Writing, Realities, and Developing Ethos: Literacy Narratives in the Composition Classroom



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The overall purpose of this study is to analyze how students talk and write about writing to understand why mainstream students struggle with writing when they are neither economically nor culturally marginalized. Composition scholars' literacy narratives have identified problems in education and literacy encountered by marginalized students, but they fall short in identifying and accounting for problems that mainstream students face. After examining literacy narratives by composition scholars, this study assesses interviews, questionnaires, and literacy narratives from 77 college students, ranging in ages from 18 to 26. These accounts indicate that mainstream students have had few opportunities to examine their literacy skills within the context of their developing sense of self. Because literacy narratives are stories about writers developing a voice to share with their community, ethos is central to this examination. Building upon classical and contemporary models, two aspects of ethos are developed in my analysis: ethos as it relates to students' character, identity, and self-awareness, and ethos as students' sense of their relationship to the communities that shape their character and form their audience as writers. My assessment of student accounts develops four conclusions. First, standardized testing and formulaic writing have done little to foster students' confidence or self-awareness. Second, as a result, exigence becomes a necessary addition to writing assignments to encourage students to learn from their writing and see themselves as writers. Third, having students write their own literacy narrative is a valuable exercise so that they may become aware of how literacy affects their identity. Fourth, students' self-assessments reveal that their perceptions of writing bear little resemblance to issues defined in recent debates in composition studies, particularly the rift between personal and academic writing and the debate concerning expressivist and social-epistemic pedagogies. I define an alternative, an ethos-based pedagogy, placed within the post-process theory paradigm as defined by Thomas Kent. An ethical pedagogy focuses on developing students' character and confidence and on moving students to examine the relationship between interior and exterior spaces they inhabit and on considering how these spaces influence them on a personal and a social level. An ethical pedagogy can move students to form stronger relationships with language and their literacy practices.