Developing as an Adult Writer: Literacy Learners and Military Personnel

Lauren Rosenberg

New Mexico State University


Response to Bazerman, “Towards an Understanding of Writing Development Across the Lifespan”

The scholarship I bring to lifespan studies concentrates on a couple of different populations of adult learners. For more than a dozen years, I have been studying and writing about adult basic literacy learners (see Rosenberg Desire, “Retelling,” “’You Have to Knock,” and Rosenberg and Branch). More recently, my attention has turned to the writing practices of military personnel while at work (Rosenberg and Howes), as I consider issues such as ownership of one’s writing, authorship, and notions of the writer as a person of action versus a passive office worker. Common to both studies, is the fact that most adult learners (adult literacy learners and veterans who attend college after service) tend to be older than traditional college-age students; it is also likely that they are on alternative educational paths than traditional students who have had a mainstream education. In response to Bazerman’s opening assertion that, “[However,] children come to school with varied life experiences that position them in different ways as they learn to engage in disciplinary literacies and use new technologies,” I submit that lifespan researchers need to look into the writing development of adults, such as the two groups I mention here, who have extensive experiences outside of a traditional educational mode and can broaden the way we understand the meanings and uses of writing. The perspectives of adult basic learners and military veterans are important examples of literacy learning to consider as the lifespan group constructs a “vision of writing development that incorporates its complexities and many dimensions, and that accounts for the individuality of trajectories that can lead to distinctive voices and expression” (Bazerman1).

According to the first principle identified in “Towards an Understanding of Writing Development Across the Lifespan,” “Writing can develop across the lifespan as part of changing contexts” (2). Bazerman draws upon Deborah Brandt’s argument that writing is accumulated across one’s lifetime (Literacy), yet, for some people who have not experienced literacy as developing consistently, writing does not accumulate evenly. For nonliterate people, for example, and for those who acquire new literacies later in life, writing development may have been halted during childhood. Writing, for the adult literacy learners I studied, often does not develop in younger childhood because it is withheld (by important adults, by material conditions in a family’s life) or interrupted (Branch, Purcell-Gates, Rosenberg Desire). There are exceptions to what we think of as a typical developmental path to writing, conditions that effect our sense of how a society of writing individuals becomes formed. As Bazerman notes, “For some writers, as their adolescent and adult social worlds expand into new professional, commercial, civic, and other affiliational contexts, so do the possibilities and exigencies for their writing development” (3); however, for other writers, the typical, expected transition never happens because their experience with literacy learning opposes the mainstream. I believe adult learners are aware when writing is absent in their lives (see Branch, “What No Literacy”), even when the possibility of identifying as a writer may not exist easily. I am reminded of a brief interaction I had with an adult literacy learner I did not know who observed me writing in a notebook. She commented: Your writing is so pretty. Was it the physical manifestation of alphabetic language on the page that impressed this woman and caused her to long for “pretty” handwriting? Or, was it the realization that someone could convey thought into documentable language that had allure? Whichever meaning the woman intended, the message I heard expressed by her comment was that writing “pretty” was something she desired because she hadn’t yet attained it.

Bazerman’s second principle states, “Writing development is complex because writing is complex.” While it is obvious that every writing act is “a unique performance” (4), let me point out that the physical and symbolic activities of writing are particularly complex for those who are acquiring literacy in later adulthood, and who, as younger adults, were denied the possibility of a dominant trajectory to writing development (the handwriting example helps illustrate this). They don’t struggle because they missed out on gaining skills, but for other, “social processes [that] also influence writing development” (Herrington and Curtis qtd in Bazerman (3), such as having been called “dummy” by peers, teachers, and family, or having felt pressured into silence or self-censorship (Rosenberg Desire, Lathan).

Bazerman notes that, although “Writing and writing development emerge, then, within the material, political, and social worlds that nurture, actualize and exploit them. …  Where a society is not cooperating with and generous toward a learner, development will be made more difficult” (6, my emphasis). The adult learners I worked with had all struggled to become writers when they were growing up because of the material conditions of their lives. But this can mean a variety of things and have different effects throughout a person’s entire life. For example, the two men in my study (Rosenberg “Retelling,” Desire), had a brief education that was continually interrupted by their responsibilities as farmworkers on the sharecropper’s farms where they were raised. In both cases, economic necessity halted their access to mainstream writing development fostered by public schooling; it also prevented them from gaining writing opportunities until they retired, each on disability resulting from a physical injury. The two women I studied had very different histories with formal and informal literacy development as children and as adults. One of the women grew up in poverty in an urban area, where, because of the instability of her family situation, she was continually moving and unable to have consistency in school. The conditions in her life made her feel unable to learn. Even now, as an older adult, she claims that she struggles to “sponge” in what she needs to function as a reader and writer (Desire). She also expresses a lot of anxiety about the act of writing because she claims it is so hard. The other woman I worked with, who also grew up poor and with only occasional access to school, loves to write. She turns to writing for reflection, self-analysis, and to restory the events of her life. For her, developing as a writer is something she looks forward to as an opportunity to improve herself and address the situations in her life. These examples show the importance of looking at non-traditional adult learners as part of lifespan studies so that we can better understand how writing carries different meaning and value in response to people’s prior experiences. While most citizens within the mainstream take for granted the abilities to write and read, these actions and experiences are not obvious for those who spent much of their lives without writing.

While Bazerman mentions under the third principle that, “Poverty and other marginalizing social factors, although they may be overcome by individuals, may limit resources and developmental opportunities as well as create stigmatizing social attributions that affect writing development” (8), this assertion is not explored in the lifespan scholarship so far. In addition to “resources and developmental” opportunities that are withheld, some individuals are prevented from having a voice because of how they are gazed upon socially, and how they turn that gaze to self-critique. For instance, one of the participants I have continued to work with for more than a dozen years, Chief (a pseudonym), speaks of the experience of being positioned as “hushmouth” (Desire chapters 5 and 6) as a low literate African American man. He often kept silent in conversations because of his own sense that people didn’t want to know what he had to say. For Chief, developing as a writer in older adulthood allows him to counter his personal oppression as well as the historic oppression of his community of African Americans. Rhea Lathan addresses the experiences of individuals and groups, especially African Americans, whose spoken and written voices have been historically ignored or hidden, a reminder that lifespan studies must address the writing development of those on the margins as well as within the mainstream.

Principle five states, “The development of writing depends on the development, redirection, and specialized reconfiguring of general functions, processes, and tools.” Further, Bazerman and others note, “As writers develop, for example, they establish specific attitudes about their efficacy as a writer, the value of writing in their own life, and the reasons for their perceived writing successes and missteps. These writing specific dispositions influence how they view themselves as writers, their effort and persistence when writing, and the quality of what they compose (Graham 2006 qtd in Bazerman 11).” In response to this quote, I turn to the other population of adults that is the topic of my current research: military veterans. The military personnel I am researching all had jobs that involved a great deal of writing. My study examines the writing tasks servicemembers perform for their military jobs. It also investigates their relationship to the act of writing—an act that is cast quite differently in the military from in civilian society. For example, in my work in progress on the writing practices of an Army officer, my participant notes that servicemembers typically identify as men and women of action, or doers, a position that opposes the identity usually attributed to the writer, who is denigrated as a “paperwork guy” (Rosenberg interview). The officer, or servicemember, who sits at a computer to write, and who may have more clout than his or her peers, is still often viewed as inactive in a culture of action. While the writing being produced may hold great value to the institution, the supervisors, and to the writer performing a task, the work of the writer is not necessarily valued the way we tend to view writing as meaningful in civilian life.


In response to principle seven: “[E]ducators need to recognize the different ways language resources can be used to present meaning in written text,” I argue that we also need to recognize that people relate differently to language resources based on their individual and community experiences with writing development, which are shaped by social factors such as socioeconomics, race, and other categories of difference. As language resources vary, the meaning found within a text—what it means and what it does—varies as well. We know this from Shirley Brice Heath, James Gee, and Brian Street’s early work on literacy development as socially determined, and all of the scholarship that follows based on this view. As Bazerman notes, “[But] because people are socially positioned in different ways, and have different life experiences, not all members of every speech community develop the same facility with all forms of spoken discourse. This is also true of written discourse” (12). My research on adult literacy learners, and the study of military servicemembers writing at work, exemplify the array of motivations and contexts that position people as writers. In the case of the military personnel, the ideology of the institution in which they are tasked to write is a major factor influencing their ongoing writing development.

For example, a Navy veteran who was interviewed for the project, noted that as an English major in college prior to enlisting, he thought of writing as Shakespeare and other literary work of the past. In the Navy, he served in a Quality Assurance (QA) program making “QA packages.” He wrote procedures, ten-page detailed reports “about how you’re going to do something.” The way he described the reports was that they were “detailed” and required “precision.” The “writing part is the single most important” thing, this participant explained, because the stakes were high. If you made a mistake in writing the instructions, it could cost lives. He would write the procedure while performing it at the same time. Then it would go to someone else who would try out the program to see if it was precisely correct. Eventually, the commanding officer would sign off on it. This participant, who is now a student in the university, reflected that he never thought about the QA reports he composed in the Navy as writing—they were tasks required of his job—until he made the connection during one of our conversations (Rosenberg interview).

