Date of Award

Spring 5-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Bennet A. Rafoth

Second Advisor

Sharon K. Deckert

Third Advisor

Laurel Johnson Black


Combining methods from speech-act theory, conversation analysis, and second-language writing (applied linguistics), this dissertation study examined the ways students and teachers make, perceive, and respond to requests during writing conferences. Aiming to discover why miscommunication occurs, this study examined how composition instructors adapt their requests to account for their own and their students’ communicative backgrounds defined as language background, experience with writing conferences, and motivation for and confidence in writing. (Participants provided and explained key aspects of their communicative backgrounds in surveys and interviews.) Audio- and video-recordings of fourteen writing conferences and twenty-seven stimulated recalls of those conferences provided the raw data for capturing and identifying requests. Requests identified by teachers, students, or both were transcribed and analyzed.

The findings of this study include discovering key requests that serve to create and maintain scaffolding, an essential tool for collaborative learning. Among the styles of requests that support scaffolding and thus enable students and teachers to collaborate on revisions are silence, particularly pauses, and extended requests (S.-H. Lee, 2009). Building on a social constructivist tradition (Bruffee, 1984; Spivey, 1997), this study illustrates ways that teachers and students use requests to display (I. Park, 2015), create, and assess (Artman, 2007) knowledge. Students and teachers enact various roles (W. B. Horner, 1979; Mackiewicz & Thompson, 2015) that affect the recognition and uptake of requests. Specifically, since teachers and students often misidentify each other’s roles, misunderstanding is common in writing conferences. The teachers and students in this study jointly recognized only slightly more than one-fourth of each other’s requests. Thus, not only do teachers’ and students’ roles affect how requests are made and understood, they also impact how writers orient to being learners and writers. These effects either encourage and validate students’ developing writing skills or discourage them. This study concludes by arguing that the changing demographics of college students, including increases in dual enrollment, non-traditional, and second language learners means each writing conference creates its own exigency for learning, its success determined in significant ways by the participants’ understanding of and skill in managing requests. An outline for additional research on writing conferences is also offered.