Institutional efforts in teaching academic writing in Spanish in Latin-American universities:
what agendas have been envisioned for higher education?
In Latin America, as in much of the world, the teaching and support of academic writing in higher education
is a new endeavor, with little prior professional, institutional infrastructure, and scholarship, and few
academic networks. Therefore, developments of the efforts to educate writers in higher education in Central
and South American countries are interesting research sites to examine the history of universities in the
region. The ILEES project aims at developing a comprehensive, diverse, and inclusive map of research and
pedagogy tendencies in teaching higher education writing in Latin-American region. This paper presents such
tendencies emerging from an online survey applied to a purposeful sample by a snowball technique in
Argentine, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico. Regarding theoretical influences, the findings might confirm that
the field of academic writing in Latin-American region has been boosted by eclectic disciplinary efforts from
Linguistics, Psychology, and Education. Concerning curriculum arrangements, as might be expected some
higher education curricula in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico, have incorporated freshman
composition courses in Spanish. Such curriculum arrangements may be an evidence of the impact of the
scholarships led by Chairs of UNESCO for reading and writing in Latin-American region. However,
institutional efforts addressing senior students and faculty development programs may be also part of the
current agendas, although less visible in the official curricula. The analysis has revealed thus far that
theoretical influences in the region could have been part of importation processes mostly led by an Argentine
scholar and two Spanish scholars. Therefore, the impacts of progressive thinking related to advocating the
systematic endeavors across higher education, due to the complex process of becoming an academic writer,
may be confirmed by the findings obtained thus far.
Educating writers in higher education in Latin America
In Latin America, as in much of the world, the teaching and support of academic writing in
higher education is a new endeavor, with little prior professional, institutional infrastructure, and
scholarship, and few academic networks. However, in recognition of the need for writing
development in first language -Spanish and Portuguese-, and Second Language -primarily English-
in tertiary levels, new initiatives are developing from Mexico south to Argentina and Chile.
The scholarship led by UNESCO Chair for Reading and Writing in Argentina, Chile,
Colombia, México, Perú, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela has advocated for educating writers for
citizenship since 1994 and has also promoted the development of critical reading abilities, in the era
of mass media, digital communication, and commercial discourses (Martínez, 2001 & 2004).
However, it was not until the 2000's decade that conferences and Latin-American scholars
produced literature focused on higher education, mainly developed by scholars from linguistics,
literature, education, and psychology (Ortiz-Casallas, 2011 & Murillo, 2010). The initial impulse to
Doctorate student in University of California, Santa Barbara sponsored by Fulbright-Colombia and the
Colombian Department of Science, Technology and Innovation (Colciencias). Professor of Department of
Language in the Faculty of Social Communication in Universidad Autónoma de Occidente, Santiago de Cali,
Colombia. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
adopt a discourse focused on a deficit-remedial perspective has been countered by more progressive
thinking (Carlino, 2003, 2006 & 2008; Rincón, Narváez, & Roldán, 2005; Murillo, 2010). The
focus on writing also has been part of a transformation of educational philosophy from reproducing
authoritative information to engaging students as communicators and contributors in creating
knowledge, and in participating of information and organizational communication networks.
Since the field of teaching and researching academic writing in higher education has relied
on differing epistemological paradigms, the theoretical framework illuminating the project reported
in this oral communication is presented in this section.
The academic field on higher education writing has addressed different disciplinary and
research approaches, which have been strongly configured by the features of the local university
systems and the home-based public policies in education. Consequently, researching higher
education writing has aimed at exploring two sites. On the one hand, the expectations of the
governments through their public policies and of the university directives; and, on the other hand,
the historical accounts about how and why writing in higher education has become either a
pedagogic goal or a research focus. Identifying both types of accounts are useful and necessary in
guiding further research agendas regarding how and why pedagogies on writing might impact
Theoretically speaking, this field has framed writing as an intertwined practice within university
contexts and disciplinary epistemologies (Lea y Street, 1998; Carlino, 2008). As a result, writing is
conceived as a historical and ideological practice and thus highly cognitively specialized
(Bazerman, 2006; Kalman, 2008). Consequently, literacy practices of students and faculty are part
of a specialized knowledge associated with epistemological and institutional contexts of higher
education (Lea & Street, 1998).
Accordingly, theoretical developments in the field have claimed that becoming a writer is a
complex phenomenon highly configured by the conventions and expectations of their practitioners;
however, since such conventions and expectations are mostly a tacit knowledge, the access and
practice of writing in higher education are embedded in a struggle process for newcomers (Soliday,
2011; Thaiss & Myers, 2006).