The point I want to make as an end to this blog entry is that much of the writing people produce, they may not recognize as writing at all. As Brandt elucidates in both her major studies (Literacy, The Rise), the writing people compose routinely as part of their everyday lives, at work and for less clearly designated purposes, reflects extensive and ongoing development of the writer. Understanding the many pathways to writing development, particularly as an adult writer’s practices sprawl unexpectedly, strikes me as the most provocative aspect of lifespan studies.


Works Cited

Bazerman, Charles, et al. “Towards an Understanding of Writing Development Across the Lifespan. Lifespan Group Full Statement.”

Branch, Kirk. “In the Hallways of the Literacy Narrative: Violence and the Power of Literacy.” Multiple Literacies for the 21st Century. Edited by Brian Huot, Beth Stroble, and Charles Bazerman. Hampton, 2004, pp. 15–38.

———. “What No Literacy Means: Literacy Events in the Absence of Literacy.” Reflections: Writing, Service-Learning, and Community Literacy, vol. 9, no. 3, 2010, pp. 52–74.

Brandt, Deborah. Literacy in American Lives. Cambridge UP, 2001.

———. The Rise of Writing: Redefining Mass Literacy. Cambridge UP, 2014.

Gee, James Paul. “‘Literacy, Discourse and Linguistics: Introduction’ and ‘What Is Literacy?’” Literacy: A Critical Sourcebook. Edited by Ellen Cushman, Eugene R. Kintgen, Barry M. Kroll, and Mike Rose. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001, pp. 525–44.

Heath, Shirley Brice. Ways with Words: Language, Life, and Work in Communities and Classrooms. Cambridge UP, 1983.

Lathan, Rhea, Freedom Writing Freedom Writing: African American Civil Rights Literacy Activism, 1955-1967. CCCC/NCTE, 2015.

Purcell-Gates, Victoria, “A World without Print.” Edited by Ellen Cushman, Eugene R. Kintgen, Barry M. Kroll, and Mike Rose. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001, pp. 402–17.

Rosenberg, Lauren. The Desire for Literacy: Writing in the Lives of Adult Learners. CCCC/NCTE, 2015.

 ———. Personal Interview with “R”. 29 May 29, 2015.

———. Personal Interview with Peter Molin. 18 May 29, 2016.

———. “Retelling Culture through the Construction of Alternative Literacy Narratives: A Study of Adults Acquiring New Literacies. Reflections: Writing, Service-Learning, and Community Literacy, vol. 9, no. 3, 2010, pp. 75–114.

———. “‘You Have to Knock at the Door for the Door Get Open’: Alternative Literacy Narratives and the Development of Textual Agency in Writing by Newly Literate Adults.” Community Literacy Journal, vol. 2, no. 2, 2008, pp. 113–44.

Rosenberg, Lauren, and Kirk Branch. “A Conversation about Literacy Narratives and Social Power.” Reflections: Writing, Service-Learning, and Community Literacy, vol. 9, no. 3, 2010, pp. 115–28.

Rosenberg, Lauren and Emma Howes. "Listening to Research as a Feminist Ethos of Representation.” Composing Feminist Interventions: Activism, Engagement, Praxis. Edited by Kristine Blair and Lee Nickoson. (Chapter accepted by Editors, collection accepted by WAC Clearinghouse)

Street, Brian V. Literacy in Theory and Practice. Cambridge UP, 1984.







Learning, Growth, and Writing Knowledge Transfer Across Time

Melissa Bugdal, Salisbury University

In “Towards an Understanding of Writing Development Across the Lifespan,” Charles Bazerman et al. lay out eight principles to consider for lifespan writing research.  Principle 2, “writing development is complex because writing is complex,” and Principle 3, “writing development is variable; there is no single path and no single endpoint,” resonate the most with me in this current point in my own writing development for multiple reasons.  First, I recently finished my dissertation, and I currently find myself experiencing the transition from graduate student to assistant professor, and I’ve certainly experienced variability in my own development as a writer across graduate school and professional genres.  Second, my dissertation project itself focused on following six first generation undergraduate student writers as they made their way from a basic writing course in a summer bridge program to disciplinary writing in and beyond their majors.  This two-year project was the first step in a bigger longitudinal study (4+ years), following these students through their writing experiences at a large public research institution, and two community colleges.

I purposely defined writing broadly from the start of my dissertation project, which has prompted my participants to report on everything from research essays to lab reports and business memos, to sustained in-class writing, such as midterm and final essay exams.  The six participants reported genres of sustained writing in 53-71% of their courses.  Across all six students (a total of 92 courses), participants reported writing in 55 courses, an overall writing frequency of almost 60%.

An overarching question from the start of my project has been to determine what aspects of writing that students learned in the basic writing course have proven durable across other courses and time, and Bazerman et al.’s principles of writing development, especially the two noted above, have been reiterated to me repeatedly throughout my data analysis.  Each student’s past writing experiences are unique to their individual lived experiences both within and outside the classroom, and the writing experiences unfolding in real time are equally unique given the variety of participants’ individualized experiences with writing, multilingual backgrounds, and the writing genres they each encounter in general education courses and courses required for their majors.

However, questions surrounding knowledge transfer aren’t new.  Since early in the twentieth century, academics have been theorizing if, when, and how knowledge transfers to new contexts.  The National Research Council’s publication How People Learn, defines transfer broadly “as a dynamic process that requires learners to actively choose and evaluate strategies, consider resources, and receive feedback” (66).  David N. Perkins and Gavriel Salomon argue, “transfer is a key concept in education and learning theory because most forma education aspires to transfer,” and so “the ends of education are not achieved unless transfer occurs” (3).  With the rise of Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) and Writing in the Disciplines (WID), compositionists have turned anew to studies of transfer to better understand what writing knowledge transfers and how it might be achieved in new situations, especially within WAC/WID frameworks, course sequences, and pedagogical approaches.  Recent theories emerging from the Teaching for Transfer (TFT) pedagogical model (Yancey, Taczak, and Robertson) in First-Year Composition courses suggest that when incorporating certain key terms and strategies into the teaching of writing early in a students’ college career—particularly ones related to rhetoric and metacognition—students may transfer writing knowledge and skills more effectively.

But an interesting component of the complex web of writing knowledge, growth, development, learning, and transfer that is currently understudied is the role peers play in facilitating writing knowledge transfer.  The six students in my study received additional writing support in the form of a writing center course-embedded writing fellow in their basic writing course.  Three of the six students had this same model of course-embedded peer writing support in their First-Year Writing courses.  At every interview, I have asked participants about particular takeaways they recall from their basic writing and First-Year Writing courses that they have found useful in their current writing.  I’ve also asked about particular takeaways they recall from working with their fellows (interactions occurred both in-class and in 50-minute, mandatory weekly small group meetings led by the fellows).  Interestingly, all participants reported complementary yet distinct takeaways from their fellows sessions compared to classroom takeaways.  Ultimately, participants reported more process-oriented features as durable from basic writing and First-Year Writing, while they reported more rhetorically-based features as durable from the fellows sessions associated with these courses.  Participants often explained that it was the additional space and time, as well as the ability to talk more informally with each other and their fellow to process information about these new rhetorical features that allowed for these distinct takeaways from fellows sessions.

As somebody who has worked in writing centers since I was a sophomore in college, I’ve always strongly believed in the role of peer-to-peer interactions, but this project has helped me see just how important those peer-to-peer interactions might be as part of writing development and transfer.  It’s an ongoing question in my research, and certainly adds to the principles of complexity and variability of writing noted by Bazerman et al.  Last month, I concluded a third year of interviews with my study participants, and they continued to note specific writing lessons and strategies learned from their course-embedded writing fellows, further suggesting that peer interaction plays a durable role in writing development and transfer.


Bransford, John D., James W. Pellegrino, and M. Suzanne Donovan, eds. How People Learn:  Brain, Mind, Experience, and School, Expanded Edition. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2000.

Perkins, Gavriel, and David N. Salomon. “Teaching for Transfer.”  Educational Leadership vol. 46, no. 1, 1989, pp. 22-32.

Perkins, Gavriel, and David N. Salomon. “The Science and Art of Transfer.”  2007.

Perkins, Gavriel, and David N. Salomon. “Transfer of Learning.”  International Encyclopedia of Education. 2nd ed. 1992.

Yancey, Kathleen Blake, Liane Robertson, and Kara Taczak. Writing across Contexts: Transfer,         Composition, and Sites of Writing. Utah State UP, 2014.

