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Listening to boys write – an exploration of the complex relationship between 10 year-old boys’ writing practices and their evolving identities

Scanlon, Julie (2016) Listening to boys write – an exploration of the complex relationship between 10 year-old boys’ writing practices and their evolving identities. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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Being literate has long been considered essential in order for individuals to make their way in the adult world, become productive and contribute to society (Olson, 1994). However, across the western world there appears to be a literacy crisis in the form of a gender gap in which ‘boys do less well than girls’ (Moss, 2007: 13). As a result, boys have been categorised as a problem (Clandinin et al, 2006). Previous research has focused on solving the ‘boy problem’, however, this study offers an alternative perspective in that it explores the complex relationship between pre-adolescent boys’ writing practices and their evolving identities in the domains of school and home. The study draws on sociocultural theories of New Literacy Studies and the concept of ‘Figured Worlds’, as described by Holland et al (1998) in order to consider how three 10 year-old boys participate in the production of themselves as writers and the impact of adult mediation on the boys’ developing identities as writers both at home and in school. This comparative case study is informed by both ethnography and narrative inquiry in order to produce three rich narrative accounts which are centred around the boys’ writing practices both in and out of school. Each narrative offers a unique insight into each boy’s life and their perception of what it means to be a writer through an exploration of their experiences, their ambitions and their relationships with people, technology and curriculum. The narratives are then compared to reveal key themes which highlight the ways in which wider policy and institutional demands influence local practices which in turn impacts on the boys’ identity formation. The significant findings relate to a common theme of relationships. Findings suggest that writing practices are bound to close familial relationships and to each family’s figurative or narrativised identity. Therefore, educators may need to look beyond engaging experiences in the classroom to the space and structures of homes in order to both fully understand boys’ meaning making and to inform their assessments of boys as writers. This extends the current research on early mark making and relationships in pre-school children to this under-explored group of pre-adolescent boys. In addition, the findings also suggest that the way in which schools engage with digital practices will have to be carefully considered if children are to understand digital communications as being writing and not talking. Therefore, the findings offer an alternative perspective to the two great divides in literacy, those being school and home and speaking and writing.

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