Under this assumption, students´ shortcomings as writers are not interpreted as lacking
grammar knowledge. Rather, these difficulties are seen as evidence of a complex process of
acknowledging, using, and accessing literacy practices affected by the own personal histories
(Herrington & Curtis, 2000), and by institutional and disciplinary requirements and expectations,
particularly, from academic and university cultures (Hall & López, 2011).
To sum up, the writing difficulties of students or faculty are not seen as deficits (Ganobcsik-
Williams, 2004). Rather, writing is understood as a specialized learning and practice for
participating within academic contexts (Carter, 2007); therefore, writing is an intellectual challenge
and a struggling process whereby writers build their own identities as members of disciplinary and
university communities (Herrington y Curtis, 2000; Castelló, 2007).
The project “Initiatives of reading and writing in higher education, ILEES Latin America”
The developments of the efforts of educating writers in higher education in Central and
South American countries are interesting research sites to examining the history of universities in
the region. Under this assumption, the ILEES project aims at developing a comprehensive, diverse,
and inclusive map of research and pedagogy tendencies in teaching higher education writing in
Latin-American region. The comprehensive knowledge of such initiatives in higher education
reading and writing in the region is of use to the academic communities in Latin America devoted
to building the field.
The project has been part of the doctorate experience of two Latin-American students,
Natalia Ávila and Elizabeth Narváez, under the guidance of Professor Charles Bazerman from the
Department of Education, University of California, Santa Barbara. The data collection and analysis
have been conducted as follows:
First stage: applying an online survey in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico relying
on a purposeful sample during summer 2012. Accordingly, a preliminary list of 20 scholars was
created by the researchers based on their knowledge of the field (i.e., appointing scholars known by
their publication and leadership in disseminating programmatic research and pedagogy projects).
The preliminary lists created were sent to two leading scholars in each country to receive their
recommendations before defining the final list for the survey.
The survey is organized in 4 sections. The first section collects information regarding
institutional information of the participants. The next section explores information upon teaching
initiatives known by the participants in their universities and in other institutions up to 10
universities; the survey provides the categories that the respondents can select2
but also offers open
responses to allow them to write descriptions of initiatives that are not included in such categories.
The categories are: freshman courses, writing courses after the second year, writing in disciplinary courses,
workshops for graduate levels and faculty development programs, writing centers, writing programs, peer
tutoring for writing, initiatives in languages other than Spanish, and initiatives addressing non-academic
The third section includes questions regarding authors, journals, books, and data bases used as
resources, as well as publication venues from Latin America and Spain to publish their work; this
section also collects titles of publications, oral communications, and research projects in the issue.
Finally, the fourth section asks for the name of other scholars who might be interested on
responding the survey. Consequently, the project has been conducted relying on a snowball
Second stage: The proposed project intends to extend and deepen the first round of findings
by surveying Brazil, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico, interviewing academic leaders, interviewing
program leaders and teaching faculty of selected programs, observing major network conferences in
Latin America, and analyzing the content publications from the region4
Further, the goal is to build a website for dissemination of the findings to scholars and
creating tools for regional networking and support. We will work with partners in the region to
support and strengthen communication networks, supplementing them where appropriate.
Since the data collection has relied on a purposeful sample and a snowball technique, the
findings presented in this section are tendencies emerging from the data, rather than the actual state
of art in the region. Thus far, a quantitative approach has been applied to identify the tendencies
from the survey applied in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico. We have obtained 69
responses over 130 invitations for a 53% response rate (Figure 1).
This first stage was funded by the University of California, Santa Barbara.
This ongoing stage has been funded by the College Composition and Communication Conference (CCCC),
and has been conducted in cooperation with Dr. Vera Lúcia Cristovão from Brazil and Dr. Mónica Tapia from
Frequency of responses per country
Disciplinary affiliations of the scholars leading the initiatives
According to the survey data, the overall tendency is that the education departments are
housing the initiatives in Argentine and Colombia. In Chilean case, departments in Humanities5
seem leading the initiatives; whereas in Mexican case, the departments of foreign languages.
However, as pointing out in the methodological section, this disciplinary configuration might be
fashioned by the purposeful sample of the project rather than by the actual disciplinary arrangement
in the region (Figure 2).
Humanities comprised disciplinary affiliations reported by the surveyees from Literature, Arts and letters,
including Linguistics, and Philosophy.
