Blog Post 7: Sondra Perl

Blog » Blog Post 7: Sondra Perl

Posted on 19 Apr 2013 01:54

Sandra Perl's The Composing Processes of Unskilled College Writers not only sheds valuable light on the writing processes of…unskilled college writers, but also on the amount of preparation, planning, and forethought that go into the creation of a methodological study. The study Sondra set out to make was created with three objectives in mind: to determine how unskilled writers write, to determine if their processes can be "analyzed in a systematic, replicable manner", and to understand what implications the findings of the study could mean for education.

Sondra begins by explaining the experimental design of the study. The subject pool consisted of students from Eugenio de Maria Hostos Community College that were selected on the basis of being unskilled writers and willingness to participate. These students then participated in four 90 minute writing sessions where they were asked to express their thought processes whilst composing an essay, and one interview session where the students were students' "perceptions and memories of writing" were collected.

Sondra then explains that a major goal of this study was to develop a method for encoding various writing processes; although this was developed after the interviews, once a general paradigm between the writers emerged. The system developed focused on three behaviors: talking, writing, and reading; it included such behaviors in shorthand as: general planning, asking a question, and writing aloud.

As explained, whilst writing, students were asked to verbalize their thoughts. Their words and sound of the typewriter were recorded simultaneously to identify the various stages of talking/writing/reading after the fact. Using the recording, these behaviours were then encoded (using the previously described method), and transposed onto a chart consisting of minutes divided into ten parts (1. _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _, 2. … , etc.).

From these charts, researchers were able to determine various things about the test subjects such as the length of time spent pre-writing, the circumstances under which sentences are written (in isolation or in group), and gaps between writing. Building up from these determinations, researchers were able to find various patterns in the subjects' writing. In the case of the case study Sondra describes, researchers found he would go back and proofread his work repeatedly after only a few sentences.

In the end, it seems as though Sondra comes to some valuable conclusions, namely the idea that unskilled writers often try to make use of techniques, words, and phrases they do not yet fully understand the conventions of. For instance, as Sondra says herself, "they were not yet familiar with the syntactic or semantic constraints one word placed upon another". Another conclusion brought up was the constancy students displayed in second-guessing their writing—being unable to answer the questions they held about whether the conventions used were the correct ones. It is interesting to think (as explained in the study) that the cause for this might in fact be due to the teaching methods used upon "remedial" students—which overemphasize the "basics" such as grammar. But perhaps one of the most significant parts of Sondra's study is the idea that writing (and maybe other thought processes) can actually be broken down into pieces, which may then be analyzed for patterns—patterns which even appear across a range of subjects.

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