Carnegie Mellon University

Community Advocacy: Composing for Action

Author: Wayne Peck
Degree: Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Carnegie Mellon University, 1991

This dissertation presents a study of community literacy that focuses on the literate practice of community advocacy. The study offers a descriptive theory of community literacy, which values written discourse from the margins of society. A community center in the inner city of Pittsburg offered a summer internship program to 30 college students who wanted to move beyond their academic discourse communities and learn community advocacy. The study describes problems these interns encountered as they learned the new literate practice of community advocacy, reports the findings of an instructional study in which three different types of community advocacy instruction were designed and tested, and draws conclusions regarding the effectiveness of the different types of instruction.

The instructional study involved 30 summer interns at the community center who read community arguments and wrote persuasive responses. This exploratory study analyzed the interns' think-aloud protocols during composing and their final written arguments. The study examines the effects of different types of instruction upon the interns' written arguments and writing process. The interns were randomly assigned to one of three groups: (1) no explicit instruction, but opportunities to practice, (2) instruction that used a text-based prompt, (3) instruction that used a rhetorical/social prompt. The question asked, "When the written responses of interns were evaluated by independent raters, which form of instruction (practice, text, or rhetorical/social) would yield written community arguments judged as being clearer in their rhetorical purpose(s), more coherently organized, and more persuasive?"

Findings from the analysis of the interns' written arguments indicate that the rhetorical/social method of instruction had the most powerful effect on the ways interns wrote in terms of rhetorical purpose. The text- based instruction had the greatest effect in terms of interns writing in a well-organized manner. Comments from protocols showed striking differences in the interns' representations of the tasks, texts, and rhetorical situations while composing.