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Cognitive Linguistic Explorations of Writing in the Classroom


Rod E. Case, Gwendolyn M. Williams and Peter Cobin

Research into the analysis of classroom-based writing is replete with techniques and methods meant to bring clarity to the question of how to best conduct instruction and assessment. Findings and suggestions for practice are rooted in a philosophy that asks teachers and linguists to judge students’ writing against a pre-determined standard. Too often, the results do little more than inform teachers and researchers as to which students met the standard and which did not.

This book offers research into the analysis of classroom writing that does not use a set standard or rubric to assess student writing but instead relies on insights from cognitive linguistics to explore the connections between cognition and language in student writing. The result is a creative and linguistically driven analysis of classroom writing that allows the linguist or teacher to view student writing on its own terms.

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This book grew from 10 years of weekly conversations at a local coffee shop, multiple email exchanges and telephone discussions. Initially, the goal of the conversation was to share observations about our students’ writing and classroom conversations. Early on, the conversations inspired a number of articles and conference presentations on written and spoken mathematical explanations among elementary students. Overall findings suggested significant age-related differences in students’ ability to produce extended explanations. Through the use of specific rhetorical patterns identified in the research, our findings demonstrated that older students were more able to produce a successful explanation. For the time being, the problem appeared to be solved. Age and probably educational level predicted a student’s ability to produce an effective extended explanation. Older students consistently produced more successful explanations.

The conversation took a turn, however, when we began to discuss the writing from a graduate course on research and writing. If the research described above was correct, then the students should not struggle. They were older and should easily write a detailed proposal with minimal errors, but this was not case. In spite of the students’ age and educational levels, none were able to complete the task without extensive assistance and guidance. More interesting was our initial observation that the graduate students appeared to be struggling with many of the same problems in their writing that the elementary school students struggled with.

Some time later, our discussions turned to the idea that the students’ struggles...

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