In this era of high-stakes testing and teacher accountability, teachers complain of a lack of time for authentic writing experiences that lead to deeper community development. Yet numerous researchers, including Vygotsky, argue the value of community development as a means of creating safe places where students feel valued, allowing them to make more relevant connections for life-long learning.
The purpose of this mixed-methods study was to explore how writing builds community among diverse students in a short term, transient gifted program. The study incorporated ethnographic research techniques combined with basic descriptive and inferential statistical analyses. The study focused on three research questions: How does writing in a social setting build community among students in a transient, pull-out gifted program? How do the diverse backgrounds and school cultures of participants impact the development of the learning community? How sustainable is the sense of community developed in the researcher's classroom, as students move to another classroom? Over the course of two nine-week periods, the researcher taught 98 students the craft of social writing as a means of building community. Students shared personal stories in open discussions and wrote journal entries based on their peers' stories. A Classroom Community Survey was administered three times throughout the study and responses were compared using inferential statistical analysis. Student journals, teacher interviews and researcher observations were coded for patterns of community development. Researchers have found that children develop a sense of community in a short amount of time through the process of social writing. Students’ positive feelings toward community, especially in the area of learning, decreased when they left the community focused classroom environment. Students would benefit from participation in some form of community development throughout the school year. There was little evidence of an impact from socioeconomic levels on community development due to the use of social writing and the focus on acceptance as part of the community in this classroom. Future research may be needed to establish a link between teacher characteristics and student perceptions of community. Further study is needed on the impact learning communities have on academic success.