The Ecology of Peer Response Interactions: Mapping the Relationship Between Context and Experience in Multilingual College Composition Environments

Hobmeier, Amanda. The Ecology of Peer Response Interactions: Mapping the Relationship Between Context and Experience in Multilingual College Composition Environments. 2014. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

Peer response is a well-established facet of composition pedagogy, and has often been shown to be beneficial for students in linguistically diverse learning environments. However, levels of investment and engagement vary as do both students' and instructions' confidence in its usefulness as a practice. Instructors understand there are many contextual variables that can impact the success of peer response activities. Particularly in multilingual composition environments, contextual variables related to linguistic and cultural factors are heightened, and can greatly influence how students interact. For example, different academic experiences and cultural ideologies as well as varying language proficiency might impact students' motivations, attitudes, and interactions, but without full contextual scrutiny, the level of influence is difficult to determine. These factors can provide great insight into composition pedagogy as well as for the writing process overall.

In recent years, composition scholars have come to recognize the act of composing as highly complex and influenced by many constantly shifting variables. Along with that recognition has come an increased interest in adapting research methodologies that will appropriately capture the many elements of the writing process. An ecological approach to composition research, as such, embraces methodological pluralism and outwardly engages in the process of interrogating the interaction of multiple contextual elements at once. Understood by some scholars as post-process and also as ecocomposition, the approach is defined as "the study of the relationships between environments (and by that we mean natural, constructed, and even imagined places) and discourse (speaking, writing, and thinking)" (Weisser & Dobrin, 2001, 6).

Ecocomposition is invested in understanding how context and discursive practices shape each other and thus focuses on "experience, living texts, and interactive relationships as the central features of knowing, knowledge construction, and the legitimation of knowledge" (Boyd, 2011, 288). Interaction is at the basis of peer response activities, and heavily entrenched with displays of knowledge (i.e. uptake from previous knowledge/experience or instructor), ideally engaged in knowledge construction (i.e. students can collaborate on writing together), and interactive behaviors cue students toward legitimation (speech acts such as rejection or acceptance, choices of whether to integrate feedback, etc.). Within peer response, myriad elements become important when considering context, and bring broader implications to surface. Adopting an ecocompositionist framework allows researchers to directly interrogate questions related to teaching and learning on the basis of relevant contextual variables directly.

The purpose of this study is to apply a contextualist ecological approach to further investigate peer response in multilingual composition classrooms. In an effort to more deeply explore peer response interactions as well as the effects these have on student writing development, the study aims to examine to what extent and how contextual variables actually shape types of peer interactions. The relationship between context and interaction is the primary emphasis, and therefore, the research questions are investigated through a variety of modes of inquiry. Thus, interactional sociolinguistics (Schiffrin, 1996) is used as an approach for its multifaceted nature in approaching data and context simultaneously. This method is developed from the work of Gumperz (1982) and joins discourse analysis with observational and ethnographic techniques. This approach lends itself to the examination of linguistic and contextual factors, while still supporting a qualitative and interpretive inquiry of dynamic classroom practices like peer response peer response.

In this study, contextual and discursive inquiries are further strengthened through the inclusion of interview protocols, interrogation of the relationship between instructor and peer discourse, and through investigation of reported student attitudes expressed in surveys and course evaluations. Findings reveal that there is indeed a relationship between contextual variable and discursive practices between peers and that "success" in such activities are determined in multiple ways. Such findings are framed within implications related to both multilingual composition classroom contexts and peer response alike, while the conclusion proposes both pedagogical and methodological implications for future research.

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