The Complexity of Understanding Factors in Writing Development

Nicholas Jackson, University of Louisville

I was drawn to the Writing through the Lifespan Collaboration because of my interest in the trajectories writers take as they transition from high school to college and the ways that trajectory develops as those writers continue to move through college. While this may be relatively short snippet a writer’s life (unless, of course, they start and stop college many times, as many individuals do), I see it as necessary to lifespan research because of the perceived importance on the success of this transition in order to have a successful career. Moreover, understanding the resources writers have available as they make this transition involves a focused look at multiple different contexts of writing at different stages of a writers’ life, and the Lifespan Group’s first principle reminds us that “[w]riting can develop across the lifespan as part of changing contexts.” The change in context from high school to college is one that is multifaceted and complex, and one that I would argue is understudied. Todd Ruecker (2014), for example, noted that while our field has increased its output on research into transfer across different university contexts, we need more research on the high school to college transition because we have “limited knowledge on the types of writing students experience before entering a first-year composition (FYC) class” (p. 92). What makes this transition increasingly complex is the rapid proliferation of dual enrollment FYC classes, often as part of an impetus to get FYC “out of the way.”

While my identity as a researcher is just beginning (I will be a first-year Ph.D. student at the University of Louisville this coming academic year), I am currently interested in the ways taking “college composition” as a high school student affects the trajectories writers take as college writers. The Lifespan Group’s “Towards an Understanding of Writing Development Across the Lifespan” highlights some of the concerns I have about the ways dual enrollment can hinder these transitions. While principle one, mentioned above, echoes one of the major questions I have been asking in my work around dual enrollment (if writing develops based on changing contexts, what happens when we conflate the very different contexts of high school and college?), I want to focus now on the thoughts and questions I have specifically in response to principle three.

The third principle states that “Writing Development is variable; there is no single path and no single endpoint.” While this principle also discusses the individual variations writers experience, I am, at the moment, more interested in the variability in social worlds the group focuses on. As this principle explains, individuals “write in order to participate in socially organized activities in which they use literacy to assert their presence, needs, desires, or interests.” Because writing is used to mediate our involvement in these activities, “trajectories for learning writing purposes, forms, and strategies are shaped by locally valued forms of writing.” That is, “successful” writing is writing that responds to the needs and expectations of the local context in which that writing takes place. Therefore, as the principle’s focus on “no single endpoint” highlights, there is no single form of writing that can signify the successful conclusion of a writer’s developmental trajectory (even assuming we could reach a neat and tidy conclusion). While this is easily understandable in relation to contexts we readily see as vastly different (i.e. legal briefs and fanfiction), it’s important to remember that this is no less true even in regards to different institutions’ understandings of “college writing.” In “The Fantasy of the ‘Seamless Transition,’” Michael Bernard-Donals reflects on having taught at four different colleges with the same stated mission and states that “‘college writing’ at each couldn’t have been more different” and then explains you will see even more variation in what “college writing” entails if you look at colleges with different missions (Alsup and Bernard-Donals, 2002, p. 117).

These different local conceptions of college writing are important in regards to dual enrollment because of the fact students do not always attend the post-secondary institution offering the dual enrollment credit because the high schools frequently partner with a local university. In the dual enrollment courses I have taught, many of the students had no intention of even considering attending the partnered university. So when a writer succeeds in a dual enrollment FYC course through one institution, in order to get the class “out of the way,” what happens when they attend college at a university with different expected outcomes for FYC or different WAC expectations? If they struggle, is that because they took FYC while still in high school or because they took FYC at a different institution? How does that writer operationalize their prior knowledge differently from a writer who took the same dual enrollment course and then attended the university that sponsored it? While the concern for that first student may be no different from concerns for a student who transferred to a new university after taking FYC, this question reveals some limitations in judging the “success” of a dual enrollment FYC course. In short, this principle highlights some complex variables that may blur the effects the dual enrollment course itself has on a writer’s trajectory.

As the Lifespan Group’s entire statement made clear, understanding writing development is a complex task. What principle three especially reveals for me, however, is how complex making sense of the effects any one factor has on that development can also be complex because of all the “moving parts” we are drawing on as we write (as discussed in principle two). Each time we write, our prior experiences, sociocultural influences, and cognitive activities are all interweaving in complex ways. I am looking forward to trying to understand these interlocking variables as I continue my trajectory as a researcher and a writer.

Works Cited

Alsup, J. and Bernard-Donals, M. (2002). The fantasy of the ‘seamless transition.’ In T. Thomas (Ed.), Teaching writing in high school and college: conversations and collaborations (pp. 115-135). Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Ruecker, T. (2014). Here they do this, here they do that: Latinas/Latinos writing across institutions. College Composition and Communication, 66(1), 91-119.

Writer Identity Development During Career-Life Transitions

Sandra Tarabochia, University of Oklahoma

My research seeks to better understand the writing development of early career faculty who are required to publish academic writing for tenure. I am most curious about how faculty members’ writing identities change (or not) during the transition to a tenure-track position and throughout their time on the tenure track. I am not as interested in specific texts or their circulation.  I am not necessarily interested in writing practices or literate practices more broadly, in how faculty organize themselves for writing, or in how they physically get writing done.  I do, however, want to know how they perceive those activities, how their thinking about their writing/literate practices changes over time. I want to know more about how faculty understand the challenges they face as writers on the tenure track.  I want to consider what faculty members’ responses to writing challenges (and reflections on those responses) suggest about their identities and development as writers.  I hope my research findings lead to policies and pedagogies that validate and support faculty writing development.

I see this as lifespan research because it focuses on an understudied group of experienced writers, who are often considered “developed,” during an important career-life transition.  I propose that studying writers during this transition can shed light on their developmental trajectories as well as (perhaps) suggest something about writerly transitions more broadly.  I also hope to highlight connections between social-psychological sense-making structures as they change recursively over time, and writers’ perceptions of their writing and writerly identities. Here are some ways I am thinking about the principles of writing development as I continue to articulate the dimension(s) on which my research will focus.  

Principle 1: Writing can develop across the lifespan as part of changing contexts.

This principle resonates with my work, although, again, I’m more interested in how writers develop as opposed to writing. This principle is particularly important to me because too often faculty writers are expected to be fully developed.  The “publish or perish” climate implies that faculty writers should be ready and able to write for publication in their fields and if they can’t hack it (smoothly, immediately, and without assistance), they don’t deserve their positions. In contrast, Principle 1 holds that writers are always in process, developing across their lifespans. It normalizes the struggle all writers experience when faced with new contexts and life circumstances. In this vein, my research investigates how faculty writers “understand identities and roles” as they reflect on new writing projects, challenges, and successes on the tenure track (Bazerman et al.).  As faculty writers make this career-life transition, how do they see their writing contributing to individual and collective goals (of their disciplines or subfields)? How do they process responses to their writing (praise, critique, rejection)? What contributions do they hope to make through writing and how does their thinking about that shape motivation, disposition, resilience, etc.?

Principle 2: Writing development is complex because writing is complex.

I am most excited about how this principle intersects with my work because I hope to reveal “the constitutive power that contexts play in conditioning, stabilizing, amplifying or interfering with individual writing efforts” and writer identities (Bazerman et al.). How do disciplinary and institutional contexts influence faculty members’ writing identity trajectories? If writing is “a synergistic process engaging self and world” then how writers organize or make sense of self/world matters (Bazerman et al.). Here, I draw on Robert Kegan’s framework, rooted in constructive-developmental psychology, for understanding “meaning-making systems or ways of knowing” (1994, p. 6). Kegan argues that “emotional, cognitive, interpersonal and intrapersonal experiencing is constellated” according to “principles of mental organization” that change over time (p. 7). In each meaning-making structure, there are elements we can name and control (objects) and invisible elements that are embedded in us, that control us (subjects) (Kegan, 1994, p. 32; Baxter & King, 2007, p. 492). What we treat as subject and object affects how we understand ourselves in relation to others and how we act in the world.   

Analyzing how faculty writers talk about themselves, their relationships, their experiences, and writing-as-work can provide insight into their underlying meaning-making structures, which in turn can help us better understand their writing identities, needs, and trajectories. For example, Kegan’s (1994) concept of self-authorship involves epistemological, intrapersonal, and interpersonal dimensions of development (Baxter & King, 2007). A self-authored person has an internal belief system, internally chooses values to inform their identities, and engages in interdependent, mutual relationships (Kegan, 1994; Baxter & King, 2007, p. 492). The concept is often applied in instruction and student affairs settings to research undergraduate student growth and development, but Carmen Werder (2013) proposes the “three spheres of self-authorship”—cognitive (meaning-making), interpersonal (self in relation to others), and intrapersonal (sense of identity)—as a “lens for conceptualizing how faculty writers can move beyond simply advancing their immediate writing projects/research agenda to becoming more aware of how they make meaning when composing, how they construct their audiences, and how they represent their own writerly voices” (p. 282).

