Fourth-Grade Narrative Fiction Writing: Using Content Analysis to Examine the Intersection of Place, High Ability, and Creativity

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Virginia Tech

Writing gives children a chance to practice self-expression and creativity (Dobson, 2015b; Millard, 2005) as they learn needed literacy skills (Calkins, 2003). When children write, they appropriate semiotic materials from popular culture, literature, and the world around them (Dyson, 1997, 2003, 2013). Although the National Commission on Writing (2003) recommended that writing instruction be "placed squarely in the center of the elementary curriculum," attention to writing continues to lag behind other subjects (Coker et al., 2016; Cutler and Graham, 2008; Korth et al., 2016; Simmerman et al., 2012). Vygotsky's sociocultural (1978) and creativity (1971) theories, together with Freire's critical pedagogy theory (1970), form the basis of the theoretical framework used for this research. Various literature on the importance of writing (e.g., Dyson, 1993, 2008), creativity (e.g., Csikszsentmihalyi, 1996), and place (e.g., Gruenewald, 2003) were also influential in its framing.

This study sought to illuminate the possibilities that emerge when rural students in the intermediate elementary grades engage in narrative fiction writing. Qualitative content analysis (Hsieh and Shannon, 2005) was used to analyze 237 stories written as the culminating project of the semester-length Fiction unit of Promoting PLACE (Azano et al., 2017a), a place-based language arts curriculum for fourth graders attending rural schools. The researcher first typed the stories, making low-level inferences to correct spelling and grammar mistakes so comparisons could be made across stories about macrostructure elements (Koustofas, 2018), or the overall structure, organization, and cohesion of the piece. The data were described and catalogued according to codes that emerged from a deep dive into the stories. Thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke, 2006) was used to inductively identify thematic understandings across the stories. Specifically, the researcher searched for expressions of identity, connections to place, and mastery of age-appropriate language arts standards. Findings revealed that students can exert agency and express their identities through creative writing and that many students demonstrated mastery of needed language arts skills through the narrative fiction writing task. The study illuminated the value of sharing place-based literature as "mentor texts" for rural students, the importance of providing choice in writing assignments, and the need to foster the writing talent of rural students as a matter of social justice.

narrative fiction writing, place-based, critical pedagogy, creative writing