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Development Of Creative Writer Identity By English Language Learners

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Creativity is the most sought after 21st century skill (P21, 2019) in the workplace today (LinkedIn, 2019). At the same time, language teachers continue to search for new and innovative ways to increase students’ skills and confidence in order to become capable and independent learners (Hisatsune, 2012). As such, reading literature and writing short stories in small groups are creative activities which can help students to acquire and use new language through meaningful, collaborative language exchanges (Maher, 2018), transferable skills for the new global economy (OECD, 2008, 2018).

And yet, “it does not seem as though confidence in writing skills is nurtured as students progress through school, even in the face of the skills themselves being developed” (Pajares, 2003, p152). So, as students mature, negative connotations are attached to writing performance. No more so is that evident than among adult language learners, who fear their literary work “is an oddness to be frowned upon” (Zhao, 2015, p16).

That said, Maley (2015, p79) rejects the premise that writers are born and believes “we all have creative potential”. He sees value in compositions written by bilingual authors and agrees with Ron Carter’s (2004, p13) assertion that “linguistic creativity is not simply a property of exceptional people but an exceptional property of all people”. But what ‘exceptional property’ does a creative individual possess? And how may the design of an online course in creative writing nurture these skills, beliefs and attitudes?

To answer these questions, the present study will look at how English language learners perceive themselves while engaging in an online course on creative writing. Dialogical Self Theory (Hermans & Van Loon, 1992) will be employed to capture these perceptions of self, which proposes that an individual may host “…a dynamic multiplicity of relatively autonomous I-positions” (Hermans, 2001, p248). That is to say, each position possesses a ‘voice’ and emerges from the ‘dialogue’ of different and even opposed positions or conflicting ‘selves’, influenced by different situations, relationships or periods of time. In sum, by analysing the participants’ responses to questions investigating their experience before and after the course through a dialogical lens, we intend to uncover, not only how they construct their L2 Creative Writer Identity over time, but also which aspects of the online course on creative writing facilitate the adoption of this new identity.

The online course on creative writing will be based on design principles drawn from Gagne’s (1985) Nine Events of Instruction, the elusive ADDIE model (Molenda, 2003) of Instructional Design derived from Instructional Systems Development (see Grafinger, 1988) and the Seven’s C’s of Learning Design (Conole, 2012.) In this way, the teacher will take the primary facilitator role, getting to know the students and allowing them to get to know each other. By providing clear learning outcomes, and designing engaging activities that foster individual and collaborative learning, the tutor will provide a scenario whereby participants may put into practice what they have learned in a real context. Each original piece of work produced will be evaluated in terms of its creativity against an adapted rubric for assessing creative writing (Mozaffari, 2012; see Appendix.) And having received feedback on performance, participants will agree on how to apply this new knowledge and experience in the future.

Research problem

Chamcharatsri (2012, 2013a, 2013b) suggests that various genres of creative writing by language learners encourage emotional expression. Similarly, Hanauer & Liao (2016, p224) found that writing creatively “offers a range of positive experiences focusing on self-discovery and emotional engagement without many of the negative experiences of academic writing.” While Iida (2010, p33) claims that it “enables students to develop an identifiable voice.” It is also argued that creative writing facilitates the acquisition of lexical and creative skills (Disney, 2012), playful engagement with the target language (Cook, 2000; Elgar, 2002; Belz, 2002) and the development of a writerly identity (Maley 2009, 2012).

Feuer’s (2011) project on collaborative creative writing reveals social and intrapersonal benefits as it regards identity formation as well as language proficiency development – increasing confidence and writing level. Whereas Zhao’s (2015, p2) investigation of L2 creative writers’ literary experience demonstrates that creative writing is not only performed in relation to past cultural and linguistic experiences but also “simultaneously for the achievements of certain self-identification and hence self-esteem, which in turn feeds into motivation for language learning.”

