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Graduation Term


Document Type

Dissertation-ISU Access Only

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of English

Committee Chair

Joyce R. Walker


This dissertation introduces and analyzes a socio-cultural approach to writing instruction in two middle school English language arts classes. Pedagogical Cultural Historical Activity theory is a curricular theory that combines rhetorical genre theory and activity theory, which provided the framework for a writing curriculum where students investigated the complexities of rhetorical genres and reproduced those genres in response to specified situations. This curriculum sought to enable students to become writers who could approach new genres flexibly, acknowledging their antecedent knowledge and interrogating the impact of what they already knew in both familiar and new writing situations and across contexts. By utilizing Pedagogical CHAT as a lens to view literate activity, this curriculum provided students with the language to discuss the texts they researched, examined and produced. The curriculum was designed so that middle school students in English language arts classes experienced the following components of a course driven by: (1) an introduction to the field of composition studies in general and rhetorical genre specifically, (2) an examination of antecedent genre knowledge and the role it plays in writing both familiar and unfamiliar genres, (3) a discrimination between content and genre knowledge and the role research plays in this knowledge, (4) an introduction to the role of research in writing both familiar and unfamiliar genres, (5) an introduction to both library and online research along with an examination of reliability of sources and the clarification between primary and secondary research, (6) an introduction to proof-of-learning statements produced by students, where the student provides documentation of the learning in the genre under study, (7) an introduction to Cultural Historical Activity theory in the examination of genre as social action, (8) an examination of genre uptakes and influences of those uptakes, (9) a challenge to the belief that there exists within writers a quality or qualities that inherently produce “good” writers in any genre or in any situation.

Utilizing qualitative methods including teacher research methodology and activity theory, the author employed a modified grounded theory approach (Charmaz, 2014), along with a documented narrative approach (Roozen, 2010) to analyze students’ uptake of PCHAT and its influence on their discussions of their writing, their approach to encountering new writing, and their identities as writers and writing researcher to analyze students’ uptake of PCHAT. Analysis of the data collected over the course of 180 days of instruction revealed both awarenesses and divergences in students’ learning. Further, some students reported transformational aspects of the PCHAT curriculum, including transformations in their flexibility in approaching new writing situations and in their writing identities. The study revealed the affordances and limitations of the PCHAT curriculum as they pertained to two 8th grade English language arts classes.


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