Date of Award

Fall 1991

Project Type


Program or Major

Reading and Writing Instruction

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Thomas R Newkirk


This dissertation uses the term "culture" as a metaphor to describe teachers as they participate in the three-week summer writing program at the University of New Hampshire. Using ethnographic methodology, it blends composition theory, anthropology, folkloristics, and psychology. In the voice of the participant observer, the study describes and interprets both the people and the event as a "readable social institution." Teachers live inside a close collegial environment, a temporary, "liminal" state, away from their home and school responsibilities. They form a dialectical relationship with the "culture" as they write and talk inside a social environment in which other teachers read and listen. The study highlights a paradox: although teachers report feeling "transformed" by an external source, their experience involves their own internal processes of creativity, disciplined self-examination, and disclosure.

The community sustains fellowship by telling stories, sharing artifacts, enacting rites of passage, honoring elder "tradition bearers," establishing a lexicon, a set of symbols, and a system of beliefs that forms a shared identity. But this is a community of unique teachers with individual beliefs and long career histories. The study is presented in two forms: three long cases and five short intertexts. The three case studies portray teachers negotiating the program with internal oppositions: "a strange coexistence of solitude and dependence." Each intertext describes a "frozen moment," stopping an action or profiling a person with thick description, citing teacher-produced texts, and relevant scholarship.

Other studies document change in teachers classrooms after summer programs, but none has focused on the teachers' experience while they are engaged in it. New developments in writing instruction have had the least success in high schools, so this looks at high school teachers. The result is not "teacher empowerment" as it is traditionally defined for the purposes of external curriculum change. This study documents a personal internal shift that "empowers" the teacher as a reflective person independent of her school's curriculum; as a reader and writer able to understand herself better as a learner and hence able to bring her own literacy, in her own way, to her classroom.