Since previous research has analysed written texts (Cumming, 1989; Rijlaarsdam and van der Bergh, 2006) and writing processes (Zhao 2014a, 2014b) to interpret L2 writers’ voices, little has been done to understand the L2 creative writers’ self-positioning in a shared virtual Community of Practice where each member brings a distinct array of social identities. Therefore, the concept of self-expression in a foreign language and understanding one’s position in the creative writing world, in other words, how L2 learners therein identify themselves, needs further empirical consideration and theoretical definition.

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Aim of the research

The aim of the research is to design an online course on creative writing and a model on L2 Creative Writer Identity. To this end, the course will focus on the close reading of 2 short stories to develop reading comprehension and analysis skills, as well as a deeper understanding of the elements of short story writing. Digital and collaborative skills will be nurtured through tutor support and writing skills of an original short story developed through peer and self-evaluation. An analytical rubric for evaluating creativity in creative writing will be applied to the final products. And using a dialogical approach, interviews with participants before and after this experience will uncover the distinct elements that make an L2 Creative Writer Identity.

The result of the study will be valuable to language teachers as well as curriculum designers in developing better practice and tools for helping second language writers maintain, integrate and amplify their personal and cultural identities.

Expected results

Considering the different voices projected by English language learners while writing creatively, different positions will be developed to represent an L2 Creative Writer Identity Model.

The expected results are:

  • Playfulness: voices participants express as regards their self as a playful person who enjoys and has an ability to play with language (Cook, 1997, Elgar 2002, Belz 2002)
  • Authenticity: voices participants express as regards their self as an authentic person writing personally true and authentic narratives (Cook, 1997, Elgar 2002, Belz 2002)
  • Emotion: voices participants express as regards their self as an emotional person who expresses self-understanding and relives memories while engaging in writing (Chamcharatsri, 2012, 2013a, 2013b)
  • Self-Empowerment: voices participants express as regards their self as a person with particular social positioning and self-esteem (Zhao, 2015)
  • Enhanced Reading Competence: voices participants express as regards their self as a person whose augmented readings skills allow a better appreciation of the construction of texts, which, in turn, ameliorates their writing (Maley, 2009)
  • Enhanced Writing Competence: voices participants express as regards their self as a person whose awareness of story structure is raised, while lexical and creative knowledge are advanced (Feuer, 2011; Disney, 2012)
  • Writer Identity: voices participants express as regards their self as a person with a distinct literary voice who adopts a writerly identity (Hanauer, 2010; Iida, 2010)

Tentative conclusions and implications

Firstly, in order to create and exploit learning opportunities in writing, you need to understand writer identity or ‘personal literacy’, “a means of discovering oneself; one’s relationship to the world and a means of finding one’s voice using the power of language to construct, for the individual writer, fresh meanings” (Gardner, 2018, p17.)

Secondly, it is important to note that individuals become writers over time and this may affect self-esteem. Hong (1997) used Bahktin’s (1981, 1984, 1986) Dialogism to explore young English language learners’ transition from ‘others as authors’ to ‘self as an author’ to ‘self as a reflective writer’. The investigation revealed that “becoming a writer was ongoing and actively engaged multiple voices of the children, their teacher and others.” (Hong, 1997, p301).

In an adult context, Burgess (2012, p?) looks at how writer identity changes and develops over time in one piece of writing of an adult literacy student producing and discussing a text about China. She states that “the voices represented in the writing can help the second language writers maintain their personal identities and cultural identities that are continually and discursively constructed and networked.”

Thirdly, helping writers understand their own identity can increase confidence. Burgess (2012) argues that development as a writer entails developing greater understanding of, and control over, all aspects of writer identity in order to develop confidence. Similarly, Lee (2016) noted that there were differences in the way three Korean ESL students perceived themselves as writers in two genres of writing. In argumentative writing they were less confident L2 writers. In narrative writing, they showed confidence and authoritativeness. Thus, pedagogy needs to include specific teaching about each aspect of identity and its relation to the others.

In sum, research on the construction of writer identity may contribute to teacher training in creative writing courses. Understanding that L2 writers may integrate cultural and personal elements into their writing based on their authoritative voice (Cho, 2015; Matsuda, 2001), enables teachers to better guide them in their writing (Lee, 2016).

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Development Of Creative Writer Identity By English Language Learners. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 24, 2022, from
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