Although it may seem logical to assume faculty have achieved self-authorship (internal self-definition), Werder (2013), referencing the stages in the development of self-authorship described in Baxter Magolda’s Making their Own Way: Narratives for Transforming Higher Education to Promote Self-Development, wonders if the transition to faculty positions and experience of the tenure track might cause faculty to circle back to earlier stages—to the experience of struggling to negotiate outside authority and internal belief systems, to restructure beliefs about knowledge, self and others and act on those beliefs (p. 282).

With Werder (2013), I believe that the evolution of meaning-making structures is non-linear, recursive, and life-long; thus all faculty writers would benefit from attention to the “cognitive/interpersonal/intrapersonal disequilibrium” they experience during career-life changes (p. 284). By working to reveal how faculty experience, understand, and respond to this disequilibrium, I hope to create a richer picture of how faculty develop as writers.  My hope is that the picture will generate support structures that offer faculty writers “more than simply some strategies for time management” (Werder, 2013, p. 284).

Moreover, in the spirit of Principle 2, I suspect that researching the role of shifting meaning-making structures in writer identity development for faculty will shed light on the ways “individual writing development [bears] the marks of larger arrangements by which the powers of writing are being harnessed as economic, political, and cultural assets” (Bazerman et al.). Initial data analysis from my current study of faculty writers supports the finding that individual “writing development takes shape as an aspect of work” (Bazerman et al.). For better or for worse, faculty members’ ingrained perceptions of “work” seem to shape how they approach writing and describe their identities as writers. Some attribute their ability to labor with writing--despite rejections and other setbacks--to blue collar values.  Others report dissonance as they try to measure and justify the result of writing-as-work for parents, spouses, and publics who have different ways of determining productive work. In short, how faculty come to terms with writing as labor is proving to be a significant aspect of development.

Even further, I’m interested in exploring what it means to acknowledge that faculty writing and writer development “emerge within the material, political, and social worlds that naturalize, actualize, and exploit them” (Bazerman et al.) Although I have a small ‘n’ at this point, I am noticing differences in the experiences of faculty writers of color and how they make sense of those experiences.  I’m still exploring my initial impressions, but so far it seems faculty from minoritized groups tend to wrestle with issues of self-worth more than their colleagues (see also Dancy & Jean-Marie, 2014). Concomitantly, they develop powerful strategies for self-care and establish strong relationships and communities with others to remind them that racism, sexism, ageism and other forms of discrimination are systemic.

Principle 3: Writing development is variable.

The differences among my participants’ experiences, and among their cognitive, interpersonal and intrapersonal sense-making structures, speak to Principle 3.  If people are socially positioned in different ways to engage in writing practices, and if those differences contribute to “varied trajectories of writing development” (Bazerman et al.), what does that mean for the challenges faculty writers face as they transition to the tenure track and how they experience those challenges? For example, as I’ve mentioned, a faculty member from a working-class family draws on her blue-collar mentality to persist despite obstacles. At the same time, a black woman scholar describes the trauma of giving up her voice and devaluing lived-experience-as-evidence in order to perform the academic discourse that will get her published. One Puerto Rican woman in my study, Lorna, spoke about identifying publication venues: “I’m looking at the places that I feel like I am a lot more connected to and that understand my voice and the way that I write.” Of course, those venues aren’t respected in her field.  She is evaluated based on her ability to publish in journals that don’t matter to her. As Bazerman et al. point out “when features that construe identities are met with negative responses, writers [like Lorna] are often pressed into difficult choices in their use of language resources that in turn may affect their standing in the various communities they belong to.”  I want to know how faculty writers make those choices and what that means for how they negotiate their identities as writers, internally as well as in writing. If “ongoing success at being heard recursively provides further motivation” for writing (Bazerman et al.), what happens when faculty writers consistently feel unheard, misunderstood, and devalued?

Principle 5: The development of writing depends on the development, redirection, and specialized reconfiguring of general functions, processes, and tools.

Finally, Principle 5 is particularly relevant for my work. I want to know how motivational dispositions are developed, redirected and reconfigured for faculty writers as a result of transitioning to the tenure track (Bazerman et al.). How have faculty writers come to establish attitudes about efficacy, the value of their writing in their personal and career lives, and about “reasons for their perceived writing successes and missteps” (Bazerman et al.)? What is the relationship between these dispositions and their writerly identities? How do dispositions and identities affect resilience and persistence?


Works Cited

Baxter Magolda, M. B. (2001). Making their own way: narratives for transforming higher education to promote self-development. Sterling, Va.: Stylus.

Baxter Magolda, M. B., & King, P. M. (2007). Interview Strategies for Assessing Self-Authorship: Constructing Conversations to Assess Meaning Making. Journal of College Student Development, 48(5), 491–508.

Dancy, T. E., & Jean-Marie, G. (2014). Faculty of Color in Higher Education: Exploring the Intersections of Identity, Impostorship, and Internalized Racism. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 22(4), 354–372.

Kegan, R. (1994). In over our heads: the mental demands of modern life. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Werder, C. (2013). The Promise of Self-Authorship as an Integrative Framework for Supporting Faculty Writers. In A. E. Geller & M. Eodice (Eds.), Working with faculty writers (pp. 279–293). Logan: Utah State University Press.

Messing with "Context"

Ryan J. Dippre, University of Maine
Anna Smith, Illinois State University

The Lifespan Development Group’s “Taking the Long View” text has provided writing researchers with much to chew on.  The eight principles stated cover a wide span of methods, frameworks, and fields of inquiry.  Much like Jennifer’s May 8 response, we have elected not to add to this extensive, carefully-framed work, but rather to indicate possible points of departure for further research that the current principles offer.  We are particularly interested in expanding, complicating—“messing with”—the concept of “context” as the Lifespan Development Group has taken it up. 

In their extended chapter on the principles (to be included in a forthcoming text), the Group notes in Principle 1, “Writing can develop across the lifespan as part of changing contexts,” that “The growing body of texts that become part of each social group’s resources and understandings forms the context of each new piece of writing, whether these are sacred texts and commentaries within religious communities, the research literature in an academic discipline, the regulations of a government agency, or school records (Bazerman, 1999; 2013)” (p. 3).  This point is nicely elaborated further in the third principle, “Writing development is variable; there is no single path and no endpoint” (p. 6). 

The writing that we undertake brings us into conversation with groups of people, and this conversation further transforms our practices, habits, activities, etc. around and through writing—which, in turn, sets us up for further conversations with different groups of people, and so on.  In other words, the social nature of writing pulls us into new contexts, which by extension transforms our writing.  There is no telos to this ongoing transformation.  We pull ourselves (and are pulled) from one context to another, by and through writing, as part of the ongoing transformations that constitute the rambling pathways of our lives.

It is this nexus of context, writer, and writing that we wish to expand upon. Andrews & Smith (2011) argue that “Developmental inquiry must not only attend to the participants’ development, but also acknowledge the ways contexts of practice are developing concurrently” (p. 93).  Principles 1 and 3 squarely take on the issues of context and the ongoing transformation of it, but we wish to highlight the complexity of separating writer, writing, and context.  The writing that we do is not something performed in the background of a stable context, but rather something that socially constructs context in particular places and, perhaps more importantly, amidst sequences of particularly ordered times (see Erickson & Schultz, 1997). 

A possible way of highlighting the interconnected nature of writer, writing, and context is through the concept of practices (Roozen & Erickson, 2017; Erickson, 2004; Scollon, 2001).  The use of a practice, as we see it, creates context: it is a mechanism through which  people act as “environments” for one another (McDermott, 1976, qtd in Erickson & Schultz, 1997).  Through the deployment of practices, we construct understandings of ourselves and our actions, the actions of others, and the possibilities (as well as constraints) that our surrounding environments have for us. 

These practices that we deploy are sedimented within complex histories that enable the practices to serve as social indicators for ourselves and others.  But our own take on these complex histories and our understanding of our developing practices is perspectival, rooted in the typifications, habits of mind, patterns of activity, and networks of co-configured actors that we experience those histories through. 

The upshot of all of this is that we must, when thinking about how writing develops across the lifespan, attend to context as something that is co-constructed by the social actors that we are studying.  Just as writers are developing bodily and cognitively—orchestrating units of cognitive action (Berninger & Richards, 2002), as well motor activities of the body (eyes, hands, body position; cf. Haas & McGrath, in press)—that development is also occurring with and through the development of surrounding environments (Dyson, 2007).  When writers develop, they do not simply write their way into new contexts or communities of practice, in other words.  They also—if only subtly—change those contexts through their entry into and interactions across them.  When we watch a writer move into and across a new community of practice, what we are actually seeing is not simply the development of a writer, but the “myriads of tactical moves through which the local social actor changes the game subtly through each reanimation of it,” (Erickson, 2004, p. 139): the activity of actors across a social landscape changes that landscape, even as the landscape changes the writer.

