Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Jessica Restaino

Committee Member

Catherine Keohane

Committee Member

Melinda Knight


This thesis seeks to both examine and embrace the lack of concrete language available regarding what actually happens with students during face-to-face conversations about their wr iting. The context of “conversations” covers a broad spectrum of participants - teacher and student, student and student, student and tutor, as well as student with self - and domains - cognitive, affective, psychological and creative - that are particularly vexing to capture in words. Attempts by authors to weave together such disparate, dynamic forces breed tension. Such tension is good, and, quite often, purposeful. My research seeks to explore how such constructive tension is created in particular by Donald Murray and Peter Elbow, and how each author uses language to challenge the reader to experience a similar type of tension that one or both participants feels during the “conversations” concerning student texts. Furthermore, by closely reading each author’s work through Jacque Derrida’s lens of Differance - a theory that presumes a perpetual gap between author’s word and reader’s understanding - 1 seek to argue how the reader’s interpretive tension experientially brings her uniquely inside the uncertain substance of the “conversation” itself.

Furthermore, I seek to reposition Differance as a hermeneutic — an essential skill of talk - for the teacher or tutor to effectively use in speaking with students about their work. By embracing the inherent mutability of ideas, texts, and meaning, and talking through such, instability with students, I propose a more particular kind of talk that empowers student’s metalinguistic skills. Rather than contemplating misunderstandings between participants in “conversations” as stylistic failures, my thesis considers Derrida’s theory as a pedagogy that can stimulate awareness in students as to how such instability creates rhetorical possibilities. Such heightened talk promotes enduring metalinguistic and metacognitive consciousness in the student, which endures well beyond the “conversation” itself.

File Format