Accessing Authenticity: Theorizing a Holistic Model of Writing Development

Thomas Polk

Advisor: Heidi Y. Lawrence, PhD, Department of English

Committee Members: E. Shelley Reid, Courtney Wooten, Terry Zawacki

Horizon Hall, #4225
April 14, 2023, 12:00 PM to 02:00 PM


The field of writing studies has long understood that authentic writing tasks provide significant opportunities for writers to develop, and the predominant models in the field describe this development in cognitive terms. These cognitive models are useful for explaining the kinds of knowledge writers need to acquire and apply in order to effectively compose, but they do not articulate other factors that influence writing performance and growth. This dissertation theorizes a holistic model of writing development for the field of writing studies that adds affective, social, and material dimensions to the current cognitive models that predominate the field’s scholarship. It does so through the evidence collected from an ethnographic study of learning to write in an authentic learning environment. Specifically, it describes the experiences of undergraduate students and their mentors writing proposals to seek funding for independent scholarly, creative, or research projects and the evaluators who review these proposals. The qualitative analysis of this data surfaces often hidden factors that facilitate student success and barriers that inhibit access to and participation within authentic learning environments. The holistic model of writing development forwarded in this dissertation thus helps address current questions related to equity and inclusion in higher education.