Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Committee Chair

Wolfe, Joanna Lynn

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Williams, Bronwyn T.

Committee Member

Journet, Debra

Committee Member

Ryan, Susan M.

Committee Member

Larson, Ann E.

Author's Keywords

Implicit response; Response; Literacy narrative; Reflection; Values; Social class; Writing


Narration (Rhetoric)--Social aspects; Narration (Rhetoric)--Study and teaching


My dissertation examines instructor responses to a popular personal writing assignment, the literacy narrative. Previous studies have shown this assignment to be popular with instructors because of the reflection it is thought to generate; however, nobody has yet looked at what instructors really mean by reflection. This study investigates what features of student texts instructors recognize as reflection. I collected literacy narratives and demographic questionnaires from students and surveys, assignments, think-alouds, and follow-up interviews from instructors. Personal writing, and the literacy narrative assignment in particular, can best be taught by highlighting the rhetorical capabilities of this genre. The results of the think-alouds show that instructors most often consider analytical moves, such as cause-effect and evaluation, as reflection. This emphasis on cause-effect and evaluation arguments demonstrates that the focus of instructor assignments on description and other narrative elements is perhaps misdirected. Two other features also carried cultural capital with instructors but to a lesser extent than argumentative moves: literary elements, including vivid description and metaphoric language, and appeals to shared values. Instructors were more likely to flesh out the connections for students when value-appeals were present, particularly ones that promote middle-class perspectives. This finding is problematic because students from more privileged socioeconomic and educational backgrounds seemed more able to invoke these shared values, which thus suggests that working-class students' texts were seen as less reflective, and hence, were less successful in fulfilling the goals of the assignment. These results lend some empirical support to claims that the literacy narrative assignment reinforces middle-class perspectives; as such, it may not be as beneficial for marginalized groups of students as advocates of personal writing have asserted. This research suggests educators should be more aware of class assumptions that may influence how they respond to student writing. I conclude by presenting recommendations on how writing instructors can more effectively teach literacy narratives, including more clearly articulating their goals for the assignment and how they will assess these goals in student writing. By emphasizing what instructors really want, both high school and college writing instructors can make writing assignments more equitable and begin to defend against their own social-class biases in the classroom.