Narrative means towards literacy understandings: exploring transformations within literacies and migrating identities. An analysis of narrative reflections towards the development of critical reflective thinking by mature students in a classroom of wider access

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

An analysis of narrative reflections towards the development of critical reflective thinking by mature students in a classroom of wider access: This thesis reports on the narratives of transitions undergone by adult students, mostly speakers of English as an additional language at an English language dominated institution, in returning to studies at postgraduate level, often after breaks in which they had established themselves in their professional and social worlds. The transitions relate to their senses of self, their understandings of (socially constructed) allowances within the higher educational institution, their understandings of what constitutes learning, knowledge and meaning making, and their own roles in these processes, including the agency they take on in the process. In examining how agency is adopted, I look at the development of reflective functioning as reported by these students. I consider the development of, and changes in the ‘voice’ of the adult student learner/writer, as reported by them and evident in their own writing, both formal and informal. I investigate this within the framework of New Literacy Studies, in which reading and writing are regarded as aspects of literacy (and learning) practices, along with other aspects of discourses, including attitudes, understandings, values, beliefs and general practices of learning, knowledge, meaning making and conceptions of understanding. In addition, in reflecting on what students have said, or the stories they have given about their experiences, I have drawn on aspects of narrative theory in psychology and education, whereby, learners (and others) determine their experiences and outcomes by what they tell themselves of these stories. The stories students tell themselves affect the responsibility or agency they take on in their learning and writing, and this affects the sort of voice that is evident in their writing. My data comprise of compilations of dialogical journals written by students between each other and myself in a course I taught, aiming to help them towards an awareness of themselves as learners and writers within their learning. The original purpose of these dialogical journals was one of pedagogic intent. The exercise was intended as an endeavour to provide a n access route into the academy for the students: to practice writing English in a non - threatening ‘environment’, to promote the development of reflective and critical thinking and self - awareness as academic writers, and in the dialogical nature, to encourage a community of practice. My role in this exercise was to steer them towards reflective construction through my responses and general journal prompts, and to promote engagement with each other in their learning community. The journals became data for research as a secondary intention when, upon reflecting on the journals myself, I became aware that they provided useful illustrations of students’ transitions in ‘interpretive frameworks’; their means of making sense, their engagements within new knowledge communities and of their migrations of identities. For many adult learners, becoming ensconced within understood, or socially or institutionally constructed practices, and being able to replicate the practices or discourses of the institution as viable or acceptable and institutionally recognizable selves and voices within it, requires a major transition. This involves long migratory journeys across differing attitudes, beliefs, values, and ways of thinking and behaving. In this, the development of reflective functioning, the taking on of agency, and the sounding out of voice, all require attention and often, new learning.

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