Writer with more at stake : returning adults in the freshman composition classroom

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Gillam-Scott, Alice M.
Trimmer, Joseph F.
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Thesis (Ph. D.)
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In recent years, adults beyond the traditional college ages of 18-22 have been returning to higher education in record numbers. At most colleges, these students, along with their younger counterparts, are required to take two or three terms of freshman composition. Although returning students may be apprehensive at first, their teachers report that many are highly motivated and perform successfully in these required writing courses. To investigate this phenomenon, I studied the attitude and performance of returning adults (defined here as 25 years old and over) who were enrolled in traditional freshman composition classes at the University of Illinois at Chicago during the fall quarter of 1983.Specifically, I studied the attitude and performance of four case study subjects by conducting interviews, administering Daly and Miller's Writing Apprehension Test, collecting writing samples, and obtaining audiotaped composing-aloud protocols. My assessment of the data was informed by Daly's Taxonomy of Attitudes and Beliefs about Writing, Wilkinson's Stylistic, Cognitive, Affective, and Moral Scales, and Faigley and Witte's Taxonomy of Revision Changes. I present my findings in four narrative case histories.In addition, I conducted a group study of the attitude and performance of 44 returning students enrolled in required composition courses at U.I.C. during the fall quarter of 1983. To measure these students' attitude and performance, I administered Daly and Miller's Writing Apprehension Test at the beginning and end of the quarter and obtained final course grades.Although all four case study subjects expressed some initial writing anxiety, by the end of the quarter, three of the four had become confident and able student writers. Because of serious skill deficits, as well as high anxiety, the fourth student failed to complete the course. Contrary to expectation, the initial W.A.T. group mean was a moderate 66.22. An item analysis indicated that much of the anxiety expressed was situational. The low end-of-the-quarter mean (55.65) reinforced this impression. Apparently a quarter of composition instruction and writing practice reduced the situational apprehension of many. Moreover, the majority of these returning students performed successfully with 28 out of 44 earning an A or B in their freshman composition courses.In part, this high success rate was due to the population sampled. That is, few severely underprepared returning students begin their college work at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Characteristics shared by these adequately prepared returning students included: high investment in writing. assignments; willingness to revise; interest in and acquisition of metacognitive skills; and use of life experience to enrich their writing.