Handling ambiguity under pressure: writing prompt and student responses at the Danish final exam in written composition

Submitted by: Solveig Troelsen
Abstract: The writing prompt has a significant impact on students’ opportunities to position themselves as writers. To move on to youth education, Danish students must pass their lower secondary school exams in Danish and Mathematics. Findings from a case study on the final exam in written composition (Troelsen, 2018) indicate that, implicitly, the prompt compels students to act in a complex and elaborated communicational interaction, ambiguously oriented towards double addressees and genre expectations. This is a challenge, especially to less skilled students.

Danish ninth graders use computers and have access to the internet during the exam, and the writing prompt is a multimodal html file. I will present an analysis of this prompt as a text and, hence, in the sense of Bakhtin (1986), an “utterance”, dialogically related to other utterances in a constellation characteristic of the school context. Deriving from this, students’ texts are looked upon as answers to the prompt. This relation will be illustrated by a brief preliminary analysis of one student text.

Research questions: What characterises the writing prompt at the FP9 exam in written composition? And how does the writing prompt position it’s implied reader as a writing self?

The theoretical framework for the study is sociocultural and inspired by New Literacy Studies (Barton et al., 2000) and anthropological text semiotics. Hence, writing is understood as a social practice, always taking place in specific situations and embedded in its communicational and cultural context. This is captured by the notion of constellations of writing (Krogh, 2015) consisting of writing prompts, student papers and assessment.

Keywords: written composition, assessment, writing prompt, positioning, Danish Lower Secondary Schools.

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Barton, D., Hamilton, M., & Ivanič, R. (2000). Situated literacies: Reading and writing in context: Psychology Press.
Krogh, E. (2015). Faglighed og skriftlighed - teori, metode og analyseramme [Writing to Learn. Learning to Write : Theoretical, methodological and Analytical Framework]. In E. Krogh, T. S. Christensen, & K. S. Jakobsen (Eds.), Elevskrivere i gymnasiefag. Odense: Syddansk Universitetsforlag.
Troelsen, S. (2018). En invitation man ikke kan afslå – analyse af afgangsprøven i skriftlig fremstilling med særligt fokus på skriveordren [An Invitation You Can’t Refuse: An Analysis of the Writing Prompt for the Final Exams in Written Composition]. Nordic Journal of Literacy Research, 4(1), 142-166. doi:10.23865/njlr.v4.1267