Exploring undergraduate disciplinary writing: Expectations and evidence in psychology and chemistry KAT H E R I N E M O R A N TESOL 2013 D A L L A S, T X Outline of presentation Impetus for the study Research questions Methodology Corpus collection Multidimensional analysis
Results Discussion Impetus for the study There isa clear consensus on the importance of written texts in academic life a recognition that understanding the disciplines involves understanding their discourses (Hyland, 2000) Programs designed to prepare students for university study must be tied directly to the content and practices of a university
curriculum (Carson, Chase, Gibson & Hargrove 1992) Research Questions 1. How much and what type of writing are undergraduate students expected to do at each course level (1000-4000) in Psychology and Chemistry? 2. What are faculty expectations of undergraduate student writers at each level of study? What are students experiences learning to write for their discipline and of their instructors writing expectations? 3. What types of writing are undergraduate students exposed to through their course readings throughout their academic careers in
Psychology and Chemistry? 4. What is student writing like at the highest levels of undergraduate study in Psychology and Chemistry and how does it compare to the writing they were exposed to through course readings? Methodology Twelve focal courses selected from each discipline Course syllabi, handouts, rubrics, & lab manuals were analyzed for writing assignments Course readings (textbooks, lab manuals, journal articles) were compiled into a reading corpus for each discipline Writing samples from upper-division students
were compiled into a writing corpus for each discipline Multidimensional Analysis (MDA) was conducted for each corpus Methodology: The corpora Psychology reading corpus: 15 texts (primarily textbooks) 377,970 words Chemistry reading corpus: 14 texts (textbooks and lab manuals) 300,048 words
Psychology student writing corpus: 57 texts 90,076 words Chemistry student writing corpus: 34 texts 52,424 words Multidimensional Analysis Method of linguistic analysis based on factor analysis used to discover how sets of linguistic features co-occur in
various registers of language use (Conrad & Biber, 2001) Biber (1988) establishes 7 dimensions of register variation across written and spoken English Each dimension functions as a continuum based on the presence of the linguistic features identified for that dimension Dimensions are named descriptively based on function Bibers (1988) 7 dimensions have been used to study other registers Researchers have also formulated new dimensions based on a multi-dimensional factor analysis of a new data set MDA: Gray (2011) Gray (2011) conducted a new MDA of
academic writing in research articles from 6 disciplines Four dimensions were formulated: Dimension density Dimension discourse Dimension
Dimension 1: academic involvement vs. informational 2: contextualized narration vs. procedural 3: human vs. nonhuman focus 4: academese The present study Not enough texts for a new MDA Grays (2011) dimensions were formulated for academic writing Applying these dimensions to different registers of academic writing helps to strengthen the dimensions
Obtaining dimension scores Corpora were tagged for lexico-grammatical features using an automatic tagger developed by Biber (see Biber 1988) Tags are counted by the program and normed per 1,000 words to standardize the occurrences Z-scores were calculated for each linguistic feature in each dimension A mean score for each register and discipline was obtained for each dimension The mean scores were plotted on the dimensions
Results Dimension 1: academic involvement vs. informational density Positive Features Pronouns: nominal pronouns, pronoun it, 1st person pronouns, demonstrative pronouns nouns of cognition Nouns: predicative adjectives, evaluative attributive adjectives Adjectives: verb be, verb have, causative verbs
Verbs: modals of prediction, modals of possibility, modals of necessity Modal Verbs: general adverbs, stance adverbials, adverbials of time Adverbs: Conjunctions: subordinating conjunctionconditional, adverbial conjuncts, subordinating conjunctions Finite Clauses: that-clauses controlled by nouns of likelihood, that-clauses controlled by verbs of likelihood, that-clauses controlled by factive adjectives, that-clauses controlled by attitudinal nouns, that-clauses controlled by factive nouns, wh-clauses to-clauses controlled by stance adjectives, to-clauses controlled by verbs of probability Non-Finite
Clauses: Negative Features Nouns: Verbs: Passives: nouns, process nouns past tense verbs passive postnominal modifiers, agentless passive voice verbs Dimension 1: academic involvement vs. informational density Dimension 1: academic involvement vs. informational density
Psychology tends to favor more features of involvement than chemistry Identify the writers personal stance Acknowledge and include the reader (textbooks) Student writing tends to be more informationally dense than course readings (textbooks)
No personal pronouns Lots of nouns and passive voice constructions Dimension 2: Contextualized narration vs. procedural description Positive Features Pronouns: 3rd person pronouns Nouns:
group nouns, nominalizations, animate nouns Adjectives: topical attributive adjectives, attributive adjectives indicating time Verbs: past tense verbs, aspectual verbs, perfect aspect verbs, communication verbs, present progressive verbs phrasal coordinating conjunctions, clausal coordinating conjunctions Conjunctions: Finite Clauses:
that-relative clauses, that-clauses controlled by non-factive verbs, wh-questions Non-Finite Clauses: to-clauses controlled by verbs of modality, causation and effort, to-clauses controlled by verbs of desire, to-clauses controlled by stance nouns Other: word length, word count, type-token ratio Negative Features
Nouns: technical nouns, quantity nouns, concrete nouns Adjectives: attributive adjectives indicating size Dimension 2: Contextualized narration vs. procedural description Dimension 2: Contextualized narration vs. procedural description In psychology positive features are used in
highly narrative sections of the text, but not evenly throughout a text (examples to follow) Chemistry uses a high number of concrete and technical nouns to explain procedures Psychology excerpts Psychology 4020 textbook: Walter Gretzky, the father of hockey great Wayne Gretzky, has always considered himself to be a lucky man. But on October 13, 1991, at the age of 58, his luck almost ran out. Walter was painting, when he suddenly felt dizzy and developed a splitting headache. He wanted to go to his room and lie down for a while, but a friend of his daughter's was visiting and insisted on driving him to the hospital. She almost certainly saved his life. Walter immediately underwent
5 hours of emergency surgery for a burst blood vessel on the surface of his brain. The reduced blood supply to his brain caused a stroke. Strokes are the leading cause of disability in the United States and the third leading cause of death. Approximately 700,000 Americans suffer a stroke each year. Psychology excerpts Psychology 4020 textbook (same chapter): Schemas are mental representations of objects or categories of objects (Fiske & Taylor, 1991; Hastie, 1981; Smith, 1998). You possess distinct schemas for apples, fathers, your own father, justice, robins, the moon, danger, your social psychology professor, and countless other things. Another term that is sometimes used for schemas is concepts (see Kunda, 1999; Medin, 1989). Schemas or concepts contain mental representations of objects or categories, which contain the central features of the object or category as well as assumptions about how the object or category works.
Your schema for apples probably includes the points [that they are red and grow on trees.] Psychology excerpts Psychology student writing (psych 4020): Just as behavior can affect attitude, attitude can affect behavior. This can happen in many different ways. For instance, an attitude (or feeling) can be specific to a behavior. In the film Mel Gibson treated his daughter differently than he treated the other women in his life. It is possible [that this can be attributed to his feelings (attitudes) toward/for his daughter.] Attitudes can dictate behavior when these feelings are obvious. For example, at the end of the film Mel Gibson went to Helen Hunt and told her everything [that happened]and what he had done for her. This demonstrates that attitude can shape behavior when feelings are clear. If Mel Gibsons character did not have feelings about Helen Hunts character than he probably would not have done what he did.
Dimension 3: Human vs. Non-human focus Positive Features 2nd person pronouns, 3rd person pronouns Pronouns: Noun: Verbs: Finite Clauses: NonFinite Clauses: Negative Features Adjectives:
Adverbs: Other: process nouns mental verbs, activity verbs, communication verbs, present progressive verbs that-clauses controlled by factive verbs, wh-clauses to-clauses controlled by verbs of desire, to-clauses controlled by speech verbs attributive adjectives, attributive adjectives indicating topic general adverbs prepositions
Dimension 3: Human vs. Non-human focus Dimension 3: Human vs. Non-human focus There is less difference between registers in each discipline Psychology as a discipline has an inherent human focus, while chemistry does not Dimension 4: Academese Positive Features
nominalizations, process nouns, other abstract nouns relational attributive adjectives Adjectives: existence verbs Verbs: Finite Clauses: that-clauses controlled by likelihood adjectives, to-clauses controlled by stance adjectives word length Other: Negative Features Nouns: Adverbs:
time adverbials Dimension 4: Academese Dimension 4: Academese Very few features included in this dimension Dimension scores are close to zero Difficult to make any claims based on findings Discussion Students are primarily reading textbooks which are linguistically different from the writing they do Textbooks tend to be more involved in both
disciplines Student writing tends to be more informational Psychology students show stance through evaluative adjectives Psychology students use features of contextualized narration in summaries, part of many assignments Chemistry students use agentless passives and technical nouns, they use very few pronouns Discussion Students have to navigate many different rhetorical styles within one discipline
Textbooks may have narrative and familiar writing, followed by content-heavy, dense sections Students avoid using personal pronouns in writing, even when expressing opinions Textbooks frequently use personal pronouns Students do not receive much input or examples of the type of writing they are doing because their instructors (in my study) do not consider the assignments (at the lower levels) disciplinary Extra discussion: What are students writing? In chemistry, students are writing lab
reports Range from 1 page with bulleted procedures and a paragraph of discussion to 25 pages of analysis Professors expect the students to use passive voice and no personal pronouns Students usually use agentless-passive constructions
with themselves as the implied agent (ex: an IR spectrum was taken to aid the rest of the process) Textbooks frequently use active voice and passive byphrases, with a non-human agent (ex: 1)These substances accelerate the iodine reaction 2)Aromatic rings can be nitrated by reaction with a mixture of) Extra discussion: What are students writing? In psychology 83% of the assignments (in this study) are a summary/reaction or application of theory to X
In both categories students are expected to bring class concepts to an outside experience Both involve summary writing These assignments are considered general (not discipline specific) As writing teachers, what do we do? Preparatory writing course for ELLs seem to prepare students for their preparatory writing courses Students are not writing research papers until their
3rd or 4th years (if at all) In psych and chem students get extensive training for research papers or more intensive lab reports Students all need to summarize and respond critically Assignments are typically short-2-3 pages Students are expected to demonstrate understanding and critical thinking through writing assignments Questions? Thank you! Feel free to contact me for further discussion: [email protected]
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