Learning argumentative writing in Australian schools : Chinese international students in Year 12

2017-01-13T02:15:52Z (GMT) by Wu, Chia Chuan (Gwen)
This thesis explores Chinese international students’ experiences in learning to write argumentative genres in an Australian high school, and the ways in which they engage with Australian media texts. The school caters for international students studying English as a Second Language (ESL) in the Victoria Certificate of Education (VCE), the final two years of secondary schooling in the state of Victoria in Australia, prior to university entry. The genre-focused pedagogical approach used in teaching argumentative writing in VCE ESL is also explored. The study uses a sociocultural theoretical framework to interpret four aspects of students’ learning. These are: writing in an English speaking academic discourse community; engagement with genre theory; understanding of critical literacy and writer identity. A qualitative discourse-based case study was used to explore students’ experience in argumentative writing. Participants were ten Chinese international students in their final semester of Year 12, and their three ESL teachers. The main data sources included individual student interviews, focus group interviews with students, individual teacher interviews, ESL classroom observation, students’ written texts, official documents and materials. Data sets were coded using qualitative techniques and a range of discourse analytic techniques was used in the analysis. The main findings of the study indicate that the students’ writing difficulties in conforming to the institutional, cultural and assessment requirements in a new discourse community are influenced broadly by their practices, thinking, values and prior learning experiences in relation to writing. Students struggled to understand and discuss the effects of persuasive language and arguments on an audience, and to represent these in their writing. Time constraints were a key issue for these students in developing their academic language competence, and analytical and organisation skills. The study also offers some critique of genre approaches in writing pedagogy at VCE level. Although students need to work hard to engage with and acculturate to new textual practices, there was also a clear need for teachers to go beyond fixed structures in teaching the genres, and to make their teaching more explicit to cater for student needs and development in writing.