Date of Award

Spring 1991

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Thomas R Newkirk


If we want to understand how students learn to write in a college composition course, we need to pay more attention to the context in which that writing and the teacher's reading occurs. What we need is a definition of context broad enough to account for the interactive and dialectical nature of the composing and reading processes, but still narrow enough to tell us what not to take into account. My argument in this dissertation is that we can best accomplish this by viewing context in composition as primarily determined by the interpersonal, classroom relationships--between the student and teacher, between the student and other students, and, finally, between the teacher and other teachers--that shape the writing and reading processes.

Traditionally we have considered the quality of the relationships in a writing classroom to be an effect of a student's success or failure as a writer; I think that it is often the other way around, that writing students succeed when teachers establish productive relationships with--and between--their students. I am not suggesting that establishing productive classroom relationships is another nice thing to do if we have time; I am arguing that it is the primary thing we need to do if we want to succeed as writing teachers.

Throughout this dissertation, I have tried to identify moments of conflict, connection, and tension, moments when authority was being asserted, resisted, and negotiated. In the first section--the teacher-student relationship--I focus on how I read student texts, how we talk about composing in class, and how tension is negotiated in the one-to-one conference; in the second section--the student-student relationship--I examine competition, identification, and collaboration between peers; and in the final section, I examine some implications of teacher-researcher writing.

In order to explore interpersonal relationships, I've tried to develop an approach which reflects the multifaceted, interdisciplinary nature of my topic, one which makes use of a wide range of methods and techniques: narrative, analysis, theory, case study, self-study, and argument.