,
motivation supplied by experiences that have
strengthened their view of the benefits of
education, a desire to come to terms with
past experience, and a need to affirm the
self through education. (3)
The high level of motivation among the majority of
female re-entry students is documented by Gappa and
Uehling: "Mostly, they are serious, determined, and
pragmatic about their goals, with definite plans to get
degrees or certificates and to pursue careers" (10).
Mary Needham of the State Technical Institute of
Memphis (TN) provides a very accurate description of
the re-entry woman:
Oftentimes they've experienced only minimal
success in school. Their education may have
been curtailed by marriage or by early or
unexpected parenthood. .These students
are pressed for time; they manage a job
(often, even two jobs), a home, and a family.
12


The life they build is often tenuous--one
illness, extra overtime shift, problem with a
secondhand car, or family disagreement can
throw their whole world into long-term chaos.
Many have experienced recent divorce and feel
wounded and torn. .Struggling to meet the
formidable constraints of time and money,
they are frequently stretched wire thin. (16)
The fear of returning to school can be all-
encompassing. Female re-entry students in one study
listed among their anxieties "fear of making mistakes;
taking a test; writing a "good paper"; being "slower
than the younger students"; juggling job, family, and
school; being the only older person in the class; and a
general fear of failure. (Morrison 28)
To support the claim that re-entry women are
frequently pressed by conflicting role and time
demands, Pamela Annas, associate professor of English
at the University of Massachusetts/Boston tells of one
her students:
A woman in her forties [Selena] who worked
all day and came to this writing class at
night wrote: "As a wife and a working mother,
my day is filled with such things as washing
clothes, ironing, cleaning, cooking, and
trying to help my children with their
homework or aid them in solving a problem
that they may have encountered during the
day. My husband also requires some of my
time. He once said, 'I married a woman, not
a book.'" (5)
13


Candi Bowen, an English 100 instructor at Trinidad
State Junior College, wrote about her re-entry
students, "I found for the most part, they were dealing
with broken marriages, fear of the future, overwhelmed
with jobs and school, uncertainty about who they are
and where they are going" (e-mail to author).
Many female re-entry students have a fear of not
being able to succeed in the academic environment.
Morrison describes the problem and suggests a possible
solution:
Because many women come from backgrounds
where academic success is not recognized or
rewarded, they may have built-in expectations
of failure. . . . The classroom atmosphere
needs to be as comfortable as possible while
remaining academically challenging. (28)
Writing Anxiety
For the purpose of this study, an artificial
distinction will be made between two terms commonly
used interchangeably--writing anxiety and writing
apprehension. Apprehension is often used to refer to
fear of the task of writing itself, not necessarily a
factor in this paper because some of these women write
copiously--journals, diaries, poetry, even short
14


storiesfor their own enjoyment or for self-
expression. Writing anxiety, on the other hand, will
be operationally defined in this paper as specifically
denoting the fear of writing for an audience and/or for
a grade.
Among the causes of writing anxiety that emerge
from the journals kept by the women in the study are
previous poor experiences in writing classes, low self-
esteem, excessive concern for correctness, and meeting
the real or imagined expectations of the instructor and
the requirements of class assignments. The literature
reveals a great deal about these concerns.
Carol DeRuiter, who teaches freshman composition
at Texas A&M, discusses writing anxiety problems that
women often face:
Pamela Annas lists more than twenty other
writing blocks that plague women. Among them
I find several that I have discussed in
conferences with my female students: fear of
criticism; worry that one has nothing to say;
fear of being trivialized; discomfort with
the mechanics of writing; fear of being
boring, dumb, insignificant, or ridiculous;
uneasiness about coping with unfamiliar
subject matter; and depression. These
anxieties affect women's writing in various
ways, from procrastination to the point of
missing deadlines entirely to guilt about
taking time from "more important"
responsibilities for so self-indulgent an act
as writing. Some women so fear going public
15


with their writing that they write illegibly
or make blurred, faint copies of their typed
manuscripts. (54)
The role that prior experiences play in writing
anxiety is noted by Sommer:
For some adults this lack of confidence may
be a consequence of previous experiences;
many who return to a high school equivalency
program or to college after a long hiatus
have poor records from their earlier venture.
To compound this problem, writing is usually
one of the first obstacles an adult faces
after deciding to return to school. Writing
may have contributed to the person's
difficulties on the first go-round, and now
it threatens to cut him or her off from new
educational opportunities. (11)
One of the most common factors in writing anxiety
is lack of self-esteem, the sense that not only is the
writing not "good enough"--neither is the writer.
There are several causes of this that can be found in
the literature.
Mike Rose raises the possibility that,
particularly in a basic writing course such as the one
considered here, low-self esteem may stem from the
labeling of the course as "remedial":
Furthermore, the notion of remediation . . .
serves to exclude from the academic community
those who are so labeled. They sit in
scholastic quarantine until their disease can
16


be diagnosed and remedied. ("The Language of
Exclusion" 453)
Margaret Culley, a member of the English faculty
at the University of Massachusetts, does not see the
educational system as a cause of low self-esteem and
suggests that it may be overplayed in the literature,
but when it does exist, she attributes it to personal
situations:
As a footnote, some older students may well
be filled with self-doubt and low self-
esteem, but that seems almost never to be the
result of the educational environment where
the ones I know are thriving. It is the
result of others in their livesparents,
children, spouses, friends who, for whatever
reason, need these women to be less capable,
intelligent, ambitious than they themselves
are. Whatever the cause, low self-esteem
clearly has a significant impact on the re-
entry woman's fear of writing for an
audience. (68)
Another significant problem for many women is the
fear of error. Their desire to succeed, combined with
respect for the instructor and memories, possibly
unpleasant, of experiences in prior writing classes
emphasizing traditional grammar-based writing
instruction can lead to focusing on correctness rather
than content. Horning suggests both the problem and a
possible solution:
17


The fear of error is a major cause of anxiety
for writing students. .There are at least
two ways to lower student anxiety about error
in writing. One of these is to understand
errors from an analytical perspective, as
advocated by Shaughnessy . .The
second is to give students the freedom to err
without guilt and anxiety, and especially,
without penalty of grades. The approach that
is most effective in this case is the use of
[multiple] revision. (74)
Rose, in the essay "Rigid Rules, Inflexible Plans,
and the Stifling of Language: A Cognitivist Analysis of
Writer's Block," gives a more specific analysis of the
relationship between concern over "correctness" and
writing anxiety. He studied ten students in freshman
composition classes, five of whom had writer's block
and five who did not, and concluded that "rigid rules
and inflexible plans" were the major causes of writing
anxiety (389).
Closely related to the concern about correctness
is the desire to please the instructor. This
frequently results in the submerging of the student's
voice in order to write what she believes the
instructor wants. Wendy Goulston, assistant professor
at Empire State College explains, "Although the woman
who excels at school learns to write pleasing papers
18


for professors, she does not write them from her whole
'center'" (22) .
According to Goulston, an additional problem is
created when the student is faced with choosing a topic
and submitting her writing for evaluation:
When she leaves the security of the assigned
essay, or when she experiences critical
analysis as alien, her vulnerability, anger,
and uncertainty restrain her pen. (22)
A useful analogy that helps to explain why these
factors inhibit adult student writers can be found in
one of the important works in Second Language
AcquisitionKrashen's "Affective Filter Hypothesis."
Alice Horning, assistant professor of Rhetoric at
Oakland University, believes:
Too much of what goes on in the classroom is
still based on a sense of fear that students
have of both teachers and writing activity.
The effect of the fear is to raise what
second language acquisition researcher
Stephen Krashen call the Filter, which
reduces the possibility of real learning
taking place. (65)
Krashen and Terrell relate the filter to attitudes
about learning and suggest that students who have good
attitudes about themselves and their educational
progress will be more successful (38). According to
19


Horning, the elements of the filter, which may
especially impact adult female learners, include
personality factors (a student's relationship to the
instructor), peer identification, motivation, and
anxiety levels.
A summary of Krashen's theory of language
acquisition will make its applicability to writing
anxiety easier to understand. In essence, the theory is
that such negative factors as lack of confidence, fear,
and prior poor experience, all factors examined earlier
as reasons for anxiety, set up a "filter" that makes it
more difficult for the students to learn. Krashen and
Terrell assert that positive "attitudinal variables"
such as motivation and a good self-image make it easier
to acquire a second language, and that, therefore, the
"best situations for language acquisition seem to be
those which encourage lower anxiety levels"(38). In
other words, having the right attitudes can encourage
students to interact with confidence and to get and
make more productive use of input.
The connection between attitude, represented in
Krashen's affective filter theory, and composition
theory is made by Ann Lavine:
20


James Moffett argues that in order to be
successful, a writer of whatever age has to
feel full of herself [sic] and have a degree
of confidence, belief that she has something
to say, faith in her will, and control of her
attention' [Writing, Inner Speech,__and
Meditation 70]. Indeed, it seems all too
obvious that writers must have confidence in
themselves, their audience, and their subject
matter. (139)
By comparing Krashen's Affective Filter Hypothesis
to the characteristics of female re-entry students
listed on page 6, the relationship between those
characteristics and the causes of writing anxiety
becomes clear. Although most of these students have a
high motivation level, that motivation may be offset by
fear of school, concern about fitting in, conflicting
demands, and low self-esteem. Therefore, these
students have a variety of concerns that, in effect,
create a filter which raises the level of writing
anxiety and lowers their level of comfort and
confidence.
Collaborative Writing Groups
Whether they are called collaborative learning,
group work, peer response groups, collaborative writing
groups, or any of a number of other names (Gere 1),
21


collaborative techniques have transformed many
composition classrooms by promoting shared learning,
thus shifting the authority in the classroom away from
the teacher and allowing students to find a comfortable
place in the academic community (Bruffee 73-4) In
this study, the term "collaborative writing group"
refers to a teaching method in which peer groups of,
generally, four to six students meet together during
class to brainstorm topic ideas as part of the
prewriting process, assist each other in revising for
content and organization, or editing their essays for
grammar and mechanics. The function of each workshop
is designated by the instructor depending upon where
members of the group are in the writing process.
Lecture, group discussion, and other learning
activities may also be part of each class, but a
portion of each class meeting is usually devoted to
group work.
The two main functions of any sort of
collaborative group are task functions and maintenance
functions, a distinction that becomes important in how
the students assess the group. Task functions are
those that are directly related to the assigned task,
such as revising or editing a student's essay.
22


