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This is crucial because students and teachers and many other stakeholders in schooling need more powerful theoretical tools for helping them decide what kinds of things to read and write in classrooms of various kindsand when. How does a history or literature or sociology or biology student or teacher at a certain school at a certain level with certain motives for learning or teaching decide what kinds of reading and writing are worth the time learning and teaching, what genres will likely lead to further involvements of what kinds with what people pursuing what objects with what motives?

If we have a principled way of tracing the genre links between classrooms and families and ethnic neighborhoods, disciplines and professions, business and government and advocacy groups, and so on, then the role of writing in curriculum making and taking may be clarified. And with activity theory as a theoretical tool, it might be easier to say why some way of using writing in learning worked well or poorly from students' and teachers' and other stakeholders' perspectives.

In other words, one can go beyond tracing the dialogic, heteroglossic voices of the classroom, with their intertextual links, to trace the wider investments participants have in writingthe stakes in involved in ways of writing as genre systems mediate powerful social practices activity systems. It is important to remember that these categories I am proposing are developed for US education; other nations will have different practices.

And the categories are fluid.

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A single course may have a number of dynamic ZPDs, facilitating different levels and kinds of involvement in the activity system of the discipline for studentsand different involvements with the activity systems of students and educational institutions for faculty. Figure 4 below sketches the type of involvement and characteristic written genres of various kinds of ZPDssites of change including that kind of change called learning from the point of view of the activity system of cell biology.

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One might construct a similar diagram for any discipline, including those in the humanities, to help visualize the ways writing mediates the re construction of knowledge and power though the activity systems of humanities disciplines are smaller, enrolling fewer participants and toolsand therefore less powerful. Each triangle represents an activity system within or at the boundary of the activity system of cell biology research. At the top apex of each triangle are some of the written genres that commonly mediate the actions of participants.

At the right apex are some of the written genres that are commonly produced and offered to an other activity system s to carry onor disruptthe circulation of the genre system.

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Note that there are actually far more written genres than are depicted in this already overly-complex diagram. And there are vastly more genres in other media: written, mechanical, architectural, gestural, and so on, with which the written genres operate. Moreover, the diagram does not attempt to depict the many genres, written and otherwise, within a particular activity system myriad memos, data files, internal reports, contracts, policies, instructions, etc. See, for example, Johns, ; Doheney-Farina, Finally, one must remember that individuals and sometimes groups may be active participants in identify themselves with a number of the activity systems.

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For example, one student in a graduate course may also be a worker in a research lab, a graduate student union officer, a member of the African-American Students Association , a Democratic precinct chair, and a patient. One core researcher may also be a voter, a patient, a member of Act Up, a science journalist, and so on. The concentric circles sketch kinds of ZPDs, on the basis of varying degrees and kinds of involvement with the activity system of core researchers. I begin at the bottom left of the diagram.

As the arrow on the left indicates, the diagram suggests a process of increasing commodification of the statements of core researchers as they are translated into other written genres for use by boundary activity systems, including the ZPDs of formal schooling. As we noted earlier, the core researchers, whether in our out of academia, use highly specialized research and theory articles for their interactions among themselves. They furnish research reviews, instructions, and other highly genres to practitioners and researchers in closely related activity systems.

Some of these fields in turn further strip statements of their qualifications and translate them from less commodified genres into fully commodified genres for various "publics," such as patients, clients, legislatures, and so onthose at the furthest reaches of involvement with the activity system the top of the diagram. There are the brochures one reads in the doctor's office produced by medical professionals and public relations or advertising departments of public health agencies and drug companies , the reports of "discoveries" one reads in mass-circulation newspaper stories and popularizations typically produced by science journalists.

In the dialectical circulation of tools-in-use that genre systems mediate, there are a range of ways that individuals and groupsincluding studentscan affect the activity system of core researchers indirectly, through affiliation with organizations that bring to bear pressure on related fields.

Various "publics" produce texts in various genres that are used or ignored by those in related fields and sometimes by core researchers themselves downward arrows.


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Statements in these genres affect core researchers indirectly as they are translated into the such genres as RFPs, which may influence the direction of core research if they are linked sufficiently to statements in other written genres vote tallies, appropriations, checks and, more importantly, other material tools buildings, machines, etc. Whitley, The written genres that typically mediate that influence, that power, are not those of core researchers but of related usually professional activity systems: science journalism, medical professions, granting agencies, drug companies, science education, and so on.

