University of Minnesota
interdisciplinary studies of writing
center for writing

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Publications abstract: Writing in the Multicultural Classroom: What Students Say

bus stopCarol Miller, General College
Carolyn Evans, Research Assistant

This interview project examined the experiences and perceptions of African American, Native American, and Hispanic students in composition classes at the University of Minnesota. Our objective was to collect primary and secondary data which provides clearer information about the performance of students of color as learning writers. This data should subsequently suggest accommodations by which, as individuals and as members of distinct minority cultures, students of color might be better served by University writing programs.

The project was undertaken in two complementary stages. The first stage, which built upon the principal investigator's previously completed review of research pertaining to minority student achievement in general, sought areas of overlap between that body of research and current writing theory more specifically focused on the performance of students of color. This phase of the project—identification of mutualities by which these two bodies of research might inform one another—flagged circumstances relevant to "minority" student writers and created a context of inquiry enabling development of interview instruments to learn more about these problems and to identify potential solutions.

The second stage of the project involved a series of progressive interviews of native-speaking students of color drawn from composition classes in the College of Liberal Arts. To refine the interview instrument of twenty-four items (with additional follow-up questions), an initial set of interviews was conducted with a pilot group of students of color who had already completed the two-course composition sequence in the General College. The instrument itself included questions which asked for 1) self-awareness assessment of students' writing histories, processes, and overall competencies; 2) consideration of the activities and character of their completed composition classes; and 3) speculation about the nature and demands of academic writing and about any impact on students as learning writers resulting from contentions of cultural experience and the dialectics of the academic community.

The project generated thirty-one interviews and an annotated bibliography of selected literature on minority student performance and composition. Analysis of the data shows that students do not receive significant writing practice in high school. In addition, several areas of mystification for students surfaced. For example, students had misconceptions about what made writing good and how they could become good writers. They overemphasized surface writing features, such as grammar and punctuation. Also, students were often confused about course objectives and assignments. Overall, however, students found writing practice, feedback from instructors, and response from their conference group members to be beneficial and useful.

We must continue to conduct both qualitative and quantitative research in how diverse populations learn. We also need to re-examine our pedagogical objectives and instruction strategies. What multicultural classrooms need ultimately are new paradigms that negotiate cultural transactions rather than cultural assimilation.