It is this reciprocal impact that we suggest requires further methodological, if not ontological, attention.  How can we attend to this reciprocality in productive ways as we study the ongoing transformation of writers and writing across lifespans? If we hope to make claims regarding the developments of individuals, it is not enough to merely acknowledge this ontological conundrum. We must find ways to come to understand the shifting landscape they are not just treading across, but forging/co-producing. How can we keep the messiness of context open for continued examination without, well, losing our minds at the complexity of the task before us?


Andrews, R., & Smith, A. (2011). Developing writers: Teaching and learning in the digital age. London: Open University Press.

Bazerman, C. (1999).  The Languages of Edison’s Light.  Cambridge: MIT Press.

Bazerman, C. (2013).  Literate Action Volume II: A Theory of Literate Action.  Fort Collins: Parlor Press.

Berninger, V.W., & Richards, T.L. (2002).  Brain Literacy for Educators and Psychologists.  New York: Academic Press. 

Dyson, A. H. (2007). School literacy and the development of a child culture: Written remnants of the "gusto of life."  In D. Thiessen & A. Cook-Sather (Eds.), International handbook of student experiences in elementary and secondary school. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer.

Erickson, F. & Schultz, J. (1997).  When is a context?  Some issues and methods in the analysis of social competence.  In M. Cole, Y. Engestrom, & O. Vasquez (Eds.) Mind, Culture, and Activity: Seminal Papers from the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition.  Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

Erickson, F. (2004). Talk and social theory: Ecologies of speaking and listening in everyday life.  Cambridge, England: Polity Press.

Haas, C. & McGrath, M. (in press). Embodiment and literacy in a digital age: The case of handwriting. In K. Mills, A. Stornaiuolo, A. Smith, & J.P. Zacher, (Eds). Handbook of writing, literacies, and education in digital cultures (pp. 125-135). New York, New York: Routledge.

Roozen, K. & Erickson, J. (2017). Expanding literate landscapes: Persons, practices, and
sociohistoric perspectives of disciplinary development.  Logan, UT: Computers and Composition
Digital Press/Utah State University Press.  Retrieved from

Scollon, R. (2001). Mediated discourse: The nexus of practice. New York, NY: Routledge.

Writing Development Across the Classed Lifespan

Aimee Krall-Lanoue, Concordia University Chicago

In writing this blog, I am struck by the ways my attention to the ideas in "Towards an Understanding of Writing Development Across the Lifespan" are just as much about the work I do as a teacher and researcher as about myself as a writer.  And, that the projects I take on are ultimately not that far from my experiences, struggles, and anxieties with writing across my own lifespan. I want to highlight here the first three principles of writing across the lifespan that are most informative to my research on the relations between one's social class position and writing practices. I use Bourdieu's description of social class defined as a group consisting of individuals who share the same amounts/kinds of capital. On a map of social space, we would each have a coordinate based on our relationship to social capital, cultural capital, economic capital, and symbolic capital. Classes are then much smaller and more numerous.

In "Writing can develop across the lifespan as part of changing contexts" Bazerman emphasizes the significance of social and material contexts to writing development. In some respects, this is not unlike much previous writing research that hasaddressed the forces of the social and material on writing. But, for me, what is central here is not that changing contexts inform writing development; instead it is the role of the writer in understanding how social contexts inform writing. He writes, "writers also form understandings of the purposes for which writing is used in different social situations, learning that social purposes shape writing forms and content and are expressed in an evolving set of written genres." In order for individuals to understand purpose, form, and content they must experience different social situations.

I am currently writing a study I performed on first-generation college students and their use of the Writing Center.  Almost all students surveyed, both first generation and continuing generation, valued the practice of sharing their writing before submitting it for a grade. But, neither groups utilized the Writing Center. Continuing generation students often had someone read their paper--a family member, a friend, etc. Those who were first-generation and did not have the social relationships or outside support in the form of an engaged reader did not.  This speaks to the limited opportunities first-generation students had in their past literacy experiences to participate in a variety of social situations that involved writing and it shaped their practices.

Because "writing and writing development emerge, then, within the material, political, and social worlds that nurture, actualize and exploit them" individuals relations to the material, political, and social--or their social class-- inform writing development in contradictory and complicated ways. ("Writing development is complex because writing is complex"). We can see this when students in my study understood the value of a trusted reader but did not have one, either in their own social world or in the Writing Center. Their worlds hadn't (or couldn't) nurture and actualize them.

I think one of the most powerful ideas about in this piece, and that I am increasingly becoming aware of in my own research, is the tension between the individual and social structures that is always present in writing. It is the writer who passes or fails a writing course; it is the writer who has a developmental trajectory. Yet, students can't pass or fail or develop a trajectory outside the social structures of education and employment, to name two. The third principle, "Writing development is variable; there is no single path and no singe endpoint" suggests the ways individual writers are always part of larger systems, working within them while working from their own individual experiences and resources.

I am interested in the intersections of the individual within institutions and how developmental trajectories are shaped by the resources and practices employed by socially diverse writers.


Bourdieu, P. (1987). "What Makes a Social Class? On the Theoretical and Practical Existence of Groups." Berkley Journal of Sociology. 32, 1-17.

Learning the Lifespan

Apryl Poch, Ph.D. - Research Associate, University of Missouri

For me, the concept of a lifespan serves as a measurement tool – in terms of keeping time (a circuitous timeline of sorts) – and serves as a foundation to much of the writing research that we complete.  However, I’m not sure I’ve always thought of my interest in writing (focused on high school aged students with learning disabilities) as being grounded in the concept of lifespan development, nor, for that matter, that I knew much about this work.  There are often, unfortunately, very large theoretical differences across fields, which often precludes what can become such fruitful and necessary collaborations.  But as I have studied writing, I am always struck by the lack of writing research on secondary aged students – there always seems to be this gap from developmental writing (elementary level) to adult writing that is not always clearly explained.  Embedded within here too is the notion that development to some extent is only associated with younger writers.  However, adolescents are part of the larger lifespan and the more I read about writing across the lifespan, I see great hope for building a more nuanced picture.  Indeed, it is the complexity of the lifespan that brings noise and color to our work; it’s that piece that we seek to control and explain, yet simultaneously need.  My research is embedded within the school context, particularly at the high school level, and has taken two different but interconnected lines.  First, is the work I am interested in in better understanding the structural relations of the components of adolescent writing as viewed through the Simple View of Writing (e.g., can we structurally model the Simple View of Writing in high school, is there a better fitting model, is there model invariance between students with and without disabilities, which variables might act as mediators).  Second, is a line of work focused on understanding pre-service and in-service special educators’ theoretical orientations concerning their own sense of writing and teaching writing to students with disabilities (e.g., self-efficacy, beliefs about writing).  While the former is informed by the lifespan’s complexity and influenced by what students may have experienced when they were younger, the latter requires that the teacher not only consider his/her own writing lifespan, but what we know about lifespan trajectories of adolescents and then of adolescents with and without disabilities. 

Though I see the eight principles of the lifespan description informing my research as a type of theoretical frame, a few principles seem to apply more directly and I outline them below.

  • Principle 2: Writing development is complex because writing is complex – the “‘moving parts’” of writing are exactly what I am interested in when it comes to modeling; it’s using theory to help explain how these parts interact and what they can help us understand about adolescent writing
  • Principle 3: Writing development is variable; there is no single path and no single endpoint – this variability in writing might also be the result of a disability which can compromise an individual’s ability to produce written text
  • Principle 5: The development of writing depends on the development, redirection, and specialized reconfiguring of general functions, processes, and tools – of particular interest to my work is the complexity of the cognitive processes that are a part of writing, and the role of oral language as a measure of text generation has been a core feature of the Simple View of Writing; in terms of motivational dispositions, I feel that this is an element missing within the Simple View, but in terms of teachers’ theoretical orientations, motivational dispositions must be considered not only from the student end but also the teacher end, as teachers require an array of pedagogical and content practices and skills to teach writing effectively

Overall, I believe these eight principles form a solid foundation to our understanding of writing and the ways in which writing develops across the lifespan.  At this time, I do not have any additional principles to add to these eight.  Instead, what fascinates me when I think of lifespan development is the noise and color, the complexity of what’s involved in this continuously evolving act, this “struggle” that we call writing.  The idea of writing as struggle is apropos on so many levels.  As Bazerman and colleagues write, “Because of the complexity of writing and its long learning over many experiences, within the same classroom, students may show varying strengths and weaknesses in different aspects of writing, [. . . and] they may have very different trajectories of development across their life spans.”  This statement captures the seemingly simplistic complexity of the lifespan struggle.  To some extent it may be that we set ourselves up for the impossible because there is no single path and no single endpoint in writing development which extends to work with students with disabilities as disabilities do not impact the writing potential of individuals in any one way.  Yet, the implication that there may be trajectories of development suggests the potential of modeling and might even allow us to think about sub-types of writers.  Writing is indeed complex, and it is just that complexity and unraveling the depths that remain that captivates why I write and why I research writing. 