Yet there is always the possibility that other activity systems even previously unrelated ones can introduce new written genres into a system to mediate changeas with sit-in demonstrations and their written genres of the placard and list of demands. An analysis of genre systems can help students, teachers, and curriculum reformers trace the affiliations of the ZPD with various activity systems related to the discipline, and in the process see options for introducing and changing genres in a course or curriculum, for tracing the strings that must be pulled, in textual or other ways, to mobilize people and gain poweras with the successful campaign for increases in breast cancer funding Altman, The ZPDs and classroom genres of formal education use a range of written genres between these extremes of research article and newspaper article popularization, theoretical treatise and informational brochure in the clinic.

These genres of schooling are also linked to various "publics," through the genres of educational institutions, primarily, in enrollment reports, mission statements of priorities, diplomas, and so on, as we noticed in Figure 3. The closer one comes in the genre system of the discipline to the activity systems of core research, the closer the genres resemble the genres of core researchers, and vice versa.

In this way, the commodified tools of the disciplineits "factual" informationis circulated in the genre system and future participants are selected for further involvement. From students' perspectives, they have access to discursive and other material tools for expanding involvement, individually as agents, from the abstract and commodified "content" into the ongoing activity systems of various social practices. Here at the furthest boundary are highly commodified classroom genres, usually textbooks, whose statements are only loosely connected intertextually to the day-to-day workings of the professional activity system of cell biology research, statements that are so old and thoroughly operationalized as to be unconscious, tacit assumptionsfor core researchers.

The students are only acting on the edges of its collective life.

As these metaphors of physical objects suggest, the statements tend to be commodified, stripped of the process of their construction within the activity system, which over a long period of time has gradually been operationalized by participants. These "facts" from the past participle of facare, "to act, or do" hence: "what has been done" in the past are abstractions to students, removed from the concrete life of the discipline.

These abstract, commodified tools are offered as discrete "facts," often to be memorized, "facts" whose immediate use is usually viewed by students in terms of a grade a tool used to mediate the selection motive of the educational institution but also potentially as tools for some unspecified further interaction with some social practice outside school though because students have not sufficiently specializedappropriated the motive of a professional activity systemthose potential uses remain vague.

The abstract, commodified statements are waiting to be picked up and used by students motivated to expand, through further actions, into the concrete life of the disciplinary activity system.


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Those further actions in the life of the discipline will be eventually be operationalized for them in similar though never identical ways to more experienced participants in the disciplines. As commodified tools, the connection between the discourse and the activity system that produced and commodified them is not apparent, any more than the myriad factory processes are apparent in a consumer product on the supermarket shelf. The genre of textbook, class note, and so on mediate a certain kind of disciplinary involvement and forestall othersperhaps for political reasons Klammer, ; perhaps because students have not had sufficient interaction with the activity system to use other genres, written and otherwise Velez, ; perhaps because of both.

Haas summarizes research studies that suggest "beginning college students approach academic tasks as if they believe that texts are autonomous and context free. Treating tasks as if they believe that texts are autonomous and context free may be facilitated both by features of academic discourse itself.

Activity theory suggests that students do not perceive texts as context-free; it is schooling that is the "context"the activity systemthat these genres primarily mediate. The classroom genres are more connected to the interactions of core researchers, more deeply involved in the genre system through citation, laboratory practice, etc. Some students reach a stage of expanding involvement when the commodified abstractions begin to "make sense" in terms of the concrete activity of the discipline, to be more than abstractions.

For disciplines do change, however slowly, as participants change them and themselves. As potential active participants, students begin reading to explore the activity system, and they read less to find and memorize discrete commodified tools. They are beginning to operationalize a number of discursive tools-in-use of the activity system until they are routine, which will eventually operationalize further involvement Haas, ; Velez, ; McCarthy, More and more, the assumptions and values of the activity system, as reified in textbook statements, go unstated, unexamined, for students have appropriated and operationalized these tools for expanding involvement, as using the brake pedal becomes unconsioustacitin driving McCarthy ; Freedman et.

In ZPDs for beginning professional education, classroom genres mediate more interactions withand therefore come more and more to resemblegenres of insiders such as practitioners, technicians, and even core researchers. Mock experiments and case studies are common. Some students expand their involvement through contacts outside of the classroom and classroom lab. They sometimes serve as lab technicians or research assistants or tutors for lower level students, or as interns in related activity systems.


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Some have "field experiences" where they observe the activity system's tools and subjects in use in specific actions Winsor, However, the case studies of biology students such as Dave McCarthy and Liza Haas suggest individuals experience double bindsand accompanying anxietyin this movement from commodified abstraction to concrete action with others in the activity system, from the first puzzling encounters with the textbook commodified facts, to a range of often mysterious actions in classroom and laboratory, to perhaps an eventual operationalizing of the discourse and other tools-in-use of the discipline, until the student has expanded participationthough never unproblematicallyand "learned" to write the discourse of the discipline.

Issues of subjectivity and identity are particularly thorny for students in ZPDs of beginning professional education. The literature on writing and learning in such ZPDs is replete with accounts of deep identity struggles in individuals and groups e. Writing is difficult in part because the process of appropriating picking up certain tools-in-use and not others implies implicates them in certain life directions, certain affiliations, with long-term consequences Walvoord et al, ZPDs of Advanced Professional Education As students select and are selected for the most specialized involvement in a professional activity system often in graduate school in the US , the genres are much closer to those of core researchers theses and dissertations, for example, which are expected to be an "original contribution to knowledge in the field".

Eventually, some of students choose to pursue advanced work greatly expanded involvement in these ZPDs, to eventually be certified to become much more powerful agents in the professional activity system, authorized to take actions that have direct consequences for other core researchers and require much larger expenditure of the activity system's resources. Indeed, core researchers sometimes read and cite dissertations, include graduate students in grants, and allow them to supervise lab staff.

Disciplinary and professional excellence is most valued. Students in advanced professional training participate in the complex division of labor and system of rewards of a disciplinary activity system. Objects and thus problems become more specialized from chemicals to brain chemicals to peptides; literature, to modern American literature to Joyce Carol Oates. The classroom genres of ZPDs for advanced professional training are not quite yet the written genres of professional practice, though the differences are sometimes so small as to be functionally indistinguishable and some graduate schools are attempting to erase the distinctions be encouraging students to write a series publishable papers in lieu of a dissertation.

But the path through the genre system of the activity system is not smooth in these ZPDs either. Students also come to experience the contradictions in activity systems as psychological double binds. Students typically become a part of the competition as well as the collaboration that motivates participants in most disciplines.

They are drawn toward and choose to expand into various sub-activity systems where there are various kinds of rewards, with complex and high-stakes choices for future agency and identity e. Indeed, the genres of academic and professional life at this level gradually construct advanced students as competitors with core researchers, and competition and selection operate in the genre systems of grant proposals, conference papers, authorship position, and so on.

Authority is contested frequently through professional rivalries. In one oral genre, students must "defend" a thesisargue their case against those who have greater experience in the activity system Abbott, Yet in these ZPDs, students' power and agency increase. They are identified with it to the extent that they may come to see themselves no longer as a student but as a biologist. In this paper I set out to synthesize a version of Vygotskian activity theory with a strand of North American genre theory, in order to expand dialogic theories of context in formal schooling.

I have suggested that dialogic theory is expanded in three ways: in a broader unit of analysis than text-as-discourse, in wider levels of analysis than the dyad, and in an expanded theory of dialectic that embraces objects and motives of collectives and their participants to explain reciprocal interactions among minds and texts, which dialogism theorizes as the heteroglossic interpenetration of social languages.

By examining how ZPDs of specific courses and curricula interact with activity systems at the boundaries of formal educationand what genres and contradictions are appropriated across boundariesit may be possible to analyze more fully the rhetorical choices teachers and students and researchers make in negotiating the boundaries.

Social change macro- and micro-level and cognitive change inter- and intra-mental are both analyzed as the operationalizing of typified actions using material tools including writing. Identity, agency, and power relations are analyzed as the mutual appropriation of dynamic tools-in-use and the operationalization of those tools-in-use in genres. Similarly, knowledge is analyzed as the work of an ongoing activity system abstracted and commodified into more or less but never fully stabilized "content.

The actions of individuals with others and shared tools-in-use construct both individual and collective identities and behavior including writing , thus providing for agency individual and collective and the always conditional and temporary reproduction of macrostructures analyzed as ongoing activity systems.