Pedagogical Interventions in the First-Year Writing Classroom for First-Generation College Students

Pedagogical Interventions in the First-Year Writing Classroom for First-Generation College Students

Jessica Rae Jorgenson Borchert
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-4960-4.ch008
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This chapter discusses ways of engaging first-generation college students in the first-year writing classroom. Many interventions exist for helping first-generation college students adjust to and thrive in academic life, such as TRIO programs. This chapter focuses on how instructors in writing classrooms can create pedagogical interventions to encourage and engage these students in academic discourse. To better understand how the pedagogical interventions were received, the author studied contemporary research on multiple ways of engaging first-generation college students in the first-year writing classroom. Along with this research, the author also collected data from students that identified what activities and assignments most engaged them and what they learned from those assignments. From this data and outside research, the author determined three main pedagogical interventions to help first-generation college students succeed, such as peer review groups, creating empathetic spaces, and assigning empathetic writing genres.
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Characteristics Of First-Generation College Students

According to the Higher Education Act of 1965’s chapter on Federal TRIO programs, a first-generation college student is “an individual both of whose parents did not complete a baccalaureate degree; or in the case of any individual who regularly resided with and received support from only one parent, an individual whose only such parent did not complete a baccalaureate degree” (Chapter 1, section 402a). Darling and Smith’s scholarship on first-generation college students gives the most concise definition, and a definition I use to describe first-generation college students throughout this chapter. Darling and Smith define a first-generation college student as “a student who does not have a parent who holds a baccalaureate degree” (2007, p. 204). This definition allows for a parent who has some college preparation, but who has never completed their degree at a four-year institution of higher learning.

In part because first-generation college students have had neither parent attain a four-year college degree, these students also encounter higher risk factors for dropping out of college. Vicki Stieha in “Expectations and Experience: First-Generation College Students and Persistence” notes that even if a first-generation college student doesn’t have the “high-risk factors for dropping out, such as minority status” these students still run a risk of attrition because of their lack of support and social capital (2009, p. 239). Coupled with the lack of parental and community support some of these first-generation college students face, significant learning barriers to academic success are created. Because of learning barriers of parents, community, and a lack of social capital, writing teachers must make pedagogical moves and opportunities to engage first-generation college students so that these students can be successful.

Because first-generation college students represent a unique, yet diverse population, my research focuses on implementation of the best pedagogical practices to help reach these students in the space of the classroom and further along guide these students in creating college-level writing assignments. Many of these pedagogical practices focus on building communities for these students through activities like creating positive mentorship opportunities within the classroom experience, teaching empathetic writing genres like memoir and ethnography, and creating spaces where writing, both collaborative writing and individual writing, can be shared and discussed in an inclusive and supportive environment. In creating a commitment to these pedagogical practices, writing instructors can create a supportive environment that will aid in the success of all students, regardless of their enculturation to the college experience and academic expectations.

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