Date of Award

Fall 2007

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


This study examines the writing experiences of U.S. adolescent second language writers and considers how students' identities as ""English Language Learners (ELL)" contributes to their learning, their sense of self, and their academic writing. Within the perspective that writing is a socially-embedded activity, I conducted five case studies documenting the academic writing experiences of immigrant students from various countries (Nigeria, Taiwan, Dominican Republic and El Salvador) during their first year of high school.

During the year-long study, I collected data from sources, including: student interviews, classroom observations, students' writing samples, students' social influence maps, and community/school artifacts. Using a theoretical framework derived from social identity theory and Ivanic's work on writing and identity, I explored how students negotiated their social identities as "English Language Learners" in academic settings and analyzed the impact of "ELL identity" in the development of their writing skills in English and ELL classrooms.

Findings revealed that students found the institutional category of "English Language Learner," often limited their social standing and academic opportunities in the classroom and wider school setting. Students' writing instruction was often compromised by administrative pressures to meet federal/state testing mandates, by a lack of teacher training in second language writing, and by the limited amount of classtime that was dedicated to discussions on writing and rhetorical analysis. As a result, students had limited exposure to advanced academic genres and to rich discussions on writing and rhetoric. Despite these curricular limitations, the students of their own volition worked to develop and demonstrate literacy and rhetorical competencies in English through other in-school and out-of school activities. These competencies, which included: genre awareness, rhetorical analysis, digital literacy, professional writing, and creative writing, underscored the rich literacy resources and critical thinking skills that L2 writers can bring to their writing and their writing classrooms.

These findings suggest several implications for composition theory and pedagogy, L2 writing, English education, and immigrant student education. The study offers insights into the lasting effects of institutional labels on students' academic literacy development, and it adds to the growing body of research and pedagogy on identity and writing.