A contextual-developmental approach to basic writing: Broadening environments and practicing literacy

Karin Evans, Purdue University


College composition classes are positioned, for many students, between school literacy and the multiple adult literacies of postsecondary education, workplaces, civic discourse, intellectual life, community projects, consumerism, and personal and family realms. Given the narrow focus of literacy instruction in most elementary and secondary schools, it is important that college composition classes introduce students to the more sophisticated ways of understanding and using literacy that they will need in order to function effectively in various adult domains. If students are placed in basic writing classes, then the need for sophisticated approaches to literacy is even greater. It has often been said of basic writers that their conceptions of writers and writing are limited--and yet their introduction to college coursework in English often consists of writing and correcting sentences in workbooks, or perhaps writing decontextualized short essays representing the modes of discourse. Thus the question motivating this dissertation is, "How can basic writers be helped to enter the multiple and complex realms in which adults use literacy?" I explore this question from several angles, considering the implications of social construction and literacy theory as well as selected literature from developmental psychology that has helped me to understand that the environments for basic writing--personal, institutional, and cultural--profoundly affect how basic writers approach their writing assignments. Finally, I offer contextual-developmental principles on which to base the design of basic writing curricula. ^




Major Professor: Irwin H. Weiser, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Education, Language and Literature|Language, Rhetoric and Composition

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