Date of Award

Spring 1991

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Patricia A Sullivan


The purpose of this study was to better understand the relationship between theory and practice in teaching writing.

Chapter I outlines the methodology and issues of the book: definitions of theory and practice, reflective practice, skewed perceptions of what teaching is and what constitutes knowledge. I set the groundwork for a view of theory as an activity owned by both researchers and practitioners.

Understanding private theory is essential to understanding teaching. In Chapter II, I show that theory is both personal and public, both a construct and an action. This view validates practitioner knowledge and unites theory and practice.

Chapter III depicts the setting of the study, the University of New Hampshire. I also examine the English Department and the specific constraints the teachers in the study faced as they taught.

Chapter IV portrays Margaret, a vibrant, organized, experienced teacher at UNH. Margaret illustrates the long-lasting effect of growing up in a particular teaching environment and attests to the value of sustained reflection.

Richard was a nervous but jovial novice teacher. His portrait offers a description of a lively classroom; a writer/teacher searching for order from chaos; a person reflecting, experimenting, and learning with his students.

The final portrait is of Gretchen, who encountered new ideas and behavior at odds with her prior beliefs. Her struggle to reconcile her old beliefs with her new environment is a testament to the flexibility and resilience of theory.

In the final chapter, I look at how certain kinds of knowledge are valued and devalued. I contend that low pay and low prestige for teachers result from a skewed view of practice and that a more accurate view must include private theory. Contemporary books on teaching writing valorize public theory while ignoring private theory (the most important kind). I offer a set of practical suggestions for eliciting private theory.

The integration of reflection, theory, and practice is necessary to produce change in schools. As a step toward such change, I invite the reader to reflect, articulate, and construct his or her own metaphor for professional teaching.