Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




This study is situated within the field of writing teacher education and investigates the professional development of first-year composition instructors. The purpose of this study is to examine the flexibility of one K-12 teacher professionalization model, the professional learning community (PLC), for offering first-year composition instructors ongoing support and for promoting instructors' pedagogical content knowledge growth.

This study builds upon scholarship within the field of rhetoric and composition to examine current trends in training graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) who teach first-year composition courses (Dobrin, 2005; Latterell, 1996; Pytlik & Liggett, 2002; Tremmel & Broz, 2002; Yancey, 2002). Such research indicates that current GTA training models may not offer novice instructors the regular, ongoing support needed for pedagogical growth. Additionally, this study draws upon knowledge of K-12 level teacher preparation methods (Darling-Hammond et al., 2009; Dewey, 1902/1983; DuFour & Eaker, 1998). Education scholars indicate the most effective models for promoting teachers' pedagogical growth are continual, collaborative, and job-embedded. Finally, this study extends research into the concepts of "pedagogical content knowledge" and "reflective practice" as defined by Grossman (1990) and Schon (1983).

Specifically this study focuses on instructors' participation in the PLC model. This study analyzes differences between the typical K-12 educational setting and this particular postsecondary setting, leading to substantial modifications of the model. Based on this particular setting, the PLC model was modified to allow instructors' use of individualized, rather than standardized, assessments to monitor student achievement.

This study evidences the flexibility of the PLC as a professional development model. Further, by analyzing instructors' individual pedagogical content knowledge growth, this study confirms that the modified PLC can be a useful means for promoting GTA professionalization. Each participant experienced substantial growth, either in expanding his/her understanding of pedagogical practices or in critically reflecting upon and developing his/her theoretical beliefs related to the teaching of writing. Finally, participants, both in their group interactions and in individual reflective writings, acknowledged increased confidence and greater investment in their teaching due to the collaborative PLC experience.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access