Disciplinary affiliations of the scholars responding the survey
The curriculum configurations of the initiatives reported by the participants
In theoretical terms, curriculum might be understood as a twofold structure in educational
practices. On the one hand, “the official curriculum” might be seen as the programmatic efforts
advocated by the directives and institutional discourses of the universities; thus, not surprising, this
official curriculum is overtly declared in the official documents thus can afford the recourses to
assure its sustainability. On the other hand, “the hidden curriculum” circulates as convictions and
efforts of other participants in the educational communities; thus, these endeavors are not stated
necessarily in official documents, although its funding and sustainability might be also assured by
institutional or external resources. In both types of curriculum configurations, a system of values
and beliefs create and are create by educational practices (Díaz-Villa, 2001).
Under this paradigm, the following findings not only have displayed the initiatives reported
by the participants in the survey, but also a system of values and beliefs that might be inferred
regarding the reasons for teaching writing in higher education.
The general tendency across the countries is that universities have concentrated their efforts
in teaching writing during the first year of the higher education programs. Teaching writing after the
second year, in disciplinary courses, and as part of workshops addressing senior students and
faculty development programs are less frequent. The less frequent initiatives seem being the writing
centers and projects in languages other than Spanish (Figure 3).
This behavior of the data collected might suggest that the universities offer the freshman
composition courses still under the theoretical assumption that student shortcomings as readers and
writers are mostly because of their prior schooling experiences, rather than as results of the new
challenges of the university learning experiences. However, this tendency also might reveal that
new curriculum efforts can be developed under the influence of new theoretical frameworks and its
dissemination (e.g., authors, books, and journals) and become sustainable not only by such
influences but also by the material investments (e.g., time and funding) of the stakeholders (i.e.,
leaders of the programs, directives, students, and faculty members).
Tendencies of the types of initiatives for teaching writing in higher education
Accordingly, different hypotheses may emerge from the prior curriculum arrangements.
The first one is that the initial impulse in educating readers and writers for the transitional stage
between secondary and tertiary levels, mostly led by Chairs of UNESCO reading and writing in
Latin America, remains as a strong paradigm.
The next hypothesis is that the influences of theoretical frameworks (e.g., authors, books,
and journals) of more progressive thinking that have advocated systematic and sustainable
endeavors after the freshman year have barely impacted in the Latin-America region. However,
such impacts seem to be evident not only in the types of initiatives reported by the participants
based on the survey categories (figure 3), but also in the descriptions written for the open answers.
Relying on a grounding analysis (Corbin & Strauss, 1990), the descriptions analyzed might reveal
that the scholars of the region have developed inter-institutional networks, research teams, research
emphasis on academic writing in PhD programs, conferences, and publishing efforts to
concentrating in the issue. Moreover, senior and graduate students have been appointed as key
population to work with in educating academic writers.
Finally, the third hypothesis might suggest that despite some progressive theoretical
frameworks have impacted in the region thus far, the initiatives might be hindered due to the need
of investments required to sustain such endeavors. These hypotheses will be explored in the second
stage of the project.
Theoretical tendencies reported as influential in developing the initiatives
To characterize the theoretical influences reported by the surveyees, this section presents
the tendencies regarding authors and sources consulted frequently and the Latin-American and
Spanish journals appointed as representative venues for dissemination.
The overall tendency identify in the data regarding authors is that the most frequent scholar
appointed as influential is an argentine professor, Paula Carlino. Her online academic resume6
displays that her background derived from psycholinguistics, cognitive and sociocultural
psychology and her publications related to higher education writing started being disseminated
since 2002. Since this year, a myriad of paradigmatic works started to disperse the US and
Australian scholarships on the issue7
. Consequently, her publication record might suggest that this
argentine professor became a scholarly bridge between such scholarships and Latin-American
region, mostly by dispersing -in Spanish- the programmatic endeavors and the theories developed in
US and Australia, which had been disseminated originally in English (figure 4).
The following authors frequently read by the surveyees have been a Spanish scholar, Daniel
Cassany, a US scholar, Charles Bazerman, and another Spanish scholar, Monserrat Castelló.
Information available at http://www.udesa.edu.ar/files//EscEdu/CV/CV-Carlino2011.pdf
The publications have been titled as follows: “Enseñar a escribir en la universidad: cómo lo hacen en
Estados Unidos y por qué”, “Leer, escribir y aprender en la universidad: cómo lo hacen en Australia y por
qué”, “¿Quién debe ocuparse de enseñar a leer y a escribir en la universidad? Tutorías, simulacros de
examen y síntesis de clases en las humanidades”, “Enseñar a escribir en todas las materias: cómo hacerlo en
la universidad”, and “Alfabetización académica: Un cambio necesario, algunas alternativas posibles”.
