Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Really rough notes on academic literacies

From: Lillis, T. (2001). Student Writing: Access, Regulation, Desire. London: Routledge.

Student writing is at the centre of teaching and learning in HE in the UK, being seen as the way in which students consolidate their understanding of subject areas, as well as the means by which tutors can come to learn about the extent and nature of individual students' understanding. However, the principal function of student writing is increasingly that of gate keeping. Writing is a key assessment tool, with students passing or failing courses according to the ways in which they respond to, and engage in, academic writing tasks. (Lillis 2001: 20)

However, it would be wrong to think of the 'essay' as a clearly defined genre if by 'genre' we mean something like a text type. For 'essay' (and hence the scare quotes) is really institutionalised shorthand for a particular way of constructing knowledge which has come to be privileged within the academy. In order to signal this broader notion of a particular way of making meaning in texts, it is more useful to talk of a particular academic literacy practice, essaylist literacy, which I explore in more detail in Chapter 2. (Lillis 2001: 20)

Whilst the view prevails that essays/student academic texts are unproblematic forms, the construction of which should be part of students' 'common sense' knowledge, experience from this and other studies indicates that student academic texts are expected to be constructed in and through conventions which are often invisible to both tutors and students. That the student-writers should struggle with the conventions of an institution which is strange to them is not surprising. However, this strangeness is compounded by the fact that such conventions are treated as if they are 'common sense' and are communicate through wordings as if these are transparently meaningful. Tutors may know essayist conventions implicitly, having been socialised into them through years of formal schooling, and in many cases through socio-discursive practices in their homes and communities. But students, particularly those from so-called 'non-traditional' backgrounds, may not, as [75] is reflected in the recurring questions listed in this chapter.[76]

The confusion the student-writers experience is so all pervasive a dimension of their experience in HE that it is useful to name this the 'institutional practice of mystery'. This practice is ideologically inscribed in that it works against those least familiar with the conventions surrounding academic writing - that is, students from social groups historically excluded from higher education. Such a practice works against their participation in HE in the following interrelated ways. Firstly, exclusion occurs becuase what is assumed to be 'common sense' is in fact only one privileged literacy practice; student outsiders cannot know the conventions embedded in such a practice unless these are taught. [...] Secondly, the dominant monologic addressivity within HE does not facilitate access to the privileged/privileging resources of essayist literacy. The writing and reading of students' written texts is consonant with the fictionalisation of participants in essayist literacy. However, whilst student-writers need to become familiar with this aspect of the practice - the denial of actual students and tutors with specific histories and interests - it unnecessarily complicates the students' learning of essayist literacy. [76]

Student-writers' desire fopr greater opportunities for dialogue between tutors and students, as real participants in the construction and interpretation of texts, is repeatedly expressed and seems to hold out for student-writers the promise of learning essayist conventions as a key part of their participation in higher education. (Lillis 2001: 132)


Cope, B. & M. Kalantzis (eds) (1993). The Powers of Literacy: A genre approach to teaching writing. London: Falmer Press.

Creme, P. & M. Lea (1997). Writing at University, Buckingham: Open University Press.
Hyland, K. (2000). Disciplinary Discourses. Harlow: Longman.

Jones, C., Turner, J. & Street, B.V. (eds) 1999 Students Writing in the University, Benjamins, Amsterdam.

Lea, M. & B. Stierer (2000). Student Writing in Higher Education. Buckingham: Open University
Press.

Mitchell, S. (1994). The Teaching and Learning of Argument in Sixth Forms and Higher Education. Hull: The Leverhulme Trust/The University of Hull.
Sharples, M. (1999). How We Write. London: Routledge.Bibliography

Lea, M. & Street, B. V. (1998). Student Writing and Staff Feedback in Higher Education: An Academic Literacies Approach. Studies in Higher Education 23(2):157-72.

Lillis, T. (1999). Whose Common Sense? In C. Jones, J. Turner. & B. V. Street (eds), Students Writing in the University, pp 127-47. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Lillis, T. (2001). Student Writing: Access, Regulation, Desire. London: Routledge.

Ivanic, R. (1997). Writing and Identity. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Street, B.V. (1999). Academic Literacies. In C. Jones, J. Turner, & B. V. Street (eds), Students Writing in the University, pp 193-227. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

No comments: