Constructing basic writing: Institutional, instructional, and individual perspectives

Karen Hallinan Jacobson, University of Pennsylvania


This study investigates the phenomena of basic writing, basic writers, and their development. More specifically, it seeks to understand basic writers' responses to various instructional practices, the ways in which they do and do not develop as writers, and factors which facilitate and hinder their maturation. An assumption underlying this study is that basic writers and their development cannot be understood apart from the larger sociocultural contexts in which they occur. Thus, the study first describes forces and policies at the institutional level which directly or indirectly influence basic writing instruction at this college. It then analyzes the instructional environment of the basic writing course itself, specifically the expectations, views, and practices of the participating instructor. And finally, it examines the responses of five basic writers as they negotiate and interact with this instructional environment. Several strategies were used to collect data for this multi-layered field study: formal and informal interviews, audiotaping of classes and conferences, reading and writing protocols. The following were also collected: the teacher's journal, handouts, all student texts, and various institutional documents. The data was analyzed inductively and reconstructed as descriptive narratives. Although the five students constructed the course differently, all matured in some ways congruent with the teacher's goals. Most developed a language for talking about composing and texts, a sense of themselves as writers and writing as manageable, and an increasing awareness of and attention to the needs and expectations of readers. Their growth appeared limited, however, by their failure to understand the course-related writing as a particular style of discourse characterized by community-governed expectations and rules, to use resources effectively, and in some cases, to appreciate writing as an avenue for creating meaning. Although the institutional and instructional environments were constructed with the intention of providing nontraditional students access to higher education, barriers with the potential to deny that access existed. At both levels, these obstacles resulted from conflicting social forces. It was concluded that basic writing, basic writers, and their development--socially defined and defining through an interplay of forces at various levels--are more complex phenomena than traditionally conceived.

Subject Area

Language arts|Community college education

Recommended Citation

Jacobson, Karen Hallinan, "Constructing basic writing: Institutional, instructional, and individual perspectives" (1991). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9200349.