Composing our identities : an intercultural approach to teaching composition at an American community college
This thesis describes an action research project undertaken at Manchester Community College, Manchester, Connecticut, USA. The project was designed to gather evidence to address the research question: Can an intercultural approach to composition provide community college students with the cultural awareness and skills to succeed in the culture of the academy without devaluing the home cultures from which the students come to the college? The project involved asking English 101 (freshmen composition) students to read James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and then to apply intercultural skills to their analysis and interpretation of the text. About 80 students participated in the project over a two-year period. The thesis includes an overview of composition theory, with emphasis on current trends in postmodern/postcolonial approaches that emphasize a binary (self/Other) world view. It also provides an overview of intercultural theory and an examination of the ways in which it reflects or differs from bicultural theory and from current trends in composition. It also contains descriptions of intercultural activities undertaken in my classroom. Most of the data was gathered by the use of online discussion boards. The student/subjects responded to five writing prompts which asked them to reflect on their intercultural experience with academic culture. In addition, students were able to access the researcher’s research diary via a discussion board, and many posted comments to the diary that became a rich source of evidence. Students also completed a paper-and-pencil exit survey, and five students participated in follow-up interviews. The analysis of the data reveals that most of the students experienced a dawning recognition, rather than an immediate recognition, of academic culture as a distinct culture. While most students experienced a mild degree of culture shock because of this recognition, they went on to develop coping mechanisms that facilitated their competency and confidence in the target culture. The analysis chapters (Chapters 6, 7, 8 and 9) examine the many ways in which students experienced academic culture, their responses to it, and their development and use of intercultural skills to facilitate their interactions with the culture. In particular, students did not demonstrate a binary world view, but instead revealed the ability to use academic writing to create a third space, in which they brought academic culture, their own cultures, and the cultures represented by the text into relation.