Date of Award

Fall 2010

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Thomas Newkirk


While writing instructors often assign student self-assessment essays with the goal of motivating their students and helping them to develop writerly self-awareness, the reality of the classroom power dynamic limits what can be accomplished in such essays. Students might feel pressured to construct versions of their "selves" that are simply reproductions of traditional student roles rather than to engage in honest, meaningful reflection. Scholars in the fields of Education, Assessment and Composition Studies have noted the lack of research into the political and ethical implications of requiring students to compose these essays.

This dissertation answers the call for research into students' complex negotiations of identity when presented with the task of self-assessment. Using case study methodology, it follows two college-level introductory writing courses that implemented student self- assessment and self-evaluation/grading. This study uses Robert Brooke's Identity Negotiations Theory to demonstrate how instructors constructed the assignment via handouts and in-class discussions, often giving subtle cues to students regarding the versions of "self" that would be privileged, and how students responded to these cues in their self-assessments. Additionally, one-on-one interviews provide insight into instructors' and students' motivations during this process. The study catalogs a number of fully cooperative or "bought in" student stances to the task of self-assessment, as well as apathetic/compliant and resistant stances. It also demonstrates how students shifted their stances throughout their essays as they attempted to define and negotiate their student and writer roles. Documented patterns include students' imitation and appropriation of academic discourse and narratives of academic progress; their construction of the persona of a developing or struggling writer (often accompanied by an attempt to mitigate the risk of revealing weaknesses); and their use of external standards and "safe" criteria such as effort when evaluating their own work. The study also highlights students who appeared to misread expectations and perform a student or writer role inconsistent with the values of the course, the instructor and the institution. This dissertation proposes an ethical implementation of self-assessment in which students and teachers attempt to build a "better version" of the task that acknowledges, critiques and incorporates role-based negotiations.