Title

What Can Relational Sociology Reveal about College Writing and Remediation?

Campus

Gainesville

Publication date

5-2020

Publisher

State University of New York Press

Abstract

In recent years, most research on remedial education has been focused on outcome-oriented quantitative data about students’ college trajectories. While extremely useful for determining what might work, these approaches have offered little in the way of understanding how or why a specific reform of remediation works. Additionally, researchers have largely presumed that learning is solely a cognitive process, theorizing that reforms to remediation (e.g., accelerated coursework) are successful when they improve student motivation. For a study of remedial writing, however, theories involving cognition and student motivation may not adequately explain student development. As the past forty years of research on college composition have demonstrated, writing is not simply a cognitive process; it is also a sociocultural process deeply informed by relational activities, such as feedback and revision (Prior, 2006; Vygotsky, 1934/1986). Undergraduate students are particularly dependent on relationships to develop their critical, discursive, and discriminatory skills. Nevertheless, our understanding of how these relationships unfold, especially with regards to remediation, remains quite limited. This paper utilizes data from a twelve-month ethnographic study of first-year writing at a Florida open-access college to consider how relational sociology might ameliorate gaps in our understanding of remediation. Three narratives demonstrate how relational sociology can 1) examine the transactional nature of writing, 2) shed light on the inevitable cultural conflicts and power dynamics within a classroom setting, and 3) expand the field of study to embrace multiple relevant perspectives - all in service of a deeper, more inclusive understanding of the factors that impact student success.

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What Can Relational Sociology Reveal about College Writing and Remediation?

In recent years, most research on remedial education has been focused on outcome-oriented quantitative data about students’ college trajectories. While extremely useful for determining what might work, these approaches have offered little in the way of understanding how or why a specific reform of remediation works. Additionally, researchers have largely presumed that learning is solely a cognitive process, theorizing that reforms to remediation (e.g., accelerated coursework) are successful when they improve student motivation. For a study of remedial writing, however, theories involving cognition and student motivation may not adequately explain student development. As the past forty years of research on college composition have demonstrated, writing is not simply a cognitive process; it is also a sociocultural process deeply informed by relational activities, such as feedback and revision (Prior, 2006; Vygotsky, 1934/1986). Undergraduate students are particularly dependent on relationships to develop their critical, discursive, and discriminatory skills. Nevertheless, our understanding of how these relationships unfold, especially with regards to remediation, remains quite limited. This paper utilizes data from a twelve-month ethnographic study of first-year writing at a Florida open-access college to consider how relational sociology might ameliorate gaps in our understanding of remediation. Three narratives demonstrate how relational sociology can 1) examine the transactional nature of writing, 2) shed light on the inevitable cultural conflicts and power dynamics within a classroom setting, and 3) expand the field of study to embrace multiple relevant perspectives - all in service of a deeper, more inclusive understanding of the factors that impact student success.