Cynthia Dean

Date of Award


Level of Access

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ded)


Literacy Education


Julie Cheville

Second Committee Member

Richard Kent

Third Committee Member

Jan Kristo


In high school writing centers that employ students as tutors, staff members can face challenges as they transition into a tutorial role. The purpose of this study was to document the challenges high school writing tutors may encounter as they transition from and between their roles as students and peer tutors. Two conceptual frames, performance theory and social ecology, guided this study. The former framed analysis of peer tutors’ performance in the writing center while social ecology disclosed how the acquisition of identity in one context affects a peer tutor’s activity in others. This qualitative study used a case study design and ethnographic methods. Data were collected through individual interviews, focal group interviews, document analysis, and observation. Data reduction involved the application of descriptive code frequency across the participant sample and the identification of pattern codes. This study of how tutors in a student-staffed high school writing center perceive their tutorial identities revealed that such work did empower participants in deep and transformative ways. This study also documented how assuming a tutorial role complicated participants’ perceptions of their roles as students, writers, and tutors. Through their tutorial training, participants came to understand alternate ways of learning and teaching. This new lens interrupted what they had previously perceived as “normal” school-based writing and writing instruction. In a role they perceived as misunderstood, tutors reported struggling to educate others about collaborative tutoring. Within the context of the tutor preparation course or the writing center, participants voiced significant reservations about clients’ and teachers’ attitudes towards writing and about what they felt was overly directive writing instruction in their school. This study highlighted the degree to which tutorial identity empowered students and the degree to which the institutional climate constrained them. This study did not document the perspectives and/or practices of other individuals (e.g., students, teachers, administrators). Future studies could expand the participant sample to include these groups. Documenting the perspectives of all those who comprise an institution would deepen the understanding of the challenges not addressed in this study.