Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English (PhD)

Degree Level





Patrick Slattery

Committee Member

David Jolliffe

Second Committee Member

Elizabeth Margulis


Composition, Pedagogy, Practice, Rhetoric


Studies of college writing students suggest that many students associate writing ability with innate talent rather than sustained, deliberate practice. As a result, these students may lack the motivation to improve their writing abilities, leading to a vicious cycle in which they come to increasingly resent writing as a curricular and extracurricular activity. This dissertation argues that the elements of effective practice as outlined by cognitive psychology are equally applicable to writing as they are to skills such as music and that convincing students of the “practice-ability” of writing may improve their motivation to improve their writing abilities.

The dissertation discusses the methodology and results of a study to determine how well the five “elements” of effective practice could be incorporated into a first-year college writing curriculum. More specifically, it examines the author’s design and teaching of “Perfect Practice and Writing,” a course centered on the five elements: setting effective goals, maintaining appropriate challenge, appreciating error and failure, evaluating feedback, and thinking metacognitively. Course discussions and assignments were designed to engage students with all five of these essential components of effective practice, ideally leading students to conceive of writing as a skill that could be practiced and improved upon like any other.

The results suggest that a first-year writing course premised on the elements of effective practice can successfully reorient students’ attitudes about writing as a practice-able skill; however, some elements are more difficult to incorporate into the typical first-year writing classroom than others. The more difficult elements are those which require an especially individualistic approach, which may be logistically problematic for larger classes. The dissertation concludes with potential strategies for overcoming these obstacles, as well as implications for further research.