Maintenance functions are those that frequently are
classified as "off task" but are in fact very important
to the life and success of the group itself.
Maintenance functions include not only such
considerations as selecting leadership or keeping track
of time, but include the inevitable times of "just
chatting" that enhance personal relationships within
the group (Zemelman and Daniels 59). Task time is
related to issues of writing competence, whereas
maintenance functions are related to confidence and
comfort, both issues that are extremely important for
female re-entry students.
The literature reveals that some composition
instructors find collaborative writing to be a useful
and beneficial technique, but others have been less
enthusiastic or have been reluctant to try it. Linda
Flower asserts that "Working with a collaborative
partner is one of the best ways to explore a rhetorical
problem and talk over an assignment" (109). Jane
Lightcap Brown presents an even more enthusiastic
endorsement:
Collaboration can join voices in text
creation and simultaneously assist the
originator and indirectly teach the responder
what to seek and what to consider in
23


reviewing and revising written texts.
Research has shown that for writers of all
ages, collaboration, both oral and written,
has proven beneficial. (34)
Byron Stay, on the other hand, expresses the
sentiment behind a more cautious approach when he
asserts, "Unfortunately, proponents of collaboration
have been much too quick to laud its benefits and much
too slow to acknowledge its weaknesses" (17).
Much of the literature about collaborative writing
is based on research done in traditional undergraduate
classrooms at four-year colleges or universities.
These studies simply do not reflect the reality of most
community colleges as described in the above section on
enrollment trends. In fact, much of the research that
has been done on older women in academia (e.g.,
Miritello, DeRuiter, Gappa) focuses on female graduate
students and faculty members who often do not have the
same writing anxiety and comfort issues as beginning
college students in basic writing classes, nor do they
share some of the same characteristics.
A second problem with the literature on
collaborative writing groups is that much of it is
theoretical, especially as it relates to the population
of this study. Experts in the field, such as Bruffee
24


and Gere (below), assert that this method should help
students find a comfortable place in the academic
community; the question is "Does it?"
Kenneth Bruffee, Professor of English at Brooklyn
College, City University of New York, is perhaps the
most notable proponent of collaborative learning. He
notes that, in part, the pedagogy arose because of
decades of complaints that "many undergraduates tend to
be authority-dependent, passive, irresponsible, overly
competitive, and suspicious of their peers" (8).
Bruffee understands writing as social, collaborative,
and constructive (58). That is to say, writing is not
an activity that is conducted in isolation. Writing is
a way of constructing meaning from the student's
experience and the experiences of others. He holds
that students, like the rest of society, are
acculturated to behave in certain ways, and he
conceives of learning to collaborate as a re-
acculturation process that will result in unlocking the
buried potential of students (21-27) by allowing them
to bring their own life experiences into the academic
realm and "translating" them in conversation with other
students (78-9). In fact, Bruffee contrasts
traditional teaching with collaborative learning by
25


suggesting that the first reflects a "cognitive"
approach to teaching whereas the latter is "social
constructionist" (98). This, he believes, calls for a
restructuring of the traditional understanding of the
authority of the teacher; in the collaborative
classroom, the teacher becomes a facilitator and coach
rather than a knowledge giver (66-69).
Ann Ruggles Gere traces the development of
collaborative writing back to the college literary
clubs of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (62).
She notes, however, that during the first half of the
twentieth century, the individual author became
paramount. The result was increasing alienation and
isolation from the writer's audience. She concludes
that collaborative writing groups have been successful
in reversing this trend because "Collaboration
ameliorates alienation by reorienting writers toward
their readers" (68). She also posits that lack of
interaction with a real audience results in alienation
from language, but the lack of interaction can be
overcome:
Collaboration in writing groups addresses
this alienation by providing writers
opportunities to explore the language of
their linguistic community in the company of
26


members of that community. Particularly in
groups where oral readings occur, writers
experience a new intimacy with their own
words as they read aloud. (68)
Being aware of and overcoming this sense of
linguistic and social isolation is especially important
for re-entry women, who are frequently unsure of their
writing ability.
As Bruffee notes above, the initial impetus to
adopt collaborative learning may have been because of
dissatisfaction with the responses of undergraduates,
but that alone does not explain why this system would
work well for female re-entry students. Some may be
passive with respect to dependence on the authority of
the teacher and may be suspicious of their peers
because they are concerned they will not fit in, but
they are hardly likely to be overly competitive or,
especially, irresponsible. Therefore, the initial
reasons for considering collaborative learning do not
necessarily provide a mandate for utilizing this
teaching method with female re-entry students,
regardless of how important these considerations might
be with traditional undergraduates. Gere's words about
alienation, on the other hand, appear to describe
precisely the situation of many of these women.
27


There are two very specific need areas arising
from the earlier description of the characteristics of
re-entry women--employment skills and camaraderie-- in
which collaborative learning can make a significant
difference. Collaborative learning teaches
communication skills that can translate into the
employment world and encourages camaraderie that can
alleviate writing anxiety, an important consideration
when undertaking further academic work. Because
community college basic writing classes frequently have
a dual vocational/academic purpose, collaborative
learning emerges as a pedagogy uniquely suited to the
community college basic writing classroom because it
serves the needs of all students, not just those who
intend to continue in the academic environment. As
Bruffee suggests,
Collaborative learning gives students
practice in working together when the stakes
are relatively low, so that they can work
effectively together later when the stakes
are high. (1)
This application is especially relevant for community
colleges because of their emphasis on vocational
training. Michael Horton, a school counselor, observed
in a local newspaper, "The number one reason for people
28


being fired from their jobs in this country is an
inability to get along with and work cooperatively with
others."
Vidya Singh-Gupta, assistant professor of
technical writing and professional development, and
Eileen Troutt-Ervin, associate professor and department
chair of Technology and Resource Management, both of
Southern Illinois University, highlight the importance
of collaborative skills to the business community:
Collaboration is becoming a workplace
reality, since organizational work generally
builds on group efforts. The "pooling
of efforts" is perhaps the best means of
completing projects on time, and is essential
in business and industry. In teamwork, each
member must work toward the same goal:
completing a project successfully. As the
face of the modern workforce changes, workers
have a real challenge with group projects.
Age, gender differences, and cultural
diversity are now more prevalent in work
teams. Attention to such differences should
be considered when instructing college
students. (127)
Singh-Gupta and Troutt-Ervin support their
assessment by citing the assertion of Elizabeth Tebeaux
that:
[U]ltimately collaborative assignments have
two goals: (1) to improve an individual's
writing through increased sensitivity to
group dynamics and shared awareness of how
29


his/her writing is perceived; and (2) to
prepare students for work environments where
different forms of collaboration occur.
(135)
An additional value of collaborative writing,
especially important in today's social climate, is
providing an arena for practicing the techniques of
conflict resolution. Olivia Frey, director of the
writing program at St. Olaf College, suggests,
Group work and peer inquiry discourage
harmful confrontation since through
cooperative learning students learn how to
resolve conflict creatively and effectively
. [SJmall groups enrich the students'
store of resources for living and working
with others. (100)
The importance of collaborative learning in
increasing job skills by providing a real-life context
for learning cannot be underestimated, but perhaps more
important to female re-entry students is the issue of
camaraderie. In their journals, the women frequently
reported a sense of not fitting in, of being "out of
place." Mary Miritello, DePaul University, observes:
There are factors which intensify the writing
anxiety of the returning adults. Isolation
is a major factor. Where is the time to talk
with other adult learners like themselves?(7)
30


It is logical to conclude that a teaching method that
would decrease the sense of isolation would improve
student attitudes, thus reducing at least one element
in the Affective Filter.
One reason that collaborative groups seem to be
especially effective at creating camaraderie, and
therefore comfort, for female re-entry students is that
they build upon the relatively new conception of
collaborative learning as a particularly feminist
pedagogy, based on the concept, as explained by
Borisoff and Merrill, that women tend to favor
collaborative, cooperative modes of communication
whereas men prefer more competitive, individualistic
modes (12). Through the women's movement in the late
1960's, Annas explains, "a form of discourse emerged
based on cooperation and augmentation rather than
competitiveness, based on dialogue rather than
hierarchy" (4).
According to Carol Stanger, director of the
writing center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice:
Most male students tend to protect their
individual opinions and fight for the answer
that's 'right,' whereas most female students
push for compromise, even at the expense of
forwarding their own opinions, so that the
ideas of everyone in the group are included
31


and nobody is left out. The cultural
context, how men and women are socialized
into holding different, but equally valid,
moral values, is what makes collaboration
work. For the same reasons, that is, because
students meet one another face to face and
learn about each other, peer inquiry promotes
equity and tolerance. .In small groups,
the barriers of 'us' and 'them' begin to
break down. (41)
This provides a powerful argument in favor of
using collaborative groups to help female re-entry
students increase their levels of comfort and
confidence, particularly because, as noted earlier, a
number of them have been victimized by men but must now
learn to work with them as colleagues in the academy
and in the workplace.
The needs of male students, of course, cannot be
ignored; equity should always be a consideration in the
classroom. However, although this study focuses solely
on women, men, too, may benefit from learning to work
in a collaborative environment with a more diverse
group of colleagues (Bate 234). To promote equitable
teaching practices, Stanger suggests that instructors
should ask the following questions about gender and
pedagogy:
Which, if any, teaching approach to writing
treats men and women equally in the
classroom? What are the sexual
32


politics created by a particular pedagogical
approach? Do these politics match or change
the society outside of the classroom? Do the
language, genres, and other elements of
expression favor one sex over another? (31)
Annas relates the efforts she has made to build
community among men and women by using collaboration,
which she perceives to be a feminist learning strategy:
I have been trying with some success to
replicate modes of feminist discourse in
mixed writing classes, training people to
listen as well as talk, to take criticism as
well as give it, to provide support as well
as judgment, to experiment and take risks--
overall, to build a writing community instead
of simply a writing class. (15)
Another aspect of the feminist influence in
collaborative learning, discussed by Daumer and Runzo,
is "mothering," the tendency of female re-entry
students to assume a maternal role in the collaborative
group and thereby assume the responsibility for the
success and comfort of the group. This may create some
difficulties if students are able to pass the
responsibility for their writing from the students
themselves to the older female student just as they
often attempt to pass the responsibility to the
teacher.
33


Clearly there have been a number of assumptions
made about effective teaching of older women (Hirschorn
A33) but it is the responses of the women themselves
that will give insight into the value of collaborative
learning and what some of its strengths and weaknesses
might be.
34


CHAPTER 3
PRESENTATION OF DATA
Characteristics of Female Re-entry Students
The journal entries of the students who
participated in this study corroborate character-
izations found in the literature. The first
characteristic is a fear of returning to school,
consistent with Krashen's concept of anxiety, as
reflected in these entries written the first week of
class:
Alice: (9/3/96) I was a little nervous and
apprehensive. I graduated from high school
in 1980 and graduated from the L.P.N. program
in 1982. It has been 14 years since I picked
up a school book. .When you took roll, my
heart was pounding.
Evelyn: (9/3) I am really excited about
this class. But at the same time I am really
scared after being out of school for 20 yrs.
It is really hard to come back and get into
the habit of studying.
Holly: (9/6) It was hard to start school all
over again. It has been a little over ten
years.
Juanita: (11/22) When I first started school
in September I was really nervous.
35


Nicole: (9/6) I will be turning 44 years old
at the end of this month so returning to
college to take a English coarse was & is
very scarry.
A second concern of the students was "fitting in"
with classmates whom, they assumed, would be
considerably younger and better prepared than they.
This reflects Krashen's "peer identity" filter.
Jane: (9/6) Seeing other persons in the class
closer to what my own age is was comforting
to an extent but ... I still felt that I
was a little out of touch with the idea of
"school."
Betty: (10/15) I don't seem to fit in this
class. There is nobody I can really relate
to. It seems real clicky--just like high
school was.
Holly: (9/27) There are alot of people in
this class. Some of them seem so smart. I
have to ask myself if I really belong in this
place. I feel so dumb, compared to everyone
else.
The students frequently reported uncertainty about
conflicting demands of family, jobs, and school:
Barbara: (10/8) It seems instead of getting
easier it's (school) getting a little tougher
with my kids. I can't seem to get them to
leave me alone long enough to get an
assignment completed without numerous
interruptions.
36


Alice: (10/29) I am still enjoying class.
The only thing thats been hard is working my
lla-llp & then getting up & coming to school,
then going to work after school. It's hard!
Monica: (9/13) I get up, go to work for 12
hrs. & go to school for another 3. My
daughters who are 4 & 7 hardly see me but I
keep reminding them in 3 years mommy will be
a real nurse.
Nancy: (9/6) I work 40 hours a week 8am to 4
pm every day and go to school evenings on
Mon., Tues., Wed., and Fridays.
Patsy: (9/6) I have been out of high school
now for about 10 yrs. I have a full time
job, a part time job, have a 4 yr. old
daughter, and decided a few months back to go
to school. (10/18) It is very hard,
working two jobs & school & raising my
daughter. I am to the point of getting
stressed out over time management.
Lillian: (10/4) She [the instructor] has to
understand that some of us don't have only
ourselves to take care of. For myself, I
have 2 young children, 2 yrs. and 3 yrs. old
that need me, a full time job, a fiance and
school. This was the first time I didn't
have my essay done.
Holly: (10/25) Those of us who are mothers
have a hard time. We don't always have study
time. How do you split yourself. Student,
mother, wife, and employee.
37


One of the significant distracting factors for
these women, as noted above by both Morrison and
Bowman, is the frequent presence of a wide variety of
personal problems such as divorce, poverty, domestic
abuse, alcoholism, illnesses, and problems with
children.
Kathleen: (9/16) I had a tough time paying
attention in class today, because my ex-
husband wanted to know if he could come back.
That is all that I could think about.
(10/23) Today, I finally got my check from
the U.S. Government for my college tuition.
It sure came late. I had to pay my bills and
get to school before I was late.
Evelyn: (10/8) Sometimes I wonder if school
is even worth going to anymore. I am having
alot of stress in my life with Michael [her
son, who has a behavior disorder] and with
working. It is hard to concentrate on
school. With all these distraction. I am
sure this depression will pass.
Betty: (12/2) Well, things are going badly
again. The kids have been sick and I'm being
stalked by [ex-husband]. .If I can live
through this weekend I can live through
anything.
Carlene: (11/4) I've been having a rough
time; sometimes I find myself wanting the
booze, I won't give in!
Alice: (10/1) I think there is something I
should share with you. I found out 3 weeks
38


ago that I am pregnant. I'm thrilled & so is
my husband. I'm beginning the morning
sickness, actually, all day sickness. I am
finding it difficult somedays to concentrate
on my writing.
Another issue, related to Krashen's "motivation"
concept, which seemed to surface time and again was the
extent to which the students perceived that
distractions of time and other concerns might affect
their ability to succeed in their chosen educational
programs:
Juanita: (9/6) It was a major decision to go
back to school. I'll be working full time,
taking care of a family, and attending class,
which, of course, includes alot of non-class
time work. Can I handle it? Will I be able
to fulfill all of my obligations 100%?
Alice: (9/10) I feel very proud when I tell
my co-workers and friends that I have gone
back to school. It seems like I have been
talking about it for so long & everyone gave
up on me. I'm only taking one class at a
timedue to my full time job & family.
Carlene: (12/2) I got a C on my essays. I
know I could have done better. So many
things are happening I am under alot of
stress.
Evelyn: (9/17) I was feeling really
depressed after class and then on the way
home I just started to cry. It make me so
mad when I can't comprehend something.
39


The desire to succeed, as Krashen suggests,
results in a high motivation level for most female re-
entry students. Carlene explains:
All women who are students at this college
realize the education is the way out of
poverty. That is why we are here to make a
brighter future for our children and to set
an example that school is the most important
thing in their childhood.
A final characteristic noted by several
researchers is the desire of the older female student
to establish a personal, egalitarian relationship with
the instructor. This desire, characterized by Krashen
as "personality factors," is reflected in several
students' journal entries:
Juanita: (9/27) I get the feeling that my
instructor doesn't care for me. That really
bothers me. .Maybe I'm being too
sensitive. [This was resolved during a
conference.]
Nicole: (9/25) Had my first conference with
the Instructor today. It seemed a little
strange but she is so good at making me feel
comfortable around her.
Nancy: (10/4) Its so nice to be able to talk
to my teacher and not feel inferior in any
way. .1 liked the casual atmosphere where
we had our conference.
40


Lillian: (10/29) Ms. Wiant opened up to the
class and spoke of her childhood, favorite
resterants, and food she cooks well. She was
very proud of her father. I like it when
a teacher opens up to students.
Writing Anxiety
The relationship between Krashen's filter theory,
the characteristics of female re-entry students, and
the expression of writing anxiety in the students'
journals is clear.
The first cause of writing anxiety is prior
unpleasant experiences in writing classes, which is
closely related to the fear of returning to school:
Lillian: (9/4) I had a bad experience with
another English teacher at PCC. This morning
I woke up with a terrible attitude about
coming to English. I always considered
myself a good writer. English was the one
and only subject I enjoyed thoroughly
.That teacher really intimidated me
from writing.
Nancy: (9/6) English was never a strong
subject for me in high school. I have been
out of high school for 22 years and just the
thought of a college English class actually
gave me a bad case of diarrhea.
A second serious problem stems from the
characteristic of an apparent lack of self-esteem and
41


is manifested in lack of confidence in their writing
abilities:
Betty: (9/3) I enjoy writing although I fear
I'm horrible at it. (11/21) I turned in a
poem for the poetry [anthology], it won't get
accepted, but at least I'm being brave enough
to try.
Holly: (9/6) I walked into this class tonight
and thought I was crazy. I always feel so
stupid. I sometimes feel like I don't have
what it takes to do this. (9/13) I hope I
do good in this class. I feel so stupid
sometimes.
Evelyn: (9/12) I makes me feel disgusted and
angry at myself because I can't write. Maybe
I am to old to return to school.
Jane: (10/11) The group I'm in aren't much
better than I am to edit. Although I am
quite a bit worse off than they are.
Nancy: (9/6) I am so insecure about my
writing that when we broke into our groups I
opted to go last in the reading of our
description assignment.
Alice: (9/19) I really am a crappy writer & I
hope to improve.
Juanita: (9/20) It bothers me that no one in
my group will point out any flaws they see in
my essays. There have to be some, I have so
much to learn.
42


