Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Ryan Dippre

Second Committee Member

Dylan Dryer

Third Committee Member

Dave Kress

Additional Committee Members

Charlsye Diaz


Research in composition and rhetoric has not investigated the potential congruence between writing prompts used in the first-year writing classroom and the ways that students understand themselves able to act in relation to such prompts. This thesis therefore examines the link between student’s perception of agency and assignments prompts used in the first-year writing classroom by employing a grounded theory analysis of a first-year writing classroom, where data was collected using ethnographic tools such as student interviews, document collection, and classroom observations. Based on collected data and analysis, I articulate what I call a theory of “boundariness,” which directs our attention to the ways that teachers and students co-construct and co-negotiate authorized classroom space in relation to course documents. As a conceptual metaphor, boundariness, furthermore, illustrates the ways in which individuals act in relation to this co-constructed official space. Results of this study also point out that assessment procedures influenced how students went about their work in the classroom. This thesis closes by noting the limitation of the study, particularly with scope and institutional context, and calls for a critical framework for assignment design, accounting for the co-constructive nature of agency.