My research favors methodologies that foregrounding student voices and experiences in composition classrooms to promote research-driven pedagogy that responds to student needs. Both the research I am currently conducting and the research I look forward to conducting in the future respond to questions that investigate students’ understandings of academic writing pedagogies and examine how writing instructors might leverage students’ previous experiences and local knowledge to help students acquire academic discourses.
As the first step in exploring my ongoing research interests, my dissertation research responds to recent conversations in composition studies about the role of first-year writing in the transition from high school to college writing, and it offers a new perspective on how writing teachers might respond to speakers of non-standard English dialects in their first-year writing courses. In this study, I examine the transition from the local rural high school into college through a longitudinal qualitative study of nine rural South Carolina students, all of whom stayed in state for college. First, I explore how the language ideologies students bring with them from their local community into the college writing classroom led them to believe that their peers and writing instructors will “other” them based on their language and their hometown affiliations, even as they express pride in the linguistic resources offered by their local language. Next, I consider the ways in which the students navigated the ideologies surrounding their local rhetorical strategies, which they felt were more rhetorically effective than the strategies and practices that were highly valued in their academic writing courses. Finally, I examine how students attempted to accommodate the expectations of their new academic context by using conventions they had previously been taught were “academic,” including their use of “MLA” to denote not only citation style but registers of academic English as well. The findings from this study suggest that the ideologies associated with SAE influence students’ experiences in their first year writing courses, and in the academy more generally, but more importantly, they suggest that students in other parts of the country, especially rural students, could benefit from similar pedagogies.
Lately, I’ve been considering the questions my dissertation raises about the rhetoric of the “easy” or “smooth” transition to college, especially for students whose home discourses are dissimilar from the discourses valued by the academy, and I look forward to conducting studies that explore what it means to have a “successful” transition from the local high school into higher education. This work would ideally happen in collaboration with K-12 English teachers, and would both examine what students understand to be a “successful” transition to college and offer K-12 English teachers a fuller understanding of what college writing courses require students to know as they enter academic discourses. My experiences with a wide variety of study designs in Sweetland has also given me a keen interest in mixed-methods research, particularly in the questions that can be explored through a combination of qualitative interview methodologies and survey research or corpus linguistic research. In particular, I have additional research interests in using interviews and corpus linguistic research to consider how students respond to open-ended questions in written instructor feedback, a study I have piloted and look forward to implementing on a larger scale for publication.
The overarching theme of my research is a deep respect for the experiences and voices of our students, and how qualitative or mixed-methods research might allow us better insight into the pedagogical methods and instructor-student relationships that will allow them to be most successful in academic writing courses. I look forward to exploring the questions that my graduate study has sparked.