Vulnerable, Valuable, and Vital: Exploring Perceptions of Academic Literacy in the First-Year College Classroom

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McConnel, Jennifer
Academic Literacy , College Writing , Colleges , Metaphor
The perspectives of college students and teachers regarding academic literacy are largely absent from literature on literacy in higher education, particularly in Canada. This study addresses this gap by centering the perspectives of first-year college students and teachers from one college in southern Ontario. For the purposes of this research, I define academic literacy as the nuanced blend of critical attention, creative processes, and cognitive skills that are necessary to communicate successfully in school, across disciplines and levels of study. My research has been guided by the following questions: How do college students and teachers perceive academic literacy during the first year of college? What do the metaphors college teachers create about academic literacy reveal about their perceptions? What do the metaphors college students create about academic literacy reveal about their perceptions? And, how do these perceptions of academic literacy change over time, specifically in the context of the first-year experience? To answer these questions, I designed an artful, multi-phase metaphoric study consisting of three phases that was guided by a hermeneutic analysis approach. During Phase 1, I visited participating first-year college courses and delivered a creative writing workshop that guided participants through the process of creating their own metaphors for academic literacy. In Phase 2, I met one-on-one with participants for a think aloud task and a semi-structured interview. Finally, during Phase 3, I met with participants for member checking and a final conversational interview. This study theorizes four preliminary threshold concepts of academic literacy in the first-year college classroom in order to inform both research and praxis in this transitional space. These threshold concepts, combined with the academic literacy lenses Lea and Street proposed that I explore in Chapter 3, form the conceptual framework of this study. Based on this work, teachers, students, and researchers can approach transitional academic literacy as transdisciplinary, as tied to privilege and identity, as a tool for transformation, and as something deeply connected with a range of emotional responses. Further, this work contributes a new approach to academic literacy research through a multi-phase metaphoric study design.
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