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4 Sub-Studies

The sub-studies examine writing in Danish, foreign languages, social studies, physics, mathematics and inter-disciplinary collaboration. The range of subjects represents the three primary areas that structurally underpin the gymnasium after the reform, namely natural sciences, social sciences and humanities. In addition, the choice of subject studies is grounded in specific challenges presented by the reform.  Several studies focus mathematics and Danish as powerful writing traditions in both subjects have been subjected to significant pressure to change. Two comparative subject studies (Danish/English, mathematics/physics) examine differences in the didactic management of common challenges.

In addition to examining differences between subjects, the project aims to look at differences in the realisation of the reform writing concept in the four gymnasium courses, stx (Upper secondary graduation exam), hf (Higher preparatory exam), hhx (Higher business exam) and htx (Higher technical exam). A comparative perspective is, therefore, established in studies of mathematics, Danish, English and social studies.

4.1          The development of writing identity in six students in their gymnasium study courses (Christensen, Elf, Krogh)

The most extensive sub-study develops the triadic project construction with the student as the privileged point of view. Six students are followed through their three gymnasium years with a view to collecting assignment instructions, written production and teacher feedback, and to observe teaching (8-10 days per year) and conduct interviews (1-2 per term). The aim is to examine the assignments students are given in the subjects, how they negotiate and interpret these in writing activities (Westman 2009) and products, and how they make sense of these experiences in biographical narratives about their writing experiences and writing development (Giddens 1991, Ivanič 1998).

The background to this is the particular structure of the reform, where writing skill is seen in a dual perspective, as command of subject-specific writing and as a personal combination of writing skills, writing experience and meta knowledge about text and writing (Krogh et al. 2009). The study follows the students’ trajectories of participation through writing practices in which writing identity and writing skill are constantly under negotiation (cf. Dreier 1999). Theoretically and methodologically the study is based on Ivanič 1998, who studied adult writers to analyse writing identity as an interplay between ‘autobiographical self’, ‘discoursal self’ and ‘self as author’, as these are negotiated in prototypical socio-cultural and institutional contexts.

4.2          Literacy and disciplinarity in interdisciplinary collaboration at hf (Hobel)

The post.doc project combines the student viewpoint with the subject-specific and is based on independent data generation. Written work focusing on the interplay between partaking subjects is a particular feature of the Danish reform. A study by Hobel (2009) shows that written collaboration in stx presents a considerable challenge to students, but that it also carries the potential for innovative thinking beyond subject limitations. The sub-study continues the earlier project in a study of four students’ writing over a two-year period in the obligatory collaborative courses at hf.

The study will examine how hf students use the mediational means of the involved subjects in their written work and what significance they ascribe to them. Furthermore, the study will examine how teachers articulate the skill requirements for written collaboration in their assignments to the students.

The data will comprise students’ texts from the collaborative courses, assignment instructions, qualitative interviews.

4.3          Use of digital semiotic resources in Danish and English (Elf)

The sub-study explores how the culture studies, Danish and English, respond to ‘the new textual society’. The hypothesis is that digitalisation and globalization – qua the internet and interactive media – are the two most urgent challenges to the school’s project of Bildung and education (Drotner 2002).

A culture subject is defined as a subject that has cultural, semiotic resources as a major area of both study and activity (Elf 2009). The new digital resources are assumed to exert a particular pressure for change on these subjects. The study asks what significance digital resources have for the teachers’ development of assignment tasks and for the students’ narratives (cf. Erstad & Wertsch 2008) about writing experiences in Danish and English, and in what ways they challenge existing models for writing and didactics. The empirical basis is comprised of data collected in the longitudinal project.

4.4          Bildung perspectives in writing in Danish (Krogh)

The sub-study examines voice as a Bildung category in Danish. Empirical data are derived from the longitudinal study.

Since the reform, Danish no longer has overall responsibility for the teaching of writing, and the Danish essay has lost its aura as a general Bildung tool (Krogh 2003). It is assumed, however, that there is more space for negotiation of genres and textual norms in writing in Danish than in other subjects, and that this makes the training of ‘voices’ of writing a new Bildung responsibility for Danish.

In the study ‘voice’ as a didactic concept is operationalized analytically in a juxtaposition with concepts such as positioning (discourse theory), ethos (rhetoric), voice (pragmatics and textual linguistics) and others. Subsequently, a study is made of how ‘voice’ is manifested in written assignment tasks, student texts and teacher feedback in Danish.

4.5          Genre skills and writing. A study of the significance of the concept of genre for writing in Danish subjects at gymnasium level (ongoing Ph.D. project, Piekut)

4.6          Literacy and disciplinarity in social studies subjects across gymnasium courses (Christensen)

The sub-study examines how the particular didactic challenge of the social studies subjects – the tension between the domain of practice and that of social sciences – is realised in written work in social science subjects. The data are taken from the longitudinal study.

