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Spring 2005
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January 31, 2005

On Monday, January 31, a group of approximately 20 faculty, administrators, and TAs met in the first of three conversation builders designed to foster greater understanding of the needs of freshmen English students at the University.

After an introduction by Wanda Martin in which the concept of Writing Across Communities was discussed, five groups formed to talk about how students responded to the prompt designed by Michelle Hall Kells that reads:

Describe in detail the different groups where you feel most comfortable expressing your ideas. (Who, what, when, where, and how?)

Student ethnographers were present to capture the conversations of the groups. In addition, each group prepared a report, which was shared with the whole group at the end of the session.

Common to all group reports were the categories of family and friends. For many students, these groups are safe places in which to share ideas in part because of mutual respect, non-judgmental attitudes, and homogeneity in ideas and culture. Some groups did note that a higher level of formality was noted by some students regarding families. Others found that students who work with their family (family business) often had a difficult time shifting roles.

The workplace also figured high as a place in which students felt comfortable sharing ideas, mainly because of a shared vocabulary inherent at the jobsite.

For many students, a group such as an athletic team or a band was important. Among those students, reasons included a bond developed through shared experiences—practices, games, gigs, etc. To widen this category, one group created a heading of Common Interest groups, which could include churches or other places of worship, civic groups, and the military.

Regionalism played a role for many students in describing discourse communities. Whether a divide because of differences in places of origin, or a unification that stemmed from students growing up in the same part of the country (or same countries), many reported that their “home” communities were places of comfort.

An overarching theme of the group reports was that students are comfortable in discourse communities in which they feel safe, accepted, respected, and not judged. In the next conversation builder on February 28, the task will be to understand what the faculty know about students and what they bring from these discourse communities into the classroom.