An Interdisciplinary Reflection Interconnecting a Lifespan Approach to Writing Development with a Lifespan Approach to Autism Spectrum Disorders

Matthew Zajic, PhD Candidate, Education, University of California, Davis

The context for writing a response to the Lifespan Group’s Statement on “Taking the Long View on Writing Development” could not have occurred at a more opportune time. Over these last few weeks, I have had the great pleasure of attending three separate yet highly interrelated (at least to me) academic conferences: the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), the American Educational Research Association (AERA), and the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR). Depending on your background, I’m imagining you might be familiar with at least one if not two of those conferences. CEC is the flagship conference for special education research, AERA is the flagship conference for education research, and IMFAR is the flagship conference for autism research. Three very different worlds for most people, but three worlds I am quickly calling home. But what does any of this have to do with the lifespan statement? I’m getting there, I’m getting there.

As I had mentioned, rereading the Lifespan Group’s statement on the way back from IMFAR created the perfect context to reflect. This year’s IMFAR program highlighted a number of organized panels on lifespan perspectives on autism spectrum disorders (or ASD), including increased efforts to incorporate voices and collaboration opportunities from those with ASD across the lifespan. These lifespan perspectives pushed our understandings beyond the early years of life, with some discussions encompassing development across 30 years of life or more. Within ASD research, much is still not known beyond the early years of life, though recent years has seen a growing amount of research focusing on school-age and beyond. However, our current understandings of ASD as a developmental difference, something that changes across time and impacts lives differently at different life points, is still very much within its infancy. To me, this echoes directly with the current perspectives stated regarding current lifespan approaches to writing development: we know a lot but only about a very little segment and not nearly enough to inform the larger developmental picture.

I did not realize my own interest in a lifespan perspective until very recently, but I should have seen it coming. When I finished my undergraduate degree at the University of California, Santa Barbara, I reached out to a faculty member in education interested in research on writing and composition studies because I wanted to know more about the field; I had a bit of a background in professional writing, but I really wanted to know about how people learn to write. I realize now how much I had lucked out when that faculty member was Charles Bazerman and that the first class I ever had on formal writing development was titled “Writing Development Across the Lifespan.” (I also want to give two major thank you’s to Karen Lunsford and Linda Adler-Kassner as two other faculty members and now colleagues who allowed me to sit in and learn a little bit more from them as well during my “pseudo graduate student” year.)

That was five years ago. Now as I near the end of my graduate program, I was fortunate enough to become a member of this new lifespan collaboration. And while I had no idea of the opportunities I would have over these last few years, my research interests have remained the same: to further understand the writing development of individuals with ASD informed by both ASD and writing theoretical perspectives. (I will say that my interests have shifted beyond development to also include how we assess writing and intervene with writing difficulties.) In a way, reading this lifespan statement just following numerous discussions on the needs of individuals with ASD across the lifespan came together as a beautiful interdisciplinary opportunity of two fields in very similar places. And yet at the same time, this collaborative statement reminded me why I became interested in writing to begin with.

Writing is difficult, hard, and, often times, ugly. But here I am writing this blog post wondering if I am writing this blog post because I was asked to, because I want to think through how I navigate in an interdisciplinary space, because I needed something to do while on the bus between San Francisco and Sacramento, or perhaps a combination of all the above? Never mind that for now; let’s go back to that first thought: writing is difficult. This is not a new belief whatsoever, and I love Lifespan Group’s contextualization of this concept in their second main takeaway, “Writing development is complex because writing is complex.” I have always been fascinated by the complexity of writing from cognitive and social perspectives (and am intrigued by the up and coming community intersections), and I have always been amazed at the coordination and the complicated feat we do every time we sit down and turn our thoughts into these tiny lines of symbols we call text.

But even more so, I love when people tell me they hate writing. Why? Because I know I’ll get to learn a little bit more about them just after they say it. I’ll get to learn about what parts they hate, who made them hate writing, why they feel like they cannot do it, why everyone else writes better than them, or why they just do not understand why so and so thinks what they wrote is not good enough. And to a certain degree, writing will always be a difficult feat (which is something I feel we don’t always share enough).

And though I could go on and on about writing development for everyone, I want to shift to thinking about the writing development of those with ASD. I was pleasantly surprised to see autism mentioned explicitly in the statement, and here’s a little context as to why. When I was an undergraduate student, I tutored numerous elementary, middle, and high school students, and I had the privilege of working with one high school student with ASD for three years across all the subjects, including writing. Now, he loved creative writing, and he had filled books upon books since he was in early elementary school with some of the most creative stories I had ever seen (and yes, he had some amazing pictures to go along with these stories). However, though he loved creative writing, he found academic writing to be a little bit of a different beast. I wondered why he found academic writing more difficult, so I turned to the research literature; the literature mainly said these children hated to write. Well, either I had found the one child who loved creative writing, or something seemed a bit off here. Little did I know that this inquiry would lead me to graduate school and leave me (hopefully) investigating it for years to come.

As I dug into the literature, I noticed that much of the beliefs echoed by the Lifespan Group were not present in the ASD literature. These theories I’d come to know were absent, and theoretically informed writing research seemed absent. While this has often been the case for research investigating writing difficulties in general (Graham and Harris (2011) provide a wonderful overview of this), informed writing research looking to better understand the writing difficulties of children with ASD seemed to be absent. And the tenets that the Lifespan Group highlight as needed pieces for exploration within a lifespan approach to writing echo almost too well with what must be done regarding better understanding how ASD may affect writing development (to both work with struggling writers with ASD but also to understand how investigating ASD may benefit our understanding of how “typical” writing develops).

The foundational knowledge we have pertaining to writing development across more than just a few years echoes with what is needed in the next steps with understanding writing differences in individuals with ASD. Reading the statement made me reflect on why writing development is difficult to capture in a neat little box. Theoretically informed research has been my attempt thus far in graduate school (Zajic et al., 2016), and we have a lot to understand still regarding how the social and cognitive features of writing development intersect and intertwine with the social and cognitive differences in ASD (Zajic, in submission). But development is ever ongoing, and much of what we currently know about ASD is either from an early development or school-age development perspective, often focusing on the difficulties over the strengths. Many individuals with ASD become highly proficient writers, especially when looking to the work exploring autistic biographies.

All of this is to say that a developmental, lifespan perspective is needed, and I plan to take that approach to the field of ASD research. We have much left to understand, and learning more about how children with ASD develop and use writing from multiple theoretical perspectives allows for better understanding what we may take for granted within writing (instructional, assessment, development, and intervention contexts), ultimately with the research being able to inform and benefit all children. But even then, at the larger picture, many teachers may feel as informed about ASD as they do about proper writing instruction, which we have learned isn’t all that great. We have opportunities to further the knowledge of the educators working with our children and benefiting not only classrooms that appreciate and prioritize the learning of all students but do so in ways that are meaningfully informed.

Returning briefly to the original comment, I have had the great privilege of finding my own researcher identity not only amongst groups of researchers who may never interact with one another but also amongst some amazingly thoughtful mentors offering guidance and thoughtful discussions along the way. I am grateful to Charles Bazerman for helping me view writing from a developmental perspective from the very beginning, to Peter Mundy for his mentorship in autism research, to Chris Thaiss and Steve Graham for their mentorship in different yet related areas of writing development, to Nancy McIntyre and Emily Solari for always pushing me to view the interconnectedness of reading and writing, and to Megan Welsh for welcoming me into the world of psychometrics. Academia thrives off collaborating with and learning from colleagues much more knowledgeable than you, and I look forward to the ongoing conversations that will come from our own lifespan collaboration as we stand on the shoulders of the giants and continue to wrestle with writing development across the lifespan for all writers.


Graham, S., & Harris, K. R. (2011). Writing and students with disabilities. In L. Lloyd, J. Kauffman, & D. Hallahan (Eds.), Handbook of special education (pp. 422-433). London, UK: Routledge.

Zajic, M. C., McIntyre, N., Swain-Lerro, L., Novotny, S., Oswald, T., & Mundy, P. (2016). Attention and written expression in school-age, high-functioning children with autism spectrum disorders. Autism. doi:10.1177/1362361316675121

My Longview of READING as Composing Reality

Diana J. Arya, University of California, Santa Barbara

The core of my research interests resides within the question: What kinds of knowledge and actions are important for raising critical consumers of knowledge?  Within this question are hints of relevant disciplines, genres, and sociocultural linguistic theories of social practices. I have taken up the practice of reading as a form of composing meaning and critical textual analysis.

This entry is an account of my own thinking about the 8 Principles while pulling in various artifacts collected from social media. Through my Sunday morning journey, I raise questions, possibilities and (undoubtedly) impossibilities for future work.

“Writing can develop across the lifespan as part of changing contexts.”

