Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

PhD Higher Education Leadership, Management, Policy


Education Leadership, Management and Policy


Dr. Joseph Stetar

Committee Member

Dr. Carolyn E. Sattin-Bajaj

Committee Member

Dr. Rebecca D. Cox


Developmental English, Developmental Education, Remediation, Basic Writing, Underprