L1 and L2 adolescents’ perspectives on writing within and across academic disciplines

Examining the role of agency in writing development


  • Jill V. Jeffery Leiden University
  • Kristen C. Wilcox University at Albany--State University of New York




adolescent literacy, discourse analysis, writing pedagogy, disciplinary literacy


To investigate a diverse sample of adolescent writers’ experiences with disciplinary writing, this study compared 66 adolescents’ perceptions of writing through an analysis of interviews as part of a national study. Grounded in a social constructivist framework that stresses the role of agency in the development of writing competence, the study aims to examine factors – including language background and prior writing experiences – that are associated with adolescents’ perceptions of their writing development. The study asked: How do L1 and L2 adolescents’ perceptions of writing development compare? To what extent, if at all, is agency implicated in patterns of variation? Results of the comparative analysis suggest that varying affordances and constraints, and combinations of these, relate to adolescents’ expressed agency toward writing. Affordances include opportunities to select personally relevant subjects and to develop writing through feedback and revision processes; constraints include the use of highly structured writing scaffolds, formulas, and tightly constrained topics. Implications for differentiated scaffolding of writing instruction that might affectively and cognitively engage diverse adolescent learners are discussed.

Author Biographies

Jill V. Jeffery, Leiden University

JIll V. Jeffery is University Lecturer of English Language and culture at the center for Linguistics, Leiden University.

Kristen C. Wilcox, University at Albany--State University of New York

Kristen campbell is Assistant Professor in the department of Educational Theory and Practice, University at Albany, State University of New york.


Ahearn, L. (2001). Language and agency. Annual Review of Anthropology 30, 109–137. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3069211 , http://dx.doi.org/10.1146/ annurev.anthro.30.1.109

Applebee, A. N. (2013). Common Core State Standards: The promise and the peril in a national palimpsest. English Journal 103, 25–33. http://www.ncte. org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/EJ/1031-sep2013/EJ1031Common.pdf

Applebee A.N., and Langer, J. (2011). The National Study of Writing Instruction: Methods and procedures. Center on English Language and Achievement. Retrieved on 15 August 2012 from http://www.albany.edu/cela/reports/ NSWI_2011_methods_procedures.pdf

Applebee, A. N., and Langer, J. A. (2013). Writing instruction that works: Proven methods for middle and high school classrooms. New York: Teachers College Press.

Applebee, A., Langer, J., Nystrand, M., and Gamoran, A. (2003). Discussion-based approaches to developing understanding: Classroom instruction and student performance in middle and high school English. American Education Research Journal 40, 685–730. http://dx.doi.org/10.3102/00028312040003685

Beck, S. W. (2006). Subjectivity and intersubjectivity in the teaching and learning of writing. Research in the Teaching of English 40, 413–462. http://www.jstor. org/stable/40171710

Beck, S.W., Llosa, L., and Fredrick, T. (2013). The challenges of writing exposition: Lessons from a study of ELL and non-ELL high school students. Reading and Writing Quarterly 29, 358–380. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10573569.2013.758938

Beck, S., and Jeffery, J.V. (2009). Genre and thinking in academic writing tasks. Journal of Literacy Research, 41 (2), 1–45. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/ 10862960902908483

Bryson, M., and Scardamalia, M. (1996). Fostering reflectivity in the argumentive thinking of students with different learning histories. Reading and Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties 12, 351–384. http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1080/1057356960120402

Callahan, R., Wilkinson, L., and Muller, C. (2010). Academic achievement and course taking among language minority youth in US schools: Effects of ESL placement. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 32, 84–117. http:// dx.doi.org/10.3102/0162373709359805

Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2016). Preparing America’s students for success. Retrieved on 10 May 2016 from http://www.corestandards.org/

Cook-Sather, A. (2002). Authorizing student’s perspectives: Toward trust, dialogue, and change in education. Educational Research 31, 3–14. http://dx.doi. org/10.3102/0013189X031004003

Cummins, J. (2011). Identity matters: From evidence-free to evidence-based policies for promoting achievement among students from marginalized social groups. Writing and Pedagogy 3, 189–216. http://dx.doi.org/10.1558/wap.v3i2.189

Darling-Hammond, L. (2010). The flat world and education: How America’s commitment to equity will determine our future. New York: Teachers College Press.

Du Bois, J. W. (2007). The stance triangle. In R. Englebretson (Ed.), Stancetaking in discourse: Subjectivity, evaluation, interaction (pp. 139–182). Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins Publishing Company. http://dx.doi.org/10.1075/pbns.164.07du

Enright, K. A. (2014). Standards and personalization in the writing of linguistically diverse students. Writing and Pedagogy 6, 59–88. http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1558/wap.v6i1.59

Gilliland, B. (2017). Opportunity gaps: Curricular discontinuities across ESL, mainstream, and college English. In C. Ortmeier-Hooper and T. Ruecker (Eds) Resident Multilingual and Linguistic Minority Writers: Transitions and Disruptions Across High Schools, Bridge Programs, and Colleges (pp. 21–35). New York: Routledge.

Graham, S., Capizzi, A., Harris, K. R., Hebert, M., and Morphy, P. (2014). Teaching writing to middle school students: A national survey. Reading and Writing 27, 1015–1042. doi: 10.10007/s11145-013-9495-7

Graham, S., and Perin, D. (2007). Writing next: Effective strategies to improve writing of adolescents in middle and high school. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellence in Education.

Harklau, L. (1994). ESL versus mainstream classes: Contrasting L2 learning environments. TESOL Quarterly 28, 241–272. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/3587433

Hill, K. (2015). Measuring disadvantaged pupils’ attainment gaps over time (updated). Department for Education. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/ government/statistics/measuring-disadvantaged-pupils-attainment-gapsover-time

Jeffery, J. V., and Wilcox, K. C. (2013). ‘How do I do it if I don’t like writing?’: Adolescents’ stances toward writing across disciplines. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 27 (6), 1095–1117. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/ s11145-013-9493-9

Kibler, A. (2011). ‘I write it in a way that people can read it’: How teachers and adolescent L2 writers describe content area writing. Journal of Second Language Writing 20, 211–226. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jslw.2011.05.005

Klein, P. D., and Boscolo, P. (2016). Trends in research on writing as a learning activity. Journal of Writing Research 7 (3), 311–350. doi: 10.17239/jowr-2016.07.3.01

Kiuhara, S. A., Graham, S., and Hawken, L. S. (2009). Teaching writing to high school students: A national survey. Journal of Educational Psychology 101, 136–160. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0013097

Kockelman, P. (2007). Agency: The relation between meaning, power, and knowledge. Current Anthropology 48, 375–401. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/512998

Kohn, A. (2000). Burnt at the high stakes. Journal of Teacher Education 51, 315–327. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0022487100051004007

Lam, W. S. E. (2000). Literacy and the design of the self: A case study of a teenager writing on the Internet. TESOL Quarterly 34, 457–482. http://dx.doi.org/ 10.2307/3587739

Lawrence, J. F., Galloway, E. P., Yim, S., and Lin, A. (2013). Learning to write in middle school? Insights into adolescent writers’ instructional experiences across content areas. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 57, 151–161. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/JAAL.219

Lahey, J. (2016). To help students learn, engage the emotions. New York Times (4 May), retrieved from http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/05/04/ to-help-students-learn-engage-the-emotions/?smid=fb-nytimesandsmtyp=cur

Miles, M. B., Huberman, A. M., and Saldaña, J. (2014). Qualitative data analysis: A methods sourcebook (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Moje, E. B. (2007). Developing socially just subject-matter instruction: A review of the literature on disciplinary literacy teaching. Review of Research in Education 31, 1–44. http://dx.doi.org/10.3102/0091732X07300046001

National Center for Education Statistics (2011). The nation’s report card: Writing 2011. Retrieved 1 October 2012, from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo. asp?pubid=2012470

Nazarenko, L., and Schwartz, G. (2010). A refocused approach to writing instruction. Incorporating a focus on genre into the writing process. Writing and Pedagogy 2, 103–116. http://dx.doi.org/10.1558/wap.v2i1.103

Oakes, J. (2005). Keeping track: How schools structure inequality. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Olson, C. B., Land, R., Anselmi, T., and AuBuchon, C. (2010). Teaching secondary English learners to understand, analyze, and write interpretive essays about theme. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 54, 245–256. http://dx.doi. org/10.1598/JAAL.54.4.2

Olson, C. B., Kim, J. S., Scarcella, R., Kramer, J., Pearson, M., van Dyke, D. A., Collins, P., Land, R. E. (2012). Enhancing the interpretive reading and analytical writing of English learners in secondary school: Results from a randomized field trial using a cognitive strategies approach. (2012). American Educational Research Journal 49, 323–355. http://dx.doi.org/10.3102/0002831212439434

Ortmeier-Hooper, C. (2013). The ELL writer: Moving beyond basics in the secondary classroom: New York: Teachers College Press.

Ortmeier-Hooper, C. and Enright, K. A. (2011). Mapping new territory: Toward an understanding of adolescent L2 writers and writing in US contexts. Journal of Second Language Writing 20, 167–181. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/ j.jslw.2011.05.002

Patton, M. Q. (2001). Qualitative research and evaluation methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Prain, V., and Hand, B. (1999). Students’ perceptions of writing for learning in secondary science. Science Education 83, 151–162. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ (SICI)1098-237X(199903)83:2<151::AID-SCE4>3.0.CO;2-S

Roberts, C. (2009). Professional development and high-stakes testing: Disparate influences on student writing performance. Writing and Pedagogy 1, 65–90. http://dx.doi.org/10.1558/wap.v1i1.63

Shanahan, T., and Shanahan, C. (2008). Teaching disciplinary literacy to adolescents: Rethinking content-area literacy. Harvard Educational Review 78, 40–59. http://dx.doi.org/10.17763/haer.78.1.v62444321p602101

Smagorinsky, P., Daigle, E. A., O’Donnell-Allen, C., and Bynum, S. (2010). Bullshit in academic writing: A protocol analysis of a high school senior’s process of interpreting Much Ado About Nothing. Research in the Teaching of English 44, 368–405. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25704887

Tardy, C. M. (2006). Researching first and second language genre learning: A comparative review and a look ahead. Journal of Second Language Writing 15, 79–101. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jslw.2006.04.003

Taylor, S. T., and Cummins, J. (2011). Second language writing practices, identity, and the academic achievement of children from marginalized social groups: A comprehensive view. Writing and Pedagogy 3. 181–188. http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1558/wap.v3i2.181

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. (M. Cole, V. J.Steiner, S. Scribner, and E. Souberman, Eds) Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Werderich, D. E., and Armstrong, S. L. (2013). Examining the conceptualizations, preferences, and practices of adolescent writers. Literacy Research and Instruction 52, 339–373. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19388071.2013.812167

Wertsch, J. V. (1991). Voices of the mind: A sociocultural approach to mediated action. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wilcox, K. C. (2011). Writing across the curriculum for secondary school English language learners: A case study. Writing and Pedagogy 3 (1), 79–111. http:// dx.doi.org/10.1558/wap.v3i1.79

Wilcox, K. C., and Jeffery, J. V. (2014). Adolescents’ writing in the content areas: National study results. Research in the Teaching of English 49, 168–176. https:// login.ez-proxy.brooklyn.cuny.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docvi ew/1628065147?accountid=7286

Wilcox, K. C., and Jeffery, J. V. (2015). Adolescent English learners’ stances toward content-area writing. English for Specific Purposes 38, 44–56. http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1016/j.esp.2014.11.006



How to Cite

Jeffery, J. V., & Wilcox, K. C. (2016). L1 and L2 adolescents’ perspectives on writing within and across academic disciplines: Examining the role of agency in writing development. Writing & Pedagogy, 8(2), 245-274. https://doi.org/10.1558/wap.28750



Research Matters