In 1983, Robert Tierney and P. David Pearson published an important theoretical piece in Language Arts titled, “Towards a Composing Model of Reading” (pp. 568-580).  In this seminal article, a new theory of reading was introduced; as we make sense of text, we are making interpretations that might approximate yet not fully represent the text as written or intended by the author. In other words, we are re-writing the text as we read it.  Reading is not a passive enterprise, as if the content from the page (or screen) is delivered directly from author to reader. Reading is rather an active, dynamic practice, and as such, we should foster rich interpretations of text through the idea of students composing their own tellings and perspectives. I agree that much of reading, like writing, “occurs in the mind of the writer” (Bazerman et al., p. 354), yet I also see the act of composing as socially anchored. Even sitting in a room by one’s self, reading a novel involves a dialogue, and this dialogue is not merely an exchange between reader and author; as Bakhtin demonstrated via Dostoyevky’s writing, there are many voices pushing and pulling on the reader, who may in turn have multiple voices from other sources vying for attention.

In my work, I have decided to take up and expand on this theory of reading as composing, focusing particularly on multiple, multimodal textual analyses within STEM (mainly science and engineering) learning contexts. Hence, I have focused on the notion of reading as collaborative constructions (or rather compositions) of knowledge.

“ . . . Writing is complex.”


In my research of knowledge building across different generational contexts—elementary, secondary and higher education—I have come to a “head scratching” point in my career . . . beings within every context demonstrate high levels of complexity while demonstrating that we also are developing knowledge, skills and strategies at greater complexity. How is this so? Kids are deep in their thinking, and given the opportunity, they never cease to impress adult beings with what they know. At the same time, children are growing in their understanding of the world and their place in it. We are all in the process of understanding more of what we read, and in turn we are becoming better “composers” of meaning within and across ever-evolving societies.

Bazerman and colleagues relayed the five domains of development from the field of child psychology, and they connect this framework with writing across the lifespan. From birth onward, we develop our abilities and understandings related to our physical, cognitive, linguistic, socio-emotional, and executive functioning. Further, the idiosyncratic nature of writing insists the acknowledgement of individual differences demonstrated within each of these domains. Furthermore, such differences are shaped and reshaped as new technologies and (hence) ways of thinking, saying, reading, writing, doing, making and being continue to evolve over time.

Taking up one of these domains—language—enables a closer view of development. Luckily, renowned linguist M.A.K. Halliday is ready to lead us through the lifespan, at least through the toughest moments of childhood language development . . . we begin at the “protolanguage” phase of early childhood, where we see crawling and wobbly toddlers assert their desires through grunts, cries, pointing, and pounding fists. Then Halliday guides us along a trail that serves as a transitional, “instrumental” phase, where we see our growing toddlers moving with greater precision while composing two-word expressions (more milk, mommy down, etc.) in a turn-taking world that suggests new roles of being and doing, some of which are perceived to be lacking in merit (No beans!). Then comes the stage during which time the “Speaker” emerges; there are stories created, (re)presented, and foretold. The child is now a composer of one’s reality. Quickly, the child sees the power of foretellings, composing speech acts that prize the now preschooler with the power of making things happen. And this power grows with greater “regulatory” power, where the child begins to use language for controlling or manipulating the action of others. However, as the child enters the schooling years, one quickly learns that such manipulation isn’t always fruitful; cooperative moves with welcoming invitations and allowing for differing perspectives is better for making friends. There are other dimensions to Halliday’s framework, which affirms the complexities of sociolinguistic development. The truncated journey presented here provides a glimpse into my way of seeing children as becoming themselves as they make sense of the inscribed world. Considering the ever-evolving number of languages (genres, fields, etc.) within languages (cultural, political, etc.) and constantly emerging technologies along with the ever-growing number of knowledge-building career paths, children growing up in the 21st Century deserve a schooling experience that is fit for such social world of complexity.

“Writing development is variable; there is no single path and no single endpoint.”

This principle, in my opinion, will be the toughest challenge for the field of education. If there is no single path, then what do schools tell their teachers? How do we assess progress?  We live and work in a society that privileges the test score as an authority on reading and writing levels and abilities. In literacy, the Lexiles rule in determining “appropriate texts” across the grades. Metametrics (the corporation that created the Lexile) provides the engine for concrete, computer-driven reading programs that offer new compelling reasons for parents to believe that “career and college readiness” is just around the corner because their child just grew two Lexiles. Whatever the hell that means...

Fortunately, I see increased interest in case studies for tracing the different pathways that can be taken as students develop their semiotic skills and voices.

At this point in my composing of Bazerman et al.’s 8 principles, I begin to see how the three principles following this notion of “no single path” offer specific explanations for why this is the case. First, composing readers are adapting and responding to an ever-changing world, so how can we possibly anticipate a universal path?  Further, we develop our composing skills by using what we have, our cognitive resources, which were not originally developed for such purposes. Finally, as we compose meaning, we are further inspired to research, consider, argue, and (re)compose in various ways, and such experiences set us on different lines of thinking, relating, and doingthat further enhance linguistic skills, which in turn are different yet related to composing, and thus serve as important resources for reading (and writing) development.

“Curriculum plays a significant formative role in writing development.”

I see this lifespan project as one that commits to the idea that literacy curricula must be responsive to changing societal structures, student needs and technological advances. My work is driven by my desire to better understand the composing nature of reading various forms and formalities of scientific texts across professional fields of study. I look outside classroom walls in order to better understand the reading differences between school and professional learning contexts, and what difference these differences make in terms of supporting post-secondary success. As such, my “longview” on reading as composing meaning focuses on preadolescent students (grades 4-6) and their development of taking argumentative stances on multiple, multimodal texts related to science and engineering (e.g., data tables and figures, interactive model simulations, historical accounts of discovery and innovation, expositions of conceptual or mechanical processes, etc.). In other words, I am keenly interested in how the scientist within the child grows into being, and I have further focused my investigative lens on the scientist as an interpreter (or composer) of various types of narratives about reality. I aim to contribute to greater understandings about how such notions of argumentation emerge and develop from the elementary years through high school.

Exploring writing practices of Colombian former undergraduate students: a strategy to create accounts about writing development in higher education

Elizabeth Narváez-Cardona, Universidad Autónoma de Occidente, Colombia

 Latin American Writing Studies emerge approximately since 2000.  Exploratory studies about programmatic initiatives and research suggest that the field roots in Linguistics (Bazerman et al., 2016; Navarro et al. 2016). This implies that pedagogical and methodological perspectives are primarily relying on describing textual patterns of genres across time or contexts to identify conventions (Narváez, forthcoming). Emerging networks and data bases has started advocating for incorporating pedagogical interventions, research, and venues for publications with special emphasis on writing across curriculum, writing in disciplines, writing centers and programs. However, academic publications and pedagogical materials produced by Latin American scholars tend to be focused on school genres (essays, summaries, book comments, essay responses) regardless disciplines/professions (Narváez, forthcoming).

Regarding writing development research, specific Colombian studies or publications in higher education are scare. These projects are focused on students’ changes as writers, and those are limited to questions about the impact of freshman composition courses (Flórez et al., 2010) or learning changes associated with systematic interventions for learning disciplinary concepts through writing (López & Ramírez, 2012; Arciniegas & Lopez, 2012).

Furthermore, as part of accreditation, The Colombian Institute for the Progress of Higher Education (ICFES) has mandated since 2009 a large-scale exit assessment for senior undergraduate students in which writing is seen as a generic skill. Therefore, regardless the majors, students have to write either an essay or a report synthesizing two sources. Since this writing assessment is applied under the assumption that writing is a competence that still undergoes development during college years, this public policy is an opportunity for scholars of Writing Studies to conduct research for examining disciplinary/professional writing development in higher education and adding empirical data that empower scholars for further participation in public debates about Higher Education Writing and Assessment.

Within this context, I am currently participating in a collaborative and inter-institutional research project titled “Studying writing practices of Colombian former undergraduate students in workplaces to contribute with empirical data in discussing results of a Colombian large scale writing assessment”. This project aims at describing variation of writing practices of practitioners who were former students of the following majors offered by 5 different Colombian universities: Spanish and literature education, sociology, media and communication, graphic design, advertising, and speech therapy. Selection of these majors relied on researchers’ convenience and research team formation. This means that every institutional research team is collecting data only related to one up to three of these majors. Emerging databases and other raw data have been offered as useful information for institutions to utilize them in accountability process either internal institutional evaluations or for national accreditation processes.

During the first stage of the study, data belonging to media and communication, graphic design, advertising has been collected through an online open-answer survey applied with support of the department of alumni affairs. We gathered thus far 104 responses from alumni between 2004 and 2017.

Since this study is aligned with a theoretical model that explains collective human activity, language and writing are simultaneously seen as artifacts/tools/resources and outcomes utilized to think, interact, and materialize products/results. Language and writing are thus understood from a semiotic perspective and genre theory when embedded as part of collective human activities of practitioners (Bazerman, 2003; Engeström & Sannino, 2010; Russell, 2010).