Regarding Daniel Cassany8
, his brief academic resume asserts that his work has been focused on
written communication and teaching language, and his main academic background is derived from
philology and didactics; however, his publication record might display two moments related to
academic writing: a) publications and research projects concerning discourse analysis of technical,
scientific and professional communications between 1997 and 20039
; and, b) publications
concerning academic writing and university learning after 200610
According to the academic resume of Monserrat Castelló11
, the other Spanish scholar, her
publication record related to academic writing have been disseminated since 2007 mostly
approached from the perspectives of the sociocultural psychology and didactics. Finally, the US
scholar, Charles Bazerman, holds an extensive publication record since early 80´s regarding the
The academic resume is available at: http://www.upf.edu/pdi/daniel_cassany/es/pres/cv/
Among others, the following articles are reported: “Análisis discursivo de la divulgación científica: aspectos
pragmáticos, textuales y retóricos”, “Voces y conceptos en la divulgación científica”, “Análisis discursivo de
la divulgación científica”, “La divulgación científica en foros virtuales: abulímia y anorexia”, and,
“Divulgación científica y didáctica de la composición en registros especializados”.
The publications related to this moments as follows: “L’ensenyament de l’escriptura acadèmica: una
proposta per a la universitat”, “De la Universidad al mundo laboral: Continuidad y contraste entre las
prácticas letradas académicas y profesionales”, “¿Es la escritura académica odontológica
hispanoamericana un discurso matizado? Estudio de la atenuación en artículos de
investigación”,”Redacción académica: prácticas escritas y aprendizaje”, and “El ABC de la escritura
The academic resume is available at:
The academic resume available at: http://www.education.ucsb.edu/bazerman/cv/cv1.html
The authors appointed as influential by the surveyees
These tendencies regarding authors’ influences may reveal differing issues. The first one
might confirm that the disciplinary affiliations of the field in Latin-American region have the roots
in psychology, didactics, and linguistics, although the US scholar might be deemed as member of
the literature field according to the information displayed by his academic resume. The second
insight emerging has to do with the exportation/importation processes of theories. It seems that the
impact of international frameworks has been possible in making available in Spanish of the
developments of the Anglo-Saxon scholarships. However, in the case of the US scholar, Charles
Bazerman, two different hypotheses might emerge regarding such theoretical
exportation/importation processes, one might be that Latin-American scholars, in fact, have read his
developments directly from the English versions or that such access has been as a result of making
available in the region his publication in Spanish. Further analysis of citations and references
displayed by the publications reported by the surveyees might be useful to explore the latter
Regarding the resources reported by the surveyees, the tendencies reveal that most of such
resources are scientific journals. The two most frequent resources utilized are a Chilean scientific
journal, Revista Signos, and an argentine scientific journal, Lectura y Vida. The Chilean journal was
established in 1964 to disseminate works from Literature and Sciences of Language; since 2005 has
redefined its scope in publishing works derived from Linguistics, Psycholinguistics, Textual and
Discourse linguistics, and Applied Linguistics13
. The journal Lectura y Vida was established in
1980 by the Faculty of Humanities and Education of the Universidad de la Plata in Argentina and
was vanished in 201014
; this publishing endeavor has been the unique scientific journal published in
Spanish and aiming at gathering theoretical and researching tendencies upon reading and writing
across schooling systems based on the Latin-American experiences, and it was funded by the
International Reading Association (IRA) (Figure 5).
The other tendency emerging from the frequent resources utilized by the surveyees has to
do with the exportation and importation of international frameworks; specially, the impact of the
Journal of Writing Research and the website of the WAC clearinghouse15
. Given that most of the
publications released by these two resources have been written in English, one hypothesis emerging
is that the scholars in the region who read in English might be the frequent consumers of such
literature. Most likely, these scholars might belong to the field on academic writing in English as a
second language. Further data collection in the interviews and in analyzing publications reported by
the surveyees might confirm the latter hypothesis.
