English Ph.D. Dissertations


Force of Nurture: Influences on an Early-Career Secondary English Teacher's Writing Pedagogy

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


English (Rhetoric and Writing)

First Advisor

Lee Nickoson (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Neil Baird (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Timothy Murnen (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Beth Sanders (Other)


Although a focus on writing pedagogy is on the rise in English education programs, early-career teachers still often struggle with writing instruction. Writing is notoriously difficult to teach—even for seasoned instructors—and previous studies have indicated that novice English teachers tend to base their writing instruction more on influences from their permanent schools than on coursework from the university. What is less clear, though, is how the influence at the school level works. This dissertation research examines the influences on writing pedagogy of an early-career high school English Language Arts (ELA) teacher, focusing on how the institutional social influences at the school shape his instructional practices in teaching writing.

To examine how the influences of the school affect teaching practices, this study begins with an institutional ethnography, interrogating the influences of and on professional learning communities in a high-school English department. Using findings from the institutional ethnography as a framework, the research then turns to a case study examining the classroom practices and instructional understandings of an individual early-career English teacher. Considering these two studies in conversation, the study concludes that classroom documents shared in professional learning communities serve as a vehicle through which institutional influence operates. In addition, both the institutional ethnography and the case study indicate that skillful use of questions in the classroom are common among the teachers studied, perhaps as a result of thoughtful professional development at the school level. The findings also indicate that teacher standpoints are heavily influenced by professional learning communities, indicating that understandings of students, colleagues, policies, and instruction are often shared within communities: these shared standpoints also influence approaches to instruction.

For preparation programs, the study implies the importance of including targeted instruction in both creation and revision of classroom instructional materials, as well as encouraging vulnerability and collaborative problem-solving in future educators. For schools, a meaningful combination of general and discipline-specific professional development initiatives alongside new-teacher mentorship is critical. In addition, the study indicates that administrators should be tuned in to professional learning communities, both to foster a sense of trust and to understand shared standpoints arising in those communities.