Graduation Term


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of English: English Studies

Committee Chair

James Kalmbach


This dissertation is an exploration into what students stand to gain from being mentored in terms of reclaiming their disabilities and sexualities. Writing studio pedagogy supports the following ideas: an understanding that composition is a social process and, therefore, must take place in a social environment, an acceptance of multiple composing tools, multiple problem-solving strategies, an acceptance that students possess many and different creative thinking processes, an awareness that spatial design matters for successful teaching and learning, and, finally, an understanding of writing as play. My primary research question is how can practicing writing studio pedagogy transform the writing classroom into a space for students who identify as learning-disabled and LGBT to reclaim their disabilities and sexualities? My research project reveals that students who identify as learning-disabled and LGBT can reclaim their disabilities and sexualities when they are empowered, by others and themselves, to relearn their differences into strengths and use those strengths to become agents of social change by means of composing activist texts for their schools and their communities. By becoming agents of social change at school and in their communities, learning-disabled and LGBT students can motivate teachers and peers to unlearn accommodations and stereotypes.

I bring a feminist methodology to my dissertation, committing myself to a deep listening of my research participants' personal stories--triumphs and failures--and what Royster and Kirsch call "critical imagination" to their academic projects that are composed in our writers' workshop. One distinguishing feature of my research project from other research projects about writing studios and about learning disabilities is the grounded theory method that I implement to discover answers to my research question. Grounded theory, with the mantra "everything is data", made it possible for me to consider not only the interviews I collected from my two research participants and their academic work but also the memos that I wrote about my interactions and observations with my research participants in our writers' workshop course.

Another distinguishing feature of this dissertation is how I contextualize my research project in stories from my life as a learning-disabled, LGBT student and teacher. I weave into the chapters reports from my pediatrician, neurologist, neuropsychiatrist, teachers, and residence counselor, which point to how critical my own successes and failures were to brining this dissertation to fruition. My mother saved eighteen years of documentation on me, and when I asked her why she went to all the trouble to move literally pounds of reports with her from house to house, she replied that she didn't know. She just imagined them to be useful one day.

Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of my research project is my focus on secondary students who are both open about their learning disabilities and their sexualities. My research participants are courageous because they came to this research project looking for an opportunity to help make a positive change in how I and my colleagues teach a demographic of student who receives little positive attention in the public schools across the United States. The projects my two research participants compose--a video on being a transgender teenager, a coming out blog on Tumblr, a mural for our classroom, and an invisible theatre project on bullying aimed to engage our school in an important dialogue--highlight their courage to advocate for social change in their lives and at their school and also their strengths as multimodal writers.


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