Date of Award

Spring 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Director

Louise Wetherbee Phelps

Committee Director

Kevin E. DePew

Committee Member

Daniel Richards

Committee Member

Neal Lerner


A longstanding question in rhetoric and composition has been how to best educate composition graduate Teaching Assistants (TAs). Although many assume that writing centers are useful spaces for TAs to practice pedagogy and learn about writing processes in preparation for classroom teaching, recent scholarship complicates the claim that transfer from writing centers and/or practicums into composition classrooms is straightforward. Moreover, no study fully considers how the role of the writing center and teaching writing in English MA programs intersects with students’ development as teachers, writers, and scholars. This project brings together several strands of scholarship—the transferability of writing center experience into new contexts, the development of TAs, enculturation of new graduate students, and the MA in English curriculum—to respond to questions about both composition TA education and English masters-level education. This qualitative and two-year longitudinal study, based in critical and feminist paradigms, addresses the role of two teaching contexts, the writing center and composition classroom, in six English MA students’ development as teachers, writers, and scholars. Analysis of interviews, observations, and texts focuses on the interaction between these areas of development. The project found a disconnection between, on one hand, students’ goals, intellectual interests, and experiences and, on the other hand, the English MA program’s design and values. However, though the program’s design did not easily facilitate integration and sometimes resisted transfer, several participants managed to create significant and meaningful pathways across contexts for learning about teaching, writing, and research. Overall, the participants brought to their first-year classrooms from the writing center their value of individual constructive response to writing and relationship-building. Their work and presence in the writing center also helped them internalize (for themselves as writers) and teach (to others) complex concepts such as writing-as-a-social process, conventions of certain academic genres, and the affective needs of writers. In reflecting on these major findings, this project concludes with recommendations for reforming the curricula, including TA education and professionalization, in so-called “traditional” MA in English programs similar to the research site.


In Copyright. URI: This Item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).