The City College of New York (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2016 Proceedings
Publication year: 2016
Page: 1733 (abstract only)
ISBN: 978-84-608-5617-7
ISSN: 2340-1079
doi: 10.21125/inted.2016.1362
Conference name: 10th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 7-9 March, 2016
Location: Valencia, Spain
As an early childhood professor at a large, public university, my students run the gamut of ethnic, linguistic and generational diversity. Many are single mothers, some care for their grandchildren, who arise early to take care of other people’s young children in daycare and preschool settings. They then come to school in the early evening to do their graduate coursework. Many of these students immigrated to the U.S. at different ages, thus facility with the conventions of the American university system and with academic English can present challenges. Moreover, having attended undergraduate programs in other countries, they have little to no experience working with research and theoretical material and have never confronted writing tasks requiring them to analyze, synthesize, or otherwise critically engage with the course readings. Rather, they have only written essays in which they respond, from a personal point of view, to a course reading or recount personal experiences. Moreover, having arrived at the age of 30, 40, 50 and beyond, some students have developed a self-image which does not include being a competent academic writer.

Wishing to understand what my students experience in grappling with the above-described issues and elements, and better position myself to assist them, I embarked on an ethnographic study of my students’ writing experiences in my course, “Developmental Issues in Early Childhood Education.” This involved 1. collection of survey data documenting the types of writing they had been required to do in previous schooling and 2. in-depth interviews regarding their experiences engaging with two writing assignments for the course.

Findings center on three themes:
1. Students seemed to feel most comfortable engaging in writing activities and assignments that involved a significant social component, i.e., collaboration with either other students or myself. In a related vein:
2. Students seemed more comfortable with writing assignments which involved correlating the behaviors of the “real-live” children they observed in classrooms with developmental theories reviewed in the course, as opposed to writing assignments which required that they work exclusively with research literature and theoretical material. And as a somewhat logical corollary:
3. Students found the research paper the most daunting, saying they felt “distant” and “disconnected” from the material.

These findings have several practical implications for supporting the writing efforts of the students from working class, ethnically, linguistically and generationally diverse backgrounds who come to study in the graduate program in early childhood education. Implications center on exploring the possibilities for profitably exploiting students’ expressed preferences for and comfort with writing tasks which involve
interaction with others as writing assignments and in-class writing activities are devised for the course. Moreover, these might be relevant for students who share these students’ backgrounds, in other university settings.
Immigration, diversity, writing conferences, teacher education.