Therefore, the online survey has been designed as follows:

First section: Features to capture variation among individual trajectories

  • Organization

  • Time in the organization

  • Position/job title

  • Time in the position/job title

  • Major

  • Graduation year

  • Graduate studies, if any

Second section: Professional experience

  • Mentioning a challenging professional project to answer the rest of the survey

  • Why the project was challenging?

  • Describing deliverables

  • Describing collective activities with other colleagues within and outside from the organization

  • Describing collective activities with other practitioners within and outside from the organization

  • Job title of the surveyee within the project

Third section: Writing presence in the professional experience

  • Mentioning writing situations related to the challenging project

  • Mentioning collaborative writing situations related to the challenging project

  • Mentioning at least one writing duty the surveyee had for the project

  • Mentioning at least one writing duty other colleagues or practitioner of the surveyee had for the project

  • Mentioning and explaining at least one demanding writing duty the surveyee had for the project

  • Mentioning and explaining at least one easy writing duty the surveyee had for the project

As the prior protocol shows, during the first stage of the study, we will gather information about challenging collective professional experiences in which writing presence will be mapped. Initial exploratory findings might allow us to inform regarding how in specific Colombian disciplines/professions:

1.    Writers develop in relation to the changing social needs, opportunities, resources, and technologies of their time and place; and,

2.    The development of writing depends on the development, redirection, and specialized re-configuring of general functions, processes, and tools.

Since we are exploring professional challenging events or situations former students might associate with writing as part of collective activities, once we organize them by graduation years, for instance, we could create accounts regarding benchmarks of writing events across alumni cohorts and discipline/professions. This analysis relies on the assumption that the notion of “challenging” might reveal elements of writing events that practitioners are still developing or does not mastering yet.


Arciniegas, E., & López, G. S. (2012). La escritura en el aula universitaria: estrategias para su regulación. Santiago de Cali, Colombia: Programa Editorial Universidad del Valle.

Bazerman, C. (2003). Speech Acts, Genres, and Activity Systems: How Texts Organize Activity and People. In Bazerman, C., & Prior, P. (Eds.) What writing does and how it does it: An introduction to analyzing texts and textual practices. (pp. 309-340). Routledge.

Bazerman, C., Avila, N., Bork, A. V., Poliseli-Corrêa, F., Cristovão, V. L., Ladino, M. T., & Narváez-Cardona, E. (2016). 15 Intellectual Orientations of Studies of Higher Education Writing in Latin America.

Engeström, Y., & Sannino, A. (2010). Studies of expansive learning: Foundations, findings and future challenges. Educational Research Review,5(1), 1-24.

Flórez Romero, R., Baquero Castellanos, S., & Sánchez Navas, L. A. (2010). Desarrollo de habilidades en el español escrito en personas sordas universitarias: estudio de caso. Forma y Función, 23(2), 33-71.

López, J., Stella, G., & Ramírez Giraldo, R. (2012). Los resúmenes como estrategia de aprendizaje. Lenguaje, 40(2), 315-350.

Narváez, E. (forthcoming).  Las teorías de los géneros discursivos en el campo dela lectura y la escritura en la educación superior: análisis de datos emergentes de artículos publicados en una revista científica colombiana. Revista Acción Pedagógica, 26.

Navarro, F., Ávila Reyes, N., Tapia-Ladino, M., Cristovão, V. L., Moritz, M. E. W., Narváez Cardona, E., & Bazerman, C. (2016). Panorama histórico y contrastivo de los estudios sobre lectura y escritura en educación superior publicados en América Latina. Revista signos49, 78-99.

Russell, D.R. (2010). Writing in multiple contexts: Vygorskian CHAT meets the phenomenology of genre. In C. Bazerman, R. Krut, K. Lunsford, S. McLeod, S. Null, P. Rogers, et al. (Eds.), Traditions of writing research (pp. 353–364). New York: Routledge.


Reflections on Lifespan Approaches to Writing (J. Clary-Lemon)

All Lifespan Collaborators have been invited to reflect on “Towards an Understanding of Writing Development Across the Lifespan,” co-authored by the Lifespan Development Group (see RTE’s “Taking the Long View”). We’ve been asked to focus primarily on how long view principles about writing reflected in those pieces converge in our own work, and other principles we might consider in addition to the ones we read there.

As someone hesitant to add more threshold concepts to a field burgeoning with threshold concepts (indeed, I’ve just seen a CFP that calls for a follow-up book to Wardle and Adler-Kasner’s Naming What We Know), I’m not going to add any more principles to the excellent and well-researched ones that the Lifespan Development Group has already conceived. Instead, I’ll reflect a bit on the ways that I see my past and present work attending to some of the principles forwarded in their work, which seem to converge most around two of the eight principles.

  • Writing development is complex because writing is complex.

I just put in for this year’s CCCC as part of a panel that looks at the ways in which graphical practices in writing, often  taken up among K-12 scholars and teachers (Zoss, Siegesmund, & Patisaul, 2010; Newkirk, 1989; Dyson, 1999), has lost potency for novice writers as they mature, often leaving college-level academic writing a scene bereft of visual experimentation and guided, generative graphical practices.  Such a panel, which explores inquiries into specific uses of drawing, simple visual models, and illustration to augment senses of relationship, connection, and support in lower- and upper-division writing classes and in TA training, seems to connect both to issues of genre awareness and multimodal meaning making. To ask students to engage in graphical practices alongside/interwoven/networked with written texts suggests 1) that pedagogically, we are asking them to engage with new and multiple genres; and 2) multimodal production, two tenets of the complexity of writing tasks.

  • Curriculum plays a significant formative role in writing development.

I’m sure that most of us in this group, trained as teachers, will see our work reflecting this principle. I can think of three projects that have sustained the idea that curricular practices (rich with the cultural history of institutions) enable and constrain what writers can do over time.

The first is a three-year study that I’ve worked on with a Chemistry professor here at the University of Winnipeg, Devin Latimer. We’ve taken as our point of departure the desire to move beyond the lab report as “school genre,” and report on the choice of developing a staggered approach to chemical experimentation and lab writing. We’ve spent time redesigning curriculum with collaborative interventions that blend science and humanities knowledge: focusing on explicit instruction in scientific writing in labs, training lab instructors to accommodate best writing practices, giving lab time to peer review, and providing writing centre support to offer measurable, beneficial outcomes in student education, engagement, and research output in scientific inquiry at the second-year level. Together we’ve encountered the difficulty of speaking to/with/for humanities and science-based stakeholders, acknowledged the connection between the philosophy of science and the elimination of the lab report, and explored the promise of writing centres in supporting WAC initiatives. I see this project as one that supports a Lifespan view that “needs to support learning in specific disciplines and for specific purposes” (15).

 The second was a talk I gave at the 2015 Canadian Association for the Study of Discourse and Writing that reflected on the changing educational financial landscape and its impact on Canadian writing centres. The move to close down writing centres, or shift their administration to those who aren’t trained in teaching writing seems to fit with the assertion that “a curriculum ignorant of the students it is encountering will be counter-developmental” (“Towards” 16). In taking the position of Kurt Bouman, who argued that we need to shift the attention “to the ‘where’, the ‘why’, the ‘when’, and the ‘how’ of our work, we can make a stronger case… for the importance of a strong, stable, and disciplinarily grounded academic and professional home within our institutions,” I see also the importance of locating writing practices specifically and concretely in institutions so that curricula maintains a responsiveness to “the changing cultural, social and technological environments in which students live” (“Towards” 16).

 In that same vein, I’m currently in the final stages of an interview-based project that sought out a review of the writing program at the University of Winnipeg based on its historical development. I draw on the work of Louise Wetherbee Phelps, who notes the “institutional tension between access and excellence” in which  “access”  is positioned within a “service” mission to teaching underprepared writers, “while ‘excellence’ is attributed to the ideals for scholarship and knowledge-making embodied in the major, graduate studies, and faculty publication” (14). In situating histories of “access” as they have played out in the institution’s past and talking with faculty instrumental in building and evaluating the department’s programs over time, I see this project as one that commits to the idea that in order for writing curricula to be responsive to changing student needs, it needs to assess institutional tensions about writing that emerge over time.

 Bazerman, Charles, et al. “Taking the Long View on Writing Development.” Research in the Teaching of English 51.3 (February 2017): 351-360.

 Bouman, Kurt. “Re: Reporting Structure Problem/Writing Center Scholarship.” WCenter Listserv. 20 May 2015. Retrieved from

 Lifespan Development Group. “Towards an Understanding of Writing Development Across the Lifespan.” Unpublished document. 2017.

 Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. Liminal Practice in a Maturing Writing Department. Fulbright Project Report. 2011.

The Lifespan Blog as a Place to Organize

As we get down to the difficult work of organizing ourselves for decades of work, we (Talinn and Ryan) are hoping that this blog site will serve as a useful place for sketching out ideas and possible collaborative activities.  Our next "assignment" - responding to the principles for lifespan writing provided by the Lifespan Writing Development Group - will be a good test of how useful this format will be for us.