The website is available at: http://www.scielo.cl/revistas/signos/eaboutj.htm
The information regarding this vanished journal is available at: http://www.lecturayvida.fahce.unlp.edu.ar/
Both websites are available at http://www.jowr.org/aims.html and http://wac.colostate.edu/index.cfm,
The sources utilized by the participants
Regarding the key journals for publishing, four academic venues have been appointed as
follows: Revista Signos from Chile, Revista Lectura y Vida from Argentina, Revista Lenguaje and
Revista Magis from Colombia, and Revista Mexicana de investigación educativa from Mexico16
(Figure 6). According to their websites, these two latter journals have aimed at disseminating since
2008 and 1995 respectively, the research efforts in education. These findings might confirm that the
field on academic writing in Latin-American region has been boosted by the eclectic disciplinary
efforts from Linguistics, Psychology, and Education.
The websites are available at: http://revistas.javeriana.edu.co/index.php/MAGIS/index and
Key journals in Latin America and Spain for publishing
To sum up, there are two overall findings regarding the influential theoretical tendencies.
The first one is that there are no central sources and journals recognized by the scholars surveyed.
In fact, the figures 4, 5, and 6 have displayed that the category “other” represents an important
tendency. Under this category the authors, resources, or journals that had been appointed only once
by the surveyees were grouped. These survey outcomes might suggest that there are no key venues
within the Latin-American region in which the studies on academic writing are concentrated, or that
if they are available, these venues are not recognized as such by the surveyees. The other tendency
is that the importation of international frameworks seems to have been influenced by literature
disseminated by Spanish scholars regarding linguistic and discursive analysis on written
communication, sociocultural psychology and didactics, and in English regarding researching on
writing studies, and teaching writing across educational levels.
Regarding theoretical influences, the findings might confirm that the field on academic
writing in Latin-American region has been boosted by eclectic disciplinary efforts from Linguistics,
Psychology, and Education. Concerning curriculum arrangements, as might be expected some
higher education curricula in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico, have incorporated freshman
composition courses in Spanish. Such curriculum arrangements may be an evidence of the impact
of the scholarships led by Chairs of UNESCO for reading and writing in Latin-American region.
However, institutional efforts addressing senior students and faculty development programs may be
also part of the current agendas, although may be less visible in the official curricula.
Therefore, the impacts of progressive thinking related to advocating the systematic
endeavors across higher education, due to the complex process of becoming an academic writer,
may be confirmed by the findings obtained thus far. Furthermore, reasons explaining less
frequency of such systematic endeavors across tertiary levels in contrast to the presence of the
freshman composition courses in Spanish are not revealed by the analysis.
One the one hand, one hypothesis is that curriculum innovations should be boosted by the
influence of theoretical frameworks; accordingly, the analysis has revealed thus far that such
influence could have been part of importation processes mostly led by an argentine scholar and two
Spanish scholars. Given that their publication records on the issue seem starting about 2002, it may
be stated that the dissemination process is still in an incipient stage. Evidence of this feature of the
field might be related to the frequent tendency of appointing the argentine scholar and mainly two
scientific journals in the regions as influential, rather than well-established networks and
associations in the issue as might be the case in well-developed scholarships. Consequently, efforts
to enhancement networks, professional associations, and central conferences in the issue may be
beneficial for the Latin-American field.
On the other hand, it may be asserted that despite the theoretical frameworks of progressive
thinking have actually impacted, probably the innovative initiatives might be hindered due to the
lack of investments required to sustain such endeavors. As expected, curriculum innovations require
material investments (e.g., time and funding) of the stakeholders (i.e., leaders of the programs,
directives, students, and faculty members).
This project thus far has not explored the public policies in the region related to the
curriculum initiatives reported by the surveyees. Given that such influences are part of configuring
the field, further explorations at the issue should be conducted.
Furthermore, historical accounts upon when and why the importation processes have been
led by the argentine scholar, Paula Carlino, and the Spanish scholars, Daniel Cassany and
Monserrat Castelló, are unknown for this project. To exploring how this importation processes has
been auspicious in constructing the Latin-American field, the interviews with these leading scholars
will be useful.
Regarding the sustainability of the initiatives, specific explorations of the history and the
reasons to vanish the scientific journal Lectura y Vida may be convenient to conduct, as well as
exploring the actual sustainability of the current initiatives. The interviewing processes with leaders
of the programs in the region will provide insights on the issue.
Finally, this project has not shed light upon exportation processes of the initiatives within
the Latin-American region, and between the region and other international soils and derived
tensions of publishing and disseminating in Spanish or English. Therefore, exploring to what extent
cooperative exchanges are possible might be an interesting research site in exploring sustainability
and opportunities in evolving the Latin-American field as well as in providing new insights for the
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