English Ph.D. Dissertations


Fostering Language Diversity through Classroom-Based Writing Assessment Practices

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


English (Rhetoric and Writing) PhD

First Advisor

Lee Nickoson (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Kristine Blair (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Sue Carter Wood (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Catherine Cassara (Committee Member)


Scholars such as Diane Kelly-Riley and Patricia Bizzell have argued that the student writing feature most likely to place a student into a basic writing course is the presence of dialect other than standard academic English. My dissertation examines this notion and pushes further: if this is true, what are instructors doing to address and assess varieties of English in the first-year writing classroom? What is error to a first-year writing student? What is error to an instructor of first-year writing? To answer these questions, I conducted a semester-long participant observation of two sections of first-year writing, also considered basic writing preparatory courses, in the Fall 2012 academic semester to examine how instructors assess varieties of English. I conducted student surveys twice during the semester to gather student feedback; I also interviewed the instructors near the end of the course to gain additional input. Feminist research methodologies influenced my project; I frequently asked my participants to provide feedback and offered opportunities to review my data through the creation of a dissertation website. After a grounded theory analysis of the data, I found that students internalized the assessment language used by instructors and that this language, paired with the writing models used by instructors, shaped students' values on writing. To better emphasize the contextual nature of writing, instructors might utilize diverse writing models and rubrics that vary based on the writing assignment.