In social science subjects social involvement and democratic norms are combined with social scientific tools (Hilligen 1976, Gagel 2000, Christensen 2008). According to Hansen (2004b), the challenge lies in getting the students to understand that their social involvement has to be ‘disciplined’ to establish a connection between everyday experience and the discourse of social science. It is assumed that this constitutes a barrier to learning, not least in written work with strict demands on the use of subject-specific discourse.

The study will examine balances between domains and tensions between discourses in written work in social science subjects. It will further examine students’ use of mediational means and how this usage develops over time.

4.7          Subjects skills and writing in foreign language teaching (German) (Jacobsen)

The aim of this sub-study is to clarify the contribution of foreign languages to the development of the study competence of gymnasium students, taking German as an example. While globalization has led to English increasingly dominating communicative functions, other foreign languages will be able to focus cognitive functions by giving students access to knowledge that is created and formed through other languages.

Writing has a central status for the cognitive functions of language. A text objectivizes knowledge in more or less complex structures that can be made objects of reflection and building blocks of knowledge development. This textual competence is built up in all subjects. The particular task of language subjects is to extend students’ textual competence in the foreign language and to give them knowledge and tools that they can make use of in other languages and in other subjects.

The sub-study consists of a) an analysis of the role of writing in German as it is formulated in syllabus requirements and in the academic debate, b) analysis of teaching units in which writing occurs in central functions. Questions for the analyses include: Which writing-based activities occur and with what aim? Which mediational means occur and which language and subject skills are involved?

The empirical data is taken from the longitudinal study, supplemented, if necessary, by further empirical material taken from a class over a short period.

4.8          Subject skills and writing in mathematics and physics (Lindenskov, Sørensen)

The sub-study is a comparative examination of the contribution of mathematics and physics to developing the study competence of gymnasium students. The international literature documents that a teaching focus on writing is crucial for students’ academic benefit (Morgan 1998, Quinn 2009, Shreyer et al. 2010), and that the greatest benefit can be seen by focusing simultaneously on reasoning and writing (Cross 2009). When Danish 15-year-olds demonstrate weak knowledge about planning and conducting experiments compared with students in other countries (PISA 2006), this can be linked with the fact that experiments in natural science teaching are not processed in writing. When the performance of Danish 15-year-olds in mathematical literacy is correspondingly relatively weakest in ‘changes and contexts’ that require high levels of representation and reflection (PISA 2003), it is a plausible assumption that it relates to the one-sided nature of mathematical assignments at primary school. In both subjects this presents the gymnasium with particular challenges.

The data of the sub-study comprise observations in the 2nd and 3rd year of gymnasium with a view to describing incidents of writing, assignment tasks, student products and teacher interviews. Analyses are aimed at localizing the subjects’ mediational means and links between these and the focused skills. A comparative analysis will be carried out of the use of writing in mathematics and physics seen as a contribution to subject-related learning and to study competence.

4.9          Discursive mathematical writing (Iversen)

The Ph.D project combines student and subject perspectives in a comparative study of mathematical subjects across courses. It is based on independent data generation.

The Gymnasium reform has introduced new types of writing in mathematics, characterized by their discursive form and often multi-disciplinary focus (such as reports, synopses, (multi)-disciplinary assignments and various forms of informal exploratory writing). At the same time the new digital media make it possible for students to communicate in discursive forms about mathematics in user-driven electronic forums.

The aim of the sub-study is to explore the new types of writing. The study will examine 1) which types of discursive mathematical assignments the students work with and under which didactic conditions, and what significance for the development of mathematical and general writing skills the students ascribe to these, 2) how the resulting student texts look, which mediational means are used when compared with traditional mathematical writing, and what interpretations of a mathematical discourse are made visible in the texts.

Empirically the study will be based on observations, interviews and collected student texts. Two students will be chosen from each of four classes under observation (stx, hf, hhx, htx), and data will be generated from all writing produced by these students in the context of their mathematics courses over a period of one year. These data will be supplemented by qualitative student interviews. The student texts will be analysed focusing on mediational means and with a view to identifying writing actions and writing aims (Berge 2005, Misfeldt 2006).

4.10      Mediational means (Togeby)

The sub-study will establish and operationalize a descriptive apparatus for mediational means (Blåsjö 2004) in written assignment tasks and in students’ written work in the subjects under study. The aim is to develop a manual of the taxonomy of concepts that is to be shared by all the sub-studies in order that their results can be reliable and comparable. The concepts that form part of the taxonomy must be interdisciplinary so that they can include concepts from the fields of didactics, sociology, cognition, linguistics and philology.

4.11      Relations between writing ability and subject-specific attainment (Togeby)

The study will examine whether assessment of students’ assignments in the various subjects is dependent primarily on 1) their abilities in the respective subjects with no focus on how they write, 2) whether they write as the teacher says they should, 3) whether they write well regardless of whether or not they abide by requirements as to presentational forms, and 4) whether their assessed attainment correlates more with 2) or with 3). The foundation of data is made up of the collection of assignment tasks and assessed student texts in the longitudinal study. Other collected material may be incorporated.

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