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Critical Language Awareness in the Multilingual Writing Classroom: A Self-Study of Teacher Feedback Practices

Despite the increasing amount of ethnolinguistic diversity in US schools and universities, traditional approaches to university writing instruction continue to advance the teaching of standard written American English (SWAE) from uncritical ideological standpoints (Bommarito & Cooney, 2016). To disrupt the naturalization of monolingual and standard language ideologies, existing scholarship shows the potential of critical language awareness (CLA), as a pedagogical approach which aims to develop students’ awareness of the relationships between languages, language varieties, language ideologies, power, and social inequities, alongside the teaching of SWAE (Fairclough, 1992). Because the production of student texts is central to a CLA pedagogy (Gilyard, 2000), this approach is ideally applied in the composition classroom. While existing scholarship offers writing instructors directions for fostering CLA among students, Alim (2010) cautions scholars that a CLA pedagogy has the potential to become over-theorized in the literature and under-applied in the classroom. This dissertation responds to the call for the application of CLA, through a self-study focusing on interactions between myself, as one writing teacher, and my students. My self-study examines the nature of a CLA pedagogy within a university developmental writing context, particularly through my provision of oral and written feedback. While existing studies of teacher feedback in the field of L2 writing have devoted more attention to localized feedback (i.e. matters of grammar and mechanics) than content-oriented feedback (i.e. matters of idea development, organization, argument; Belcher, 2012), as the instructor I provided CLA informed activities such that the students (most of whom were L2 writers) received both localized and content-oriented feedback on their writing. I examine how five focal students responded to CLA-informed instruction. Through textual analysis of my feedback and student writing samples, I analyze the textual characteristics of students’ responses to feedback, especially the ideological stances that the students communicated in their written responses to feedback. Through critical discourse and narrative analysis (Fairclough, 1989; Souto-Manning, 2014) of interview transcripts with the focal participants, I also analyze the perceptions, language ideologies, and prior language socialization experiences that the students articulated in relation to feedback and critical language curriculum. Bolstering my own pedagogical practices through a CLA framework, I have come to identify structured activities that can support students’ development of CLA in the writing classroom. Promising activities involve my students in describing their personal experiences with language differences, and engaging in ideological stance taking on issues related to language (i.e. diversity, variation, education, policy, assessment, or discrimination). I have also come to understand ways that CLA theory can support my provision of feedback as a writing instructor. While deepening my understanding of CLA theory, I have also deepened my awareness of the relationships between my feedback and my classroom instruction, and I have sought to establish continuity between my individualized response strategies, and classroom activities. Because CLA aims to enhance students’ own linguistic empowerment, my analysis also suggests that I can work toward empowerment by developing clear lines of communication with my students about their needs and preferences in relation to feedback. My analysis also indicates that my students’ responses to CLA-informed feedback and curriculum were complex and multiple. My students’ perceptions of feedback were influenced by their past experiences with writing instruction, including their understandings about the corrective roles instructors should assume in the teaching of SWAE. My students’ attitudinal responses toward critical language study were influenced by a multitude of complex sociolinguistic factors outside of the teaching context (both in L1 and L2 settings), including their experiences with language socialization, language standardization, family immigration, and intercultural communication during their youth. I conclude the dissertation with a series of implications which are of particular relevance not only for my own practices but also for other teacher researchers in the fields of L2 writing and teacher feedback. (1) In relation to localized feedback, my interpretations suggest that CLA can inform the provision of corrective feedback when we as instructors a) meet certain conditions to empower students as decision makers and owners of their texts, and b) are mindful of the power dynamics surrounding the corrective feedback process. (2) In terms of content-oriented feedback, my interpretations suggest that we as instructors can foster students’ CLA by a) posing rhetorical questions to invite critical exploration of language, and b) inviting students to engage in contrastive analysis between standardized and non-dominant forms of language, while taking into account the positionalities of our learners and ourselves, as well as contextual factors relating to the status of language. (3) In terms of language socialization, my interpretations suggest that to be linguistically responsive to students, we as critical language instructors benefit from learning about our students’ prior language socialization experiences and providing opportunities for students to create written narratives of their language socialization experiences. For future feedback studies, my study invites use of retrospective think-aloud and critical discourse analytic methods to support our reflective practices as self-study researchers. I argue that these methods support our own critical awareness as teachers, making the less visible aspects of the feedback practice more visible to us so that we may develop a more nuanced and equitable feedback system. My study also invites teacher researchers to explore the implementation of CLA writing pedagogies which are informed by language socialization theories.
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