Another manifestation of lack of confidence and
low self-esteem is apparent surprise when the student
is successful:
Betty: (10/22) I got an "A" on my mid-term.
I did a lot better than I thought I would.
Lauren: (10/10) What a wonderful surprise!
We had a conference yesterday and I'm not
failing!!!
A third cause of anxiety, especially relevant in
basic writing classes, is an assumed weakness in basic
writing skills, manifested in excessive concerns about
correctness. This is a particularly important issue
considering Rose's comments about the negative impact
of remediation (above). The journals provide ample
evidence of this:
Carlene: (10/30) I just don't have a wide
variety of words to use, it gets me so upset
that I cannot find them. I'm stuck!!
Evelyn: (9/3) I am not a very good writer or
speller and I hope that this class will help
me to become a better writer.
Jane: (10/18) I'm nervous about grammar,
punctuation, and a little about interesting
content.
Kathleen: (9/11) I am still unsure of being
correct.
43


Monica: (9/13) Since I talk with a slang
tongue its hard not to write that way.
The issue of establishing a relationship with the
instructor often creates anxiety because the student
has an overwhelming desire to please the instructor by
meeting what the student, sometimes inaccurately,
perceives to be the instructor's expectations:
Lillian: (9/14) I had a true mental block.
The more I concentrated the worste it got.
All day, I pondered and nothing sounded good
enough to me. .1 just wanted a "great"
paper to hand to the professor (teacher).
Finally, there is the issue of meeting the
requirements of the assignment. In English 100, as in
many other community college writing courses, there is
a syllabus that requires specific assignments exploring
various rhetorical modes and methods of development.
Although considerable latitude is given in writing
assignments, general guidelines are given. Attempting
to conform to the specifications of the required
assignment can create a problem, and can be especially
frustrating for students who are used to writing for
pleasure, thus creating anxiety where it might not
otherwise exist.
44


Betty: (9/26) The hardest part of this
class is being told what to write and how to
write it.
Carlene: (11/22) I rewrote my Freewrite, but
I am not sure if it will be acceptable.
Cathy: (10/23) We are writing a paper on
Definition of something. This one seems it
might be a little difficult to write about.
(11/1) Still having difficulties finding
something to write about.
Nancy: (9/20) Every week I look at my
syllabus and start worrying on Monday about
the class on Friday and whether I am going to
be able to write all these essays.
The students' own words thus demonstrate the
connection between Krashen's Affective Filter
Hypothesis and their intensified writing anxiety.
Collaborative Writing Groups
In their journals the women reported a number of
positive experiences from the writing groups, but there
was also some dissatisfaction. One difference in
students' evaluations of the group experience was the
way in which they viewed the task versus the
maintenance functions. The instructor attempted to
structure some preliminary maintenance functions by
45


including "ice-breaker" activities and also tried to
foster maintenance opportunities throughout the
semester by intentionally setting aside time for non-
writing group activities such as critical thinking
problems. (A good source for such activities is
Hashimoto's Thirteen Weeks.) Even though such
activities were instructor-initiated and task-oriented,
some students, at least initially, perceived such non-
writing-task time to be unproductive. For example,
Betty wrote, "My group spends too much time talking
about other stuff and not enough about writing" (9/12)
and maintained that attitude during most of the
semester. Nancy had the same concern initially, but
later became very satisfied with her group. After the
second class period she noted:
"We have a good group. I think we don't stay
focused on the task at hand, though. A
couple of people started going in the
direction of personal things. Hopefully as
we progress we'll be able to stay focused a
little more" (9/13).
One point with which there was considerable
dissatisfaction among many students was the role of the
instructor and the extent to which students were
required to take responsibility for their own writing.
46


Holly: (10/11) I enjoy the group, but no
one is honest about each others writing. I
think we all want to be nice. I think the
teacher should check our essays more. I like
going over papers with the groups but I don't
like not going over them with the teacher.
One student expressed a more extreme position,
clearly feeling that the instructor was abdicating her
responsibilities by making the students work
collaboratively:
Lillian: (10/6) Instead of getting into group
for almost the whole class time, she should
be teaching the things she wants us to learn.
(11/1) I guess I'm still primative and
believe a teacher is to teach.
This reaction reflects the list of complaints
about undergraduates that Bruffee asserts led to the
development of collaborative learning (8).
Gender differences in communication styles are
mentioned only three times in the journals, which is
fewer than might be expected, even though the majority
of participants, and therefore the majority of group
members, were women.
Betty: (9/3) I dislike my group. Scatter
brained men who can't follow directions and
refer to me as "the secretary."
Evelyn: (10/3) I was a little upset in class
because of the young man in the group. I
47


feel that we all need to show respect for
each other as students and not put someone
down because of our values or beliefs. I
also [think] we as a group need to consider
how someone would feel if we all used the
language that he did in our group. Some
students may find his behavior acceptable but
with my age I find it very offensive and
degrading to women. [note: instructor talked
with the male student about appropriate
language]
Nancy: (9/6) The young man in our group was
shy at first, but we brought him out of that
real fast (thats what 3 crazy women can do to
a man)!!
The potential negative impact of males in the
groups as expressed by Bates and Borisoff and Merrill
apparently did not materialize, suggesting that gender
differences may not play an important role in the
ability of the groups to overcome writing anxiety.
The gender-related tendency toward maternalization
noted by Daumer and Runzo can be seen in this excerpt:
Juanita: (10/4) Our group has stabilized at
three people and I'm still feeling like the
mother of the group, even though one of our
group [male] is older than I am.
Another problem expressed by the students was
their feeling of inadequacy when it came to making
suggestions to other students.
48


Alice: (9/12) I don't feel like I am getting
as much out of the groups that I should.
Everyones stories are so good & it's hard to
suggest & critique.
Barbara: (10/10) In our group today we are
looking at each others papers an trying
"change" or "edit" them. I don't like it at
all. I feel like I am a student, not an
instructor.
However, by far the most frequent criticism was
that the groups were not giving sufficient help to the
student:
Betty: (9/10) My group is okay but they
don't seem to take class or writing
seriously. The 2 girls in my group either
have low standards of writing or they are
afraid to make comments for fear of hurting
feelings. (9/24) A couple of us are really
interested in improving our writing, but the
others use it for a gossip or gripe session.
(10/10) We got 4 papers edited today, so we
have 4 left. Working in groups would be okay
if people actually worked, but my group
doesn't.
Holly: (10/11) I enjoy the group, but no one
is honest about each others writing. I think
we all want to be nice. I think the teacher
should check our essays more. I like going
over papers with the groups but I don't like
not going over them with the teacher.
Alice: (9/12) I thought my narrative
paragraph needed a lot of help. Everyone
told me not to change a thing. I even said
"Come on & help!" No one offered any
49


suggestions at all. (9/26) I'm still having
a hard time getting input from my group.
It's very frustrating.
Carlene: (10/11) We went over a few essays
editing them. I don't like this part for I
feel as if I am making the owner of the essay
uncomfortable. I feel this way when people
look over my essay, sometimes I don't write
what I want to because I do not like people
reading my opinions. I feel the owner
will dislike me for correcting their paper.
Cathy: (9/9) I think before doing groups we
should get to know each other a little better
in class. I don't like to tell others how to
write when I don't know them that well. I do
enjoy getting opinions from other's about
writing.
Nancy: (9/13) I got some really good
constructive criticism on my paragraph. I
find it hard to be "completely" honest to
someone else though. But I want them to be
completely honest with me.
Jane: (10/11) I'm struggling with my essays
and I feel like I'm not getting the help I
need with my problem areas such as comma
splices. The group I'm in aren't that much
better than I am to edit. Although I am
quite a bit worse off than they are.
Juanita: (9/13) The hard part was telling
the others what I felt was wrong with their
writing. I just don't feel qualified to
criticize their work. .We were to ask our
group members opinions or help if we felt the
need. A couple of the members did so and it
helped in my own writing to give them
50


suggestions. (9/20) It bothers me that no
one in my group will point out any flaws they
see in my essays. There have to be some, I
have so much to learn. (9/27) The group
sessions has stalled. There's no one in my
group who will point out anything wrong in my
essays or make suggestions on any changes. I
don't feel that I'm getting anything positive
out of the experience.
The last concern the students expressed, and the
one which is perhaps most closely related to writing
anxiety, is the fear of reading their essays to the
group:
Betty: (9/3) I'm not crazy about the idea of
discussing my writing and possibly having it
torn apart and desicrated by my fellow
students but if we must we must.
Evelyn: (9/3) I feel uncomfortable in the
class groups because I am embarrassed to say
anything because I feel the others in the
group are laughing at me and my ideas.
(9/12) Today was a really stressful day. I
felt that the girls in my group are always
picking at my papers. When the other read
there papers nobody had critized them but
when I read my they seemed to find a thousand
things wrong with my paper.
Juanita: (9/13) This is the first time I
have ever discussed something I wrote with
anyone before I had a finished product. It
was scary and I wasn't sure I wanted to do
it. To my surprise it was fun and I wasn't
embarrased to read what I had written, maybe
because we were all new at this.
51


Despite some students' reluctance to criticize, to
take responsibility for their own learning, and to work
out group problems, however, most of the students
seemed ultimately to find the collaborative writing
response groups to be a valuable experience. Some
commented on the camaraderie which developed, thus
reinforcing the importance of comfort and a sense of
belonging that was mentioned in the literature.
Holly: (9/6) I enjoyed doing the group thing
tonight. At first everyone in the group is
quiet, then it just takes one to get it
started. I feel groups help us to get to
know one another. (9/13) I really enjoyed
the group tonight. I got to know a few more
people. I hope we do this more. I also hope
we keep the same people in our groups. I am
starting to feel comfortable around some of
the people.
Alice: (9/5) With all the new students there
today, I will be disapointed if my group will
be seperated, Us 4 girls just clicked.
Barbara: (9/10) As I see it we (my group)
are getting comfortable with the situations
that bring us into a unit form and we are
pleased with our results.
Carlene: (10/23) Tony [female student] and
Steve are the leaders of our group, they make
my day.
52


Holly: (9/6) I enjoyed doing the group thing
tonight. At first everyone in the group is
quiet, then it just takes one to get it
started. I feel groups help us to get to
know one another. (9/13) I really enjoyed
the group tonight. I got to know a few more
people. I hope we do this more. I also hope
we keep the same people in our groups. I am
starting to feel comfortable around some of
the people.
Lauren: (9/20) Today we worked in our groups
the entire hour, and I enjoyed it very much.
It's a wonderful bonding experience and I
hadn't expected it to be pleasant.
Nancy: (9/6) I like getting into groups and
getting to know other people. The crayon
exercise tonight was a good ice-breaker.
(9/20) I think we are feeling more at ease,
getting to know each other a little bit more.
(9/27) Our group worked really well together
tonight. We really helped each other. We
are all so different but we seem to click.
I'm getting to like the people in my group
more and more. The people in my group have
some really good ideas. We are becoming more
and more vocal each week. Maybe its because
we're learning to trust each other more.
Patsy: (11/22) Certain people in this class,
in my group as well as others, have become
friends instead of just classmates. This has
been a very enjoyable learning experience.
Finally, because writing anxiety is, at least in
part, a function of student perception, the most
important question for this study is whether students
53


believe that the use of collaborative groups increased
their confidence in composition. Most seem to agree
that it did:
Alice: (9/3) When we broke up into our
group, everyone was quiet at first. I felt
like"Who is going to start this." It was
only a few silent seconds, but it seemed like
an eternity. I enjoyed listening to
everyone's stories. When it was my turn to
read mine, I appreciated all of the ideas
that were given to me.
Barbara: (9/5) We formed our groups from the
other day and read our paragraphs. I am glad
that our group can take a little critisism.
(10/22) These are the kind of days I like.
We get in our groups and write on our
assignments. This gives me the time I need
to do some writting. (11/19) More writting in
class. I am glad that we are given this
opportunity. It really helps me out. (11/21)
My group started editing papers together.
Every idea is a help.
Cathy: (9/20) My group has interesting
writings and it helps me, by listening to
them read their paragraphs. It gives me
different ideas too for my subjects. (10/9)
We began editing our typed copies of our
essay's, one copy for each person in our
group. I feel a scense of carring coming
from my group. They have very good ideas at
times. They give me good idea's for my
essay. (10/14) We are still evaluating and
editing our essay's. Reading the essays
aloud seems to be helping my group. I like
the thought of taking copies of our essays
and passing them out to each person in my
54


group so that they can correct and give their
opionions about the essay too.
Evelyn: (9/19) I felt a lot better in class
today. I think the more of a routine I get
down the better and easier it will get.
(10/15) We have all been working really hard
on our papers that need to be turned in on
Thurs and I think everyone in the group has
really good papers.
Juanita: (9/13) I ended up writing about a
painful memory and became teary. My group
was very supportive and instead of being
embarrased I found that I was glad they were
there to share the pain. (10/11) Editing
other students' papers has really helped me
to look for errors in my own writing.
Although, I think an outside opinion is
always helpful. (10/25) Everyone is
beginning to write much better. The essays
were interesting and it's getting easier to
pick out incorrect usage & grammar. (11/22)
This language class has given me confidence
in my ability to write. My instructor and
classmates have been extremely helpful
Lauren: (10/18) School has been good for
me. I'm shedding fears and allowing myself
to grow but this feels bigger than I am!
(11/9) The group, with the exception of
Steve and me, is quiet, they have quiet
voices and quiet personalities and I think
that our rowdy, outgoing enthusiasm drives
them crazy sometimes. We have learned from
one another, however, and I feel its been a
constructive group and a great experience.
Monica: (9/20) My third class. I'm enjoying
myself in this class and the fear is getting
easier and going away. I wish my writing
55


would be better. I'll never be the great
writer I'd hope to be. (10/4) Thanks to our
group they help alot. (11/8) Having time in
class to brain storm & help each other is
really helpful to my writing. (11/22) We
had a brainstorming session in class on my
final paper. I enjoyed it! My group is
smart & knows how to write exciting &
interesting.
Nancy: (9/13) After listening to some of the
stories I am hoping to really grow in my
writing and I know listening to my classmates
will help me alot. (9/20) This week when we
broke up into our groups we stayed focused
and helped each other very much. (11/1)
Everything I get from the other people in my
group has been so helpful to me. I enjoy
interacting with the group more every week--
we're finally getting to know each other and
it's kind of neat since we're all so
different. (11/22) Each week I feel I have
progressed more and more in my writing and
learning from everyone's point of view. I
feel really good about what I've accomplished
this semester in English.
Patsy: (9/13) By breaking up into these
groups and brainstorming writing ideas, not
only did we expand on what we learned in
class, we also got to know class members on a
personal basis. We got a chance to read each
other's writings, and by doing so, we, at
least I feel, that we got a better
understanding of where the writings came
from. If we are this comfortable with our
group members it seems to be easier to write
about such things. (9/20) We always have the
same groups so it is a very personal
experience. .When we are in our groups,
we get a chance to learn on our own, practice
what we have learned, and we do this on our
own. We still have the instructor to fall
56


back on, but she makes us do it on our on.
(10/4) All I have to say is thank God for
our groups in this class, because other wise
I might not make it through. (11/8) I had
started to write a paper on Trust. I was
about 1/2 done, frustrated because I didn't
want to write about it, couldn't think of
anything to write. My group read it, said it
was good, gave me some ideas. My teacher
read it, said it was a good topic, and ideas
just flowed.
Summary and Analysis of Data
The enrollment data and the supporting literature
have demonstrated that female re-entry students are a
significant sub-group of community college students.
The research of Margaret Culley (68) and Carol DeRuiter
(54), cited earlier, document certain characteristics
of this sub-group, and the journal entries of students
involved in this study confirm those observations.
Among the characteristics noted by Culley and DeRuiter
are a high level of motivation, fear of returning to
school, concern about "fitting in" with younger
students, multiple conflicting demands on time,
personal problems that interfere with school,
insecurity about the ability to succeed, and the desire
to establish a meaningful relationship with the
instructor. These factors, singly or in combination,
have an influence on writing anxiety, which the women
57


in the study have attributed to previous poor
experiences in writing classes, low self-esteem,
excessive concern for correctness, and meeting the real
or imagined expectations of the instructor and the
requirements of class assignments.
Highly-motivated students often set high, even
unrealistic, goals and expectations. Evidence of this
is the number of student journal entries that referred
to the desire to earn an "A" in the class. At the same
time, some of the students expressed doubts about
whether they could meet the goals they had set. This
conflict between the closely related concepts of desire
and doubt is the first point at which anxiety may
arise. If the student does do well, the anxiety may
decrease. On the other hand, if the students receive a
lower grade, they see their expectations being dashed
and the level of anxiety will increase. This concern
is often amplified by a perception that the instructor
has the same expectations as the student. In the case
of students in English 100, this becomes an even more
important issue because the students who will have to
take freshman composition are aware that the reason
they are in this class is that they did not meet the
58


standards for that course and, in their minds, they
have already failed to meet one set of standards.
Collaborative writing response groups can deal
effectively with this issue in several different ways.
In pre-writing workshops, students can help each other
find appropriate and fruitful topics about which to
write. This alone can contribute significantly to
anxiety reduction, as evidenced by the number of
students who said that one of their greatest problems
was finding a topic. During revision workshops,
students have an opportunity to share their writing in
a setting somewhat less threatening than the
traditional "red pen" evaluation conducted by the
instructor. Finally, when students are editing each
other's papers they not only increase their own skill
levels but, by comparing their work with the work of
others, they begin to see how they can achieve the
goals that they have set for themselves. The
responsibility for their success becomes theirs and not
the instructor's.
The second combination of factors that produce
writing anxiety is the conflict of demands, both time
and personal. Female re-entry students, in most cases,
work outside the home and care for a family, often as
59


single parents, in addition to going to school. This
creates a whole series of conflicts that traditional
undergraduates do not face. In addition to the obvious
problem of simply having enough time available to
discharge all their responsibilities, there are day-
care issues, sick children, non-supportive spouses or
employers, and financial strains. Collaborative
writing groups can reduce anxiety in this area in
several significant ways. First, by providing time in
class for attention to pre-writing, revising, and
editing, group work can reduce the time pressure that
the students feel. Second, by encouraging conversation
among class members, writing groups can assist women in
discovering others who have the same conflicts and can
provide a sympathetic support group that works together
to accomplish mutual goals.
There is one additional issue that must be
addressed before any recommendations can be made
concerning the use of collaborative writing groups in
the classroom: special needs of adult learners. In his
book Teaching Writing to Adults. Robert Sommer devotes
a section to the question "Why should adults be taught
differently?" Summarizing the research of a number of
educators, he suggests that adult learners have more
60


life experience, self-reliance, and motivation than
younger, traditional students, but that the older
students lack self-confidence. He further suggests that
these considerations have considerable import for
teaching writing:
Adult students have a wide range of needs,
abilities, and levels of achievement; courses
in writing for adult students include
literacy training and word processing
instruction, freshman composition and on-the-
job training in report and memo writing.(7-
11)
In other words, the writing teacher--especially in a
basic writing class--must be prepared to teach far more
than composition.
This is particularly a problem if the class is of
mixed ages and some of the younger students have
learned certain skills such as word processing that are
a total mystery to the adult learner. Each semester I
have had to spend several hours in the computer lab
with a few older students--mostly womenwho are
terrified of using the word processor. That seems to
be just one more obstacle and certainly compounds their
writing anxiety.
Another difference between re-entry and
traditional learners arises from the high motivation
61


level and goal-oriented outlook of the older students.
While younger students seldom question the reason
behind certain assignments, although they may question
the assignment itself, the older students are more
comfortable if they can see the connection between the
assignment and the "real world." By providing a real
audience with a variety of real-world experiences,
collaborative writing groups can make the connection
more evident.
62


I
I
CHAPTER 4
RECOMMENDATIONS AND CONCLUSIONS
In a section titled "What to Do About Writing
Anxiety," Robert Sommer suggests four teaching methods
that he has found to be successful with older adults:
offering frequent writing opportunities, finding
solutions to individual problems (such as fear of the
computer), promoting informal writing and frequent
revision, and establishing "a community of writers and
readers" (29). To help establish such a community, a
set of recommendations for using collaborative writing
groups to overcome writing anxiety among female re-
entry students can be proposed.
Using Groups
Establishing Groups
Groups should be teacher selected. The first
decision that must be made when an instructor resolves
to use collaborative writing groups is whether the
groups will be self-selected or teacher-assigned.
Because the make-up of the groups is essential to their
success, it will probably be counterproductive to allow
groups to select their own members. An argument will
63


be made below for carefully balancing the groups (see
below); self-selected groups will, as a rule, not
accomplish that end, primarily because students will
not have balance in mind as a goal when they choose
their group members.
Four to six is an optimum size. Once the
instructor has undertaken to select the groupings,
several issues must be considered: size, composition,
and longevity. In terms of size, Bruffee notes,
"Studies suggest that the optimum size for decision-
making groups (such as classroom consensus groups is
five" (32). Zemelman and Daniels say, "Three is a good
number for peer groups" (187). In my classes, a
reasonable size for groups has proven to be four to
six. If the group is smaller, any absentees will make
the group too small; if it is larger, there will likely
not be time for all group members to read their papers.
Individual class circumstances may, of course,
influence this decision.
Groups should be balanced in terms of age. The
composition of the group is another issue that has been
widely discussed. Factors that need to be considered
include age, gender, and ability. If an older woman is
put into a group with only younger students, her
64


feelings of isolation and "not fitting in" may well
increase. If the group is composed entirely of re-
entry women, my observation has shown that there is a
high level of camaraderie but little opportunity to
become exposed to the ideas of younger students. One
of the objectives of collaborative learning is
acquiring the ability to work with a wide variety of
people, and a single-age group may not accomplish that
end. The best grouping seems to be one that includes
two older students and two to four younger students,
thereby giving female re-entry students the opportunity
to provide moral support for each other while learning
to work cooperatively across age groupings, two needs
that are identified in the literature (Miritello,
DeRuiter).
Groups should be balanced in gender. The second
consideration is gender. Wyche-Smith has observed that
"all male or all-female groups will behave differently
than those groups which include both sexes" (66). The
decision of whether to combine or separate the sexes is
an important consideration and one that may present
several difficulties. In some cases, as noted earlier,
women may have come from a background in which they
have been victimized by a spouse, partner, or
65


boyfriend. Participating in a group with men may be
difficult for them. Another problem is that men tend
to dominate group work, and this may further undermine
the female students' self-confidence. Barbara Bate of
Drew University Theological School explains:
The existing research suggests that both
sexes carry out both kinds of communication
when with members of their own sex only, but
[when in a mixed-sex group] men become more
dominant and interruptive, and women become
less likely to take initiative in stating
opinions. (154)
It may, therefore, be helpful for some women to
participate in single sex groups. The journal excerpts
of women who were in a single sex group indicate that
their group was certainly successful. The stereotype,
discussed by Bate, that when in small groups women tend
to carry out relationship (maintenance) functions and
men carry out task functions would, on the surface,
seem to suggest that a mixed sex group would be more
successful. However, Bate notes that such is only true
in mixed groups. In single sex groups, "The existing
research suggests that both sexes carry out both kinds
of communication when with members of their own sex
only" (154). One reason that may be given for mixing
sexes in groups that it prepares both men and women to
66


cooperate with each other in the workplace or, in the
case of students who plan to continue their academic
career, in other classes. In this area, as in others,
close monitoring by the instructor is important because
careful observation will allow resolution of problems
as they occur.
Groups should be balanced by ability. Another
issue that must be considered in the composition of
groups is ability level. This is a particularly
important issue for basic writing classes because the
ability level can vary widely, and writing problems are
likely to be caused by a number of factors:
insufficient writing opportunities, length of time out
of school, lack of basic skills, invalid assessment
test scores, and even, in some cases, developmental
disabilities. In general, experience has shown that it
is best to balance the ability levels in the group.
Students can be asked to write a diagnostic essay that
will be ranked by the instructor as strong, average, or
weak and students placed in groups based on those
rankings. Each group, whenever possible, should
include at least one skilled writer, one whose essay is
considered weak, and several whose abilities are
average. One of the problems that may be encountered
67


here is that it is not always easy to determine a
student's true ability level on the basis of a single
essay; nevertheless, it at least gives a rough idea of
skills.
Groups should be maintained for the length of. the,
course. The final consideration in establishing the
groups is longevity: Should the group membership
change from time to time, or should the membership
remain the same throughout the course of the semester?
To answer this question, it is important to consider
the purpose of the groups. If the instructor is merely
interested in providing occasional opportunities for
peer review, then changing group membership will not
have any impact. However, if'the purpose for using
collaborative groups is not only to provide
opportunities for peer review but also to establish
camaraderie and to create or enhance an atmosphere of
comfort and security, then changing group membership
can defeat the purpose for which the method was
intended. In the context of this study, then, it is
recommended that groups remain the same throughout the
semester. There are times, of course, when this may
not be possible. Changing enrollment, severe conflict
among some members, or inability to accomplish the
68


assigned tasks may require that some changes be made.
Such changes, however, should be kept to a minimum.
Getting Started
Provide opportunities for the group to become
acquainted. Once groups are chosen, some attention
must be given to enabling them to develop a productive
and comfortable relationship. Because most of the
students will not know each other, the first step is to
create some sort of "ice-breaker" that will allow them
to become acquainted and to begin to work together.
The task given to the group should be meaningful, but
it should not involve sharing the students' writing or
require them to self-disclose, since discomfort and
anxiety will be high on the first few days or weeks of
class. One task the author has used as an icebreaker
is asking the groups to sort a box of crayons in
various ways and think about certain relationships
between language and color. In such a task,
differences in writing ability, prior experiences, and
other factors are minimized and the group process
itself is emphasized. While the groups are
concentrating on their task, the instructor should
monitor them for potential problems so that any
69


necessary changes can be made relatively early in the
semester. If time allows, several such exercises will
make groups even more effective.
Demonstrate the collaborative process. After the
initial "ice-breaking" period, the groups should turn
their attention to writing tasks. A demonstration of
the process is very helpful at this point. If there is
an available videotape of a writing group at work, the
class can see what they will be expected to do, but to
avoid intimidation it is important that the group on
video not be significantly better writers than the
class itself. An alternative is to critique a previous
student's paper with the class. Instructors may choose
to use one of their own essays for this, but in basic
writing classes the female re-entry students may be
intimidated by this because of instructor esteem and
will be reluctant to critique the work of the
instructor. Whichever method is used will result in a
higher level of task confidence when students begin
work on their own papers.
Initial workshops should be carefully planned. The
first workshop is very important, because an unpleasant
experience will increase, rather than decrease,
anxiety. The initial step should be a pre-writing
70


workshop in which students are encouraged to brainstorm
ideas about the assigned topic. In this way, students
can begin to enter into the process without having to
read their own writing, a significant contributing
factor to anxiety.
After the pre-writing workshop, students
participate in a revision workshop. They should
understand that the purpose of the workshop is not to
replace or do the work of the instructor, but to
provide a real audience so that the writer will know if
he or she has achieved communication with the reader.
The instructor should encourage, but not force, one
student to begin. If none of the students are willing
to read their essays to the group, the teacher may need
to intervene and suggest, for example, that each person
locate and read what he or she believes to be the
"best" sentence, then one that may need some help. A
list of typical revision comments may help students to
have some idea of appropriate responses. These
measures should result in improved group performance
and reduced levels of anxiety.
71


Task Design
There are two aspects to task design that relate
directly to task and maintenance functions: designing
the roles of the group (maintenance) and designing the
work to be done (task).
Group roles. The number of roles that might be
assigned within a group vary. Some groups may function
best without some sort of leadership roles, but most
groups will function better if such roles are
designated. Roles might include a chairperson, a
recorder, a time-keeper, or a mediator. Other roles
might emerge depending upon the needs of the groups.
If particular roles are assigned, it is important to
rotate them throughout the group so that they do not
become age or gender influenced.
Assignments. The second aspect of task design is
the writing assignment itself. In many community
colleges, especially in basic writing classes, there is
often a framework for composition assignments that may
focus on methods of development, rhetorical modes,
formats or other aspects of writing. Within this
framework, however, the instructor generally has
considerable latitude. In order to reduce writing
anxiety and to encourage group input, early assignments
72


should be well-defined and should focus on personal
experience. Students can build on that experience when
moving toward traditional academic topics later in the
semester. For example, a first assignment might be a
narrative about making an important decision, followed
at some point by a later assignment using the
compare/contrast essay as a form of decision making.
Students relate more easily to personal topics and
frequently discover shared experiences that increase
the bonding within the group. In addition, such topics
reduce the "What shall I write about?" dilemma. Later
in the semester students feel more comfortable and are,
therefore, more able to handle increasingly difficult
assignments. Whatever the task, however, it is
important to respond to the experiences that re-entry
women bring with them and to help them discover that
those experiences form a rich source of important
issues about which they can write.
Monitobing
Careful monitoring by the instructor is the most
important factor in achieving successful collaborative
groups. The instructor needs to be aware not only of
the work which is going on within each of the groups,
73


but also of the internal dynamics. Susan Wyche-Smith
presents a discussion of this issue and concludes,
"Unless a student speaks up, group members complain, or
the teacher intuits that something is wrong, a problem
can simmer until the end of the term" (73). There are
several examples of this problem in the student journal
excerpts; it seems that the female re-entry students
are especially reluctant to express any concerns about
the group to the instructor. This may be due in part
to the issue of instructor esteem, again because they
perceive complaints to be a criticism of the
instructor; it also reflects their desire to fit in
with the other students.
When monitoring the groups, the teacher should
listen carefully and observe but should avoid
intervention or interruption unless absolutely
necessary. To do so removes the responsibility for
learning from the students and places it back on the
instructor. If problems are apparent within the group,
the instructor should visit privately with individuals
rather than addressing the group as a whole.
Group interaction contributes to the vocational
objective of learning to work cooperatively. Therefore,
the group should be encouraged to resolve the problem


and discover a more productive way of working together
A frequently-cited reference that may prove helpful in
this respect is Alfred Benjamin's Behavior in Small
Groups.
In extremely serious situations, the instructor
may be obliged to change the membership of the group,
but this should be done in such a way as to avoid
placing blame or singling out one of the members.
Evaluation
On-going, as well as end-term, evaluation is very
important in using collaborative groups, especially
given the propensity of female re-entry students to
avoid "rocking the boat," expressing opinions which
they feel the instructor might perceive to be critical
Even if the instructor is open to criticism and asks
for student response, older women are often unwilling
to voice concerns. Therefore, a variety of evaluative
techniques that involve both student response and
teacher observation are required to fairly determine
whether collaborative peer response groups are
successful in a particular classroom.
Among the possibilities for on-going evaluation
are journals such as those used in this study; private
75


conversation with individual students during
conferences; "exit statements," one or two sentences
written anonymously and turned in at the end of the
class; teacher observations during monitoring; tape
recording group sessions and listening for developing
problems such as domination by one or more members; or
perhaps a teaching journal noting observations made
during the monitoring process.
At the end of each semester, instructors should
ask students to evaluate the collaborative groups by
using some sort of survey instrument and should also
invite written or oral comments. Instructors should
regularly monitor affective dimensions such as anxiety
and comfort levels and may also monitor cognitive
dimensions such as skill levels and rhetorical
competence.
The final test of collaborative writing response
groups, like any other composition pedagogy, is whether
the students have grown as writers, and although that
particular question is outside the scope of this study,
the recommendations for further research suggest this
as an area which merits investigation.
76


Summary of Pedagogical Recommendations
The recommendations derived from this study can be
applied to any collaborative learning situation, but
they have special relevance for female re-entry
students because of their needs for comfort and
security, camaraderie, personal relationships with the
instructor, and collaborative workplace skills.
Group Composition. Groups should be teacher-
selected, rather than self-selected and should be
composed of four to six students who are balanced
according to age, sex, and ability. To encourage
camaraderie and security, the groups should have
permanent membership unless problems arise.
Getting started. The instructor should develop a
productive and comfortable relationship among groups
members by using "ice breakers" so that the women can
begin to feel they fit in, and by providing a video or
role model that demonstrates expectations in order to
increase student confidence.
Task design. The instructor should determine
applicable group maintenance roles and carefully design
writing assignments. These should begin with fairly
well-defined assignments that allow the women to focus
on personal experience.
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Monitoring. The instructor needs to be aware not
only of the work which is going on within each of the
groups but also of the internal dynamics, especially
since relationships within the group seem to be a key
consideration for female re-entry students. However,
the teacher should avoid intervention or interruption
unless absolutely necessary. Only in really serious
situations should the instructor change the membership
of the group.
Evaluation. On-going, as well as end-term,
evaluation of both the collaborative process and the
students' writing is very important, especially because
the desire to succeed is an important characteristic of
returning women. Evaluation should include a variety
of techniques involving both student response and
teacher observation
Recommendations for Further Research
More research is needed to understand better the
connection between collaborative writing groups and
writing anxiety. There are four topics which may
especially provide fruitful grounds for further
exploration.
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First, there needs to be a study in which
collaborative writing groups are isolated and used
exclusively as a methodology for reducing writing
anxiety. Only in that way can it be determined if the
benefits lie in collaborative learning alone or are
produced separately or in tandem with other practices,
some of which, such as conferencing and Peter Elbow's
"grade free zone," were used by the author during the
course of this study.
Second, because there are conflicting opinions
about the efficacy of mixed- versus same-sex groupings,
a research project recording the interaction and
progress of differently-constituted groupings would be
a valuable contribution to the field.
Another useful tool would be a longitudinal study
following a group of re-entry women through their
college career to determine whether or not the gains in
writing confidence would continue to other classes and
would transfer across the curriculum.
An additional area that needs attention is the
issue that Bruffee characterizes as the transfer of
authority and responsibility for learning from teacher
to student (66-9). There appears to be a conflict
between the attitude, shown in one of the student
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journals, that "a teacher is to teach" and the goal of
making students responsible for their own learning.
Additional information about overcoming the reluctance
of students to accept this implicit authority shift
would be helpful.
Finally, a study examining whether there is a
direct relationship between collaborative writing
groups, decreased writing anxiety, and demonstrated
improvement in writing skills could significantly
contribute to improving instruction not only for re-
entry women, but for all community college composition
students.
Conclusion
Female re-entry students are an increasingly large
percentage of the community college student population.
They have, as a group, characteristics which require
that special thought be given to planning effective
pedagogical methods. One of the most significant
problems these women face is writing anxiety, which has
been well-documented both in the literature and in the
data from student journals. Based on the reactions of
the women in the study, collaborative writing groups
were to some extent successful in helping overcome
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their writing anxiety. However, some problems were
encountered. The list of guidelines presented here may
help prevent some of those problems from recurring in
future classes. Continuing evaluation is necessary to
determine the most effective ways to use collaborative
groups, and other pedagogies also need to be explored
in order to increase the comfort and confidence levels
of female re-entry students in community college basic
writing classes.
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APPENDIX A
Enrollment data from Pueblo Community College, Fall
semester 1996.
DEGREE SEEKING FEMALES 25 YEARS OF AGE AND OLDER
ETHNICITY American Indian FULL TIME PART TIME TOTAL
/Alaskan Native 12 5 17
Asian or Pacific Islander 3 5 8
Black, not of
Hispanic Origin 8 10 18
Hispanic Americans White, not of 155 177 332
Hispanic Origin 291 448 739
TOTAL 469 645 1114
DEGREE SEEKING FEMALES LESS THAN 25 YEARS OF AGE
ETHNICITY American Indian FULL TIME PART TIME TOTAL
/Alaskan Native 6 3 9
Asian or Pacific Islander 4 2 6
Black, not of
Hispanic Origin 7 6 13
Hispanic Americans White, not of 197 113 310
Hispanic Origin 222 204 426
TOTAL 436 328 764
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DEGREE SEEKING MALES 25 YEARS OF AGE AND OLDER
ETHNICITY FULL TIME PART TIME TOTAL
American Indian
/Alaskan Native 7 6 13
Asian or Pacific Islander 2 1 3
Black, not of
Hispanic Origin 9 10 19
Hispanic Americans 92 95 187
White, not of
Hispanic Origin 142 139 281
TOTAL 252 251 503
DEGREE SEEKING MALES LESS THAN 25 YEARS OF AGE
ETHNICITY FULL TIME PART TIME TOTAL
American Indian
/Alaskan Native 4 8 12
Asian or Pacific Islander 4 2 6
Black, not of
Hispanic Origin 5 1 6
Hispanic Americans 102 41 143
White, not of
Hispanic Origin 128 92 220
TOTAL 243 144 387
(Source: Robert Epley Office of Admissions and
Records 10/11/96 .)
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APPENDIX B
Comparison of total enrollment data for Pueblo
Community College with enrollment data from the
author's English 100 sections, Fall semester 1996.
Total college enrollment (N = 2748):
Students who completed the author's English 100 classes
(N = 72):
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APPENDIX C
CONSENT FORM
For my Master's degree thesis for UC-Denver, I am doing research about the experiences
of "female re-entry students" or "non-traditional students" in my composition classes. My goal
is to improve instruction. Because you have identified yourself as part of this group, I am asking
you to help me in a very special way.
As you know, you are required to keep a writing log for this class in which you are to
make three entries a week. I am going to change the focus of this assignment for you. I would
like you to keep a separate log for me concerning your reactions to this writing class, identified
only by pseudonym. I'll even provide the notebook for you! After every class, I would like you to
write your reactions to something that happened in class that day. Please date all entries. I also
want you to tell me, in some detail, how you feel about writing and how your feelings change
over the course of the semester. These entries will not be graded. They should be written
informally. Please do no! revise, correct, or recopy. Just participating in the project will earn an
"A" for two-thirds of your writing log grade. You will still need to keep a log of reactions to the
essays, but you will not need to write the other two entries each week unless you want to. Doing
so will not affect your grade. You may contact the Office of Academic and Student Affairs, 700
CU-Denver Building, (303) 556-2550 if you have any questions about your rights as a research
subject.
Now, this is the important part: You must be honest. If you didn't like something that
happened, that is just as important -or maybe more important-than something you did like. I
want to know how you feel about writing, what you thought of the lessons and assignments, what
you thought of your group work (including reactions to comments and actions of group
members), what made you feel good or bad, how you felt about the conferences and grading
anything you feel like writing about your writing. Give me as much detail as possible. I hope
you will feel free to say anything you want. Trying to impress me or saying only good things will
be less helpful for my research.
I may use quotations from your writing as part of the support for my thesis, identified
only by the pseudonyms you have chosen. You will notice that I have not told you exactly what it
is that I'm researching. That is because I do not want to influence your responses in any way
whatsoever. If you're interested, I will share my work with you after spring semester.
Your first entrytoday's entryshould be a fairly detailed and very honest description of
how you feel about taking a writing class, your past experiences in writing classes, and your
expectations for this class. The lasl entry should be a reflection on whether your feelings have
changed during the semester.
I really appreciate your cooperation in this. I know it's going to be hard sometimes, but
please keep at it. It means a great deal to me.
Thank you!
Freddie Wiant
I have read and agreed to the project as described on this form, and have recived a copy to keep:
Date_______________________
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APPENDIX D
Selected Pertinent Excerpts from Student Journals
These passages from the journals, the narrative
data, provide both a chronological record of
attitudinal changes over the course of the semester and
a contextual reference for passages cited in the text.
They were selected because they focus on one or more of
the three issues in this study: characteristics of
female re-entry students, writing anxiety, or the
effectiveness of collaborative peer response groups.
The students' original spelling, grammar, and mechanics
have been preserved in the transcriptions. Remarks in
brackets are those of this author.
Alice
9/3/96: I was a little nervous and apprehensive.
I graduated from high school in 1980 and graduated from
the L.P.N. program in 1982. It has been 14 years since
I picked up a school book. .When you took roll, my
heart was pounding. When we broke up into our
group, everyone was quiet at first. I felt like--"Who
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is going to start this." It was only a few silent
seconds, but it seemed like an eternity. .1 was
afraid I would be in a room full of young people, but
it didn't turn out that way.
9/5: With all the new students there today, I
will be disapointed if my group will be seperated, Us
4 girls just clicked. I enjoyed listening to
everyone's stories. When it was my turn to read mine,
I appreciated all of the ideas that were given to me.
9/10: I was assigned to a new group today. It all
turned out to be fine. I think since we didn't know
each other, it was hard at first giving each other
ideas ... .1 feel very proud when I tell my co-
workers & friends that I have gone back to school. It
seems like I have been talking about it so long &
everyone gave up on me. I'd like to do well in my
classes. I'm taking only one [class] at a time--due to
my full time job & family.
9/12: I don't feel like I am getting as much out
of the groups that I should. Everyones stories are so
good & it's hard to suggest & critique. I thought my
narrative paragraph needed a lot of help. Everyone
told me not to change a thing. I even said "Come on &
help!" No one offered any suggestions at all.
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9/17: No one seemed to be very into the group
discussion today. A guy in my group didn't have his
story done. It pissed me off because I worked very
hard on mine & he didn't seem to care that his wasn't
done.
9/19: I really am a crappy writer & I hope to
improve.
9/24: A guy in my group read his example essay
today. (A week late.) The entire group agreed that it
didn't have anything to do with 'example.' I think he
was a little offended by it.
9/26: You sat with us in our group today.
Everyone was somewhat lost on what to write about. You
gave good ideas & suggestions. I'm still having a hard
time getting input from my group. It's very
frustrating.
10/1: I think there is something I should share
with you. I found out 3 weeks ago that I am pregnant.
I'm thrilled & so is my husband. I'm beginning the
morning sickness, actually, all day sickness. I am
finding it difficult somedays to concentrate on my
writing.
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10/22: I was so happy! I got an A- on my paper!
My first college class in years & my first A! It means
so much to me.
10/29: I am still enjoying class. The only thing
thats been hard is working my 11a lip & then getting
up & coming to school, then going to work after school.
It's hard!
11/21: I just got off a 12 hr. shift & I'm having
a major brain freeze.
12/10: I'm nervous about the final. It seems
like I'm having a harder time writing. I think it's
because I know you are much tougher on grading now that
class is almost over.
Barbara
9/5: We formed our groups from the other day and
read our paragraphs. I am glad that our group can take
a little critisism.
9/10: As I see it we (my group) are getting
comfortable with the situations that bring us into a
unit form and we are pleased with our results.
10/3: Isn't it amazing how different peoples minds
work?
10/8: It seems instead of getting easier it's
(school) getting a little tougher with my kids. I
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can't seem to get them to leave me alone long enough to
get an assignment completed without numerous
interruptions.
10/10: In our group today we are looking at each
others papers an trying "change" or "edit" them. I
don't like it at all. I feel like I am a student, not
an instructor.
10/22: These are the kind of days I like. We get
in our groups and write on our assignments. This gives
me the time I need to do some writting.
11/7: We had photocopies of our two best writings
and handed them to each of the people in our group and
they were proofread and somewhat editted.
11/19: More writting in class. I am glad that we
are given this opportunity. It really helps me out.
11/21: My group started editing papers together.
Every idea is a help.
Betty
9/3: I dislike my group. Scatter brained men who
can't follow directions and refer to me as "the
secretary." I enjoy writing although I fear I'm
horrible at it. I'm not crazy about the idea of
discussing my writing and possibly having it torn apart
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and desicrated by my fellow students but if we must we
must.
9/5: I really enjoyed class today [but] I'm still
not crazy about my group, they tend to be lazy and seek
the easy way out.
9/10: My group is okay but they don't seem to
take class or writing seriously. The 2 girls in my
group either have low standards of writing or they are
afraid to make comments for fear of hurting feelings.
9/12: My group spends too much time talking about
other stuff and not enough about writing.
9/19: I want a new group!
9/24: I really like the writing part of class,
and the lectures jog my memory, but group is terrible.
A couple of us are really interested in improving our
writing, but the others use it for a gossip or gripe
session.
9/26: The hardest part of this class is being
told what to write and how to write it. People seem to
[be] hung up on form and technique rather than what is
being expressed. To me the message being conveyed is
what's important.
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10/10: We got 4 papers edited today, so we have 4
left. Working in groups would be okay if people
actually worked, but my group doesn't.
10/15: I don't seem to fit in this class. There
is nobody I can really relate to. It seems real
dicky--just like high school was. I didn't fit in
then either. I was "too brainy" to get along with the
people I had things in common with, but I was too much
an outcast to fit in with the smart people.
10/22: I got an "A" on my mid-term. I did a lot
better than I thought I would.
11/12: My life is still a mess, but at least the
kids and I have a roof over our heads. Even when there
is chaos all around me, I still find time to write, not
well, but at least I do it. I finally got my car
running Thursday .I'm very stressed out.
11/21: I turned in a poem for the poetry
[anthology], it won't get accepted, but at least I'm
being brave enough to try. [The poem was accepted.]
12/2: Well, things are going badly again. The
kids have been sick and I'm being stalked by [ex-
husband] .If I can live through this weekend I can
live through anything.
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Carlene
10/11: We went over a few essays editing them. I
don't like this part for I feel as if I am making the
owner of the essay uncomfortable. I feel this way when
people look over my essay, sometimes I don't write what
I want to because I do not like people reading my
opinions. I feel the owner will dislike me for
correcting their paper.
10/23: Tony and Steve are the leaders of our
group, they make my day.
10/30: I just don't have a wide variety of words
to use, it gets me so upset that I cannot find them.
I'm stuck!!
11/4: I've been having a rough time; sometimes I
find myself wanting the booze, I won't give in!
11/22: I rewrote my Freewrite, but I am not sure
if it will be acceptable.
12/2: I have bad test anxiety, it effects all my
classes. To be honest it pisses me off. I got a C on
my essays. I know I could have done better. So many
things are happening I am under alot of stress
12/9: All woman who are students at this college
realize that education is the way out of poverty. That
is why we are here to make a brighter future for our
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children and to set an example that school is the most
important thing in their childhood.
Cathy
9/9: I think before doing groups we should get to
know each other a little better in class. I don't like
to tell others how to write when I don't know them that
well. I do enjoy getting opinions from other's about
writing.
9/11: Listening to my groups real life stories
was very interesting. I'm the oldest in my group and I
noticed the younger talk about past trips and school
years, while I talk about kids, working, and Divorce.
9/13: I enjoyed listening to my groups stories,
but when I read mine about my brother's committing
suicide, they weren't quite sure how to react, which I
can understand.
9/20: My group has interesting writings and it
helps me, by listening to them read their paragraphs.
It gives me different ideas too for my subjects.
9/27: We spent the day in our groups reviewing
our writings, getting new ideas and giving ideas too.
I think that maybe on the last few days just before our
typed mid-term papers are due it might be better to
94