Date of Award

Winter 1990

Project Type


Program or Major

Reading and Writing Instruction

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Thomas Newkirk


This dissertation explores the development of student- and process-centered writing classrooms within the context of a traditionally structured, curriculum-centered high school. The focus of the study is on how teachers and students experience and address contradictions between assumptions implicit in writing process pedagogy and assumptions implicit in the structure and organization of the high school.

An eight-month ethnography of two high school English classrooms, the study is a descriptive narrative of the classroom and school events punctuated by the reflective comments of teachers and students in intensive and extensive interviews. The classrooms are "placed" within the school, the teachers within their lives, the school within the community.

The research findings suggest that teachers interested in teaching processes and in developing student-centered classrooms in the high school may be frustrated by institutional factors. These include time structures and curriculum fragmentation, authoritarian administrative models, attitudes toward work, and accountability and comparative evaluation measures, all of which assume transmission pedagogies. Students who have "learned school" appear not only to understand how school works, but also to be critically articulate about school success strategies and procedures that trivialize learning.

Teachers and students address these frustrations by bringing their own lives into the classroom, by talking about their intentions for their classrooms, by negotiating curriculum and evaluation. Thus they begin to change the institution. Finally, change itself--personal, professional, and organizational--is explored as an organic process, taking place from the inside out.