Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Jeff Pruchnic


In 2012, Kathleen Blake Yancey, Karen Taczak and Liane Robertson published a book entitled Writing Across Contexts: Transfer, Composition and Sites of Writing, in which they advocate for explicit instruction to help students transfer the writing expertise they gain in college composition courses to other writing contexts. That same year, the online journal Composition Forum put out a special issue dedicated to knowledge transfer. Since then, the call to investigate, and indeed teach for, knowledge transfer in the field of writing studies has been echoing around the discipline. In responding to this call, this dissertation project applies an ecological model of writing to a First Year Composition curriculum and pedagogy to promote writing knowledge transfer. This study examines how the framework of an ecological model of writing, or “writing ecologies pedagogy” can support students’ transfer of prior knowledge into the FYC classroom, as they encounter threshold concepts identified in composition studies (Adler-Kassner and Wardle, 2015). In addition, this project examines how a writing ecologies pedagogy can support the transfer of threshold concepts beyond FYC. While initial steps have been taken to theorize prior knowledge and teach explicitly for transfer (Yancey, Robertson and Taczak; Reiff and Bawarshi), the focus to this point has been on genre awareness transferred from prior writing experiences and practices that happen before entering college—contexts solely dependent on students’ experience in school. This project attempts to expand the focus from experiences prior to FYC, to experiences after as well. It also expands beyond the context of school to include home and personal discourse communities to complete the picture of where students write, and for what purposes.

This dissertation triangulates between survey data collected from students at the beginning and end of their FYC courses, and longitudinal interviews with seven students to follow their trajectories of within and beyond the composition course. The surveys reveal that students are, for the most part, able to appropriately negotiate useful prior knowledge with the threshold concepts presented within the writing ecologies courses. The interviews reveal that students are able to transfer the threshold concepts of “Writing is a Social and Rhetorical Act” and “Writing is Linked to Identity,” very strongly. The focus of explicit instruction within the writing ecologies courses promotes the transfer of these two threshold concepts, though not all of the threshold concepts that were initially outlined in the curriculum. Ultimately, therefore, findings from this project suggest that further research on the effects of a writing ecologies curriculum and pedagogy on the transfer of writing knowledge can help pedagogical theorists, instructors and composition researchers develop a deeper understanding of how an ecological model of writing development can support knowledge transfer for students throughout their college careers, and beyond.