The Role Of Group Writing Activity On Disciplinary Literacy Appropriation At University

  • Constantine C. Dimitriou

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


The work of Humanities & Social Sciences students involves learning to express disciplinary content in essay assessment to disciplinary norms. Though tutors use a genre for professional writing, literacy is often not part of the classroom discussion. Therefore, many students have difficulty appropriating the communicative tools of that disciplinary genre. This may be solved by a turn in pedagogy towards tutors’ awareness of students’ processes (Hornsby & Osman, 2014) which may, in turn, improve tutors’ feedback. Ethnography has provided insights into students’ attitudes, their impressions of feedback and experiences, largely through interview methods, and classroom observation (Saville-Troike, 1989), but assessment writing does not typically occur in class. What was needed was a closer examination of students’ literacy processes. This study looked at literacy work through Activity Theory (Leont’ev, 1978) which represents human activity as a contextualised system where a group works together towards an object. Group collaboration allows for concepts to be negotiated and for interpretations to be shared, which can aid understanding (Mercer, 1995). This cross-sectional study examined three L2-English Business Studies student groups’ collaborative writing with observation of activity as its primary instrument for capturing student literacy work. Using an Educational Talk framework (Mercer, 1995) to examine the qualities of negotiation, this study offers a new understanding of students’ processes of literacy work and their possible effect on literacy appropriation. The results showed how the task and other structural tensions drive literacy work, and how the particular attributes of Educational Talk, in a tertiary context, contribute to the negotiation of meaning in the resolution of tensions. It also showed how literacy work involves the inter-mingling of textual work, subject content (Tardy, 2006, 2009) and contextual factors. These indicate the importance of group literacy activity for students, and the importance of understanding group discussions involving literacy work.
Date of Award30 Mar 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorCatherine Dunworth (Supervisor) & Trevor Grimshaw (Supervisor)


  • tertiary disciplinary literacy appropriation
  • collaborative writing
  • Activity Theory discourse analysis
  • exploratory talk
  • structural tensions
  • local genre agent
  • observation

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