Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Michael L. Keene

Committee Members

Kirsten F. Benson, Martin Griffin, Susan Groenke


The purpose of this study was to learn about the processes by which novice college composition teachers develop pedagogical thinking, including how graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) respond to new teaching challenges. While previous composition studies research on GTA preparation has emphasized the influence of prior writing and classroom experience, we still have gaps in our knowledge about novice instructors’ learning and development, including about the role of reflective practice in shaping pedagogical thinking and classroom instruction. Using qualitative research methods, this study sought to construct an account of the processes by which GTAs reflect upon and react to teaching challenges. Data from multiple interviews and classroom observations were collected in two phases over a two-year period, with six novice GTAs participating in each phase of the study.

The data revealed that the ways in which these GTAs framed and responded to teaching challenges were shaped by their existing interpretive frameworks, composed of their prior experience; teaching knowledge; beliefs about teaching, learners, and writing; and self-defense mechanisms. Their accounts indicate that when they experienced a sense of dissonance in their teaching, often prompted by a feeling of frustration with their students’ writing performance or with their FYC program’s expectations, they usually reflected on that problem in limited ways that rarely prompted beneficial changes to their instruction. Generally, instructors made no pedagogical changes when they were uncertain of what to modify, how to implement a change, or felt that students or the writing program were at fault rather than their practices. At times they did make pedagogical changes, yet ones that contradicted the FYC program guidelines, though some did make changes to their teaching practices that would better support student learning, even if unevenly implemented. This study suggests that, without guided intervention from writing pedagogy educators, reflection may be ineffective and lead to inertia or entrenchment rather than growth or change. Longitudinal research, studies of the role of composition curricula in GTA development, and continued research on how GTAs read and process classroom cues are needed to better understand the effects of writing pedagogy education and reflective practice on teacher development.

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