An ethnographic investigation into the teaching of writing in an African secondary school in the Pietermaritzburg area.
This study is an ethnographic investigation into the teaching of writing in an African secondary school in the Pietermaritzburg area. It arose out of my awareness that schooling distributes literacy unequally and negatively affects learners' abilities to participate effectively in society. This inequality of access is prevalent in South African schools in the aftermath of apartheid education policy. The purpose of the research is to explore these issues of access and to gain an understanding of the factors that shape learners' knowledge, skills and attitudes around writing. The need to gain a rich understanding of these factors indicated that a long-term, indepth ethnographic study was appropriate. Accordingly I taught grade eleven classes at a school for two and a half years to understand the context in which teachers and learners operated. The core of the data came from Literate Life Histories that I collected by means of interviews with six learners. This was triangulated with data from interviews with teachers, classroom observation, analysis ofsyllabuses, teacher guides and examinations, participant observation of matriculation examinations, and analysis of student work. The data shows that inappropriate teaching, assessment and texts deprives learners ofaccess to effective literacy. Systemic constraints of syllabuses, teacher guides and large classes shape teachers' practices. As a result, learners experience a narrow range of genres, no explicit teaching or assessment around genre conventions, and inaccessible texts. Learners thus view writing as a grammar exercise, have little confidence in their ability to communicate via writing, do not see writing as a process of refinement, and have little knowledge of how genre, tenor, field and mode shape written texts . These findings point to the need for the rehabilitation of writing in the schools and teacher training. This will require attention to syllabuses, assessment practices and the adequate supply of appropriate textbooks.