Date of Award

8-2012

Level of Access

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Department

Education

Advisor

Richard Kent

Second Committee Member

Susan Bennett-Armistead

Third Committee Member

Donald Bouchard

Abstract

Writing assignments that English-as-a-second-language (ESL) students encounter at American universities typically involve response to teacher-designed or student-designed writing prompts. However, these students may find it difficult to select a teacher- designed prompt or to create their own, to understand the teacher’s expectations for prompt selection or creation, and to generate writing in response to prompts. The existing research has not effectively documented how design of prompts influences ESL college students’ engagement with writing. This qualitative research employed a case- study methodology, with data that included class observations, interviews, and written documents, to investigate the perspectives and practices of six international ESL students in a writing course at an intensive English institute of a public university in the northeastern United States, with attention to how prompt selection affected their perceptions of, and experiences with, task, teacher, and text. Data analysis revealed that, although participants came to the writing classroom with a previously developed sophisticated knowledge of the writing process, they still found it challenging to adapt to the academic writing demands they encountered in the English language writing class at the American university. Moreover, participants needed the teacher to provide them with support throughout the writing process. In the classroom investigated, student participants were free to write as they wished, but that did not preclude them from being concerned about whether to choose a given prompt or to create one and, further, about the teacher’s expectations regarding their writing skills and their final written products. Furthermore, informants’ reports indicated that teacher-designed prompts were more time consuming and resulted in writing of lesser quality than when participants wrote for prompts that they created, with which they were familiar, or in which they were interested. In this case, they did not spend unnecessary time choosing and thinking about what to say. Finally, when students designed their own prompts, they usually wrote from their personal experience, and, as a result, they were able to retrieve the complicated knowledge they had about writing in more profitable ways to generate better texts, which had more vocabulary and more complex sentences and paragraphs.

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