Community College Nontraditional African American Students and their Journey to College Level Writing: Voices from the First Semester Freshman English Composition Classroom
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The purpose of this study was to gain a better understanding of nontraditional African American students’ perceptions of their writing challenges and successes in the freshman English composition classroom, as well as the specific factors that contribute to these writing challenges and successes. The theoretical framework used for the study was Interpretivism and the methodology was narrative. This study focused on capturing the personal stories and experiences of the participants and the phenomenon of their challenging and successful writing experiences during their freshman English composition course experience. The guiding research question for the study was: How do community college nontraditional students of African American heritage perceive their experiences in the first semester freshman English composition classroom? Sub-questions for the study included (a) What specific teaching approaches to writing displayed by the instructor during the freshman English course experience seemed to help or hinder the learning process? And (b) How did ethnic, cultural, or social factors impact the student’s development as a writer in the freshman English composition classroom?
A purposeful sampling method was used in the selection of participants. Twelve African American nontraditional students age 25 and older were selected for the study. The primary methods of data collection used for the study were open-ended semi-structured interviews and the collection of artifacts, which included past essay assignments, projects, and other pieces of writing completed by the participants during their freshman English composition course experience. The open-ended interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, coded, and several key themes emerged from the analysis of the data. The findings of the study revealed five major themes with accompanying sub-themes which were (a) Perceptions on High School Writing Preparation with two sub-themes including (i) Strong High School Writing Experiences and the impact on the English Composition Classroom Experience and (ii) Weak High School Writing Experiences and the Impact on the English Composition Classroom Experience; (b) Comfort Levels with Specific Essay Genres with two sub-themes including (i) Challenges with the Persuasive Essay Genre and (ii) Success and Comfort Found in the Narrative Essay Genre; (c) Growth as an Adult Community College Writer with two sub-themes including (i) Intense Study of the Academic Writing Process, and (ii) Awareness of Diverse College Writing Readiness Levels (d) The Role of Race in the English Composition Classroom with three sub-themes including (i) Race as a Minimal Element in Writing Success (ii) Race as a Significant Element in Writing Success, and (iii) Feelings of Racial Discrimination in the English Composition Classroom; and (e) Levels of Support in the Freshman English Composition Classroom with two sub-themes including (i) Desire for Stronger Levels of English Instructor Support and (ii) Students who Experienced Strong Levels of Instructor Support. Overall, findings illuminated that the participants possessed a genuine desire for growth and development as adult college writers regardless of past or present academic challenges, ethnic or cultural barriers, or oppressive classroom experiences.
Overall, the majority of African American adult students that participated in this study did not feel that their African American culture or heritage was a roadblock to their development as professional, college-level writer in the English composition classroom, but rather, the English instructor who fails to acknowledge the educational, ethnic, and age diversity that comprises their classroom. The majority of participants felt that college-level writing success could be thoroughly accomplished through effective classroom leadership, nurturing, and most importantly the practice of a can do philosophy by the English instructor regardless of a student’s past writing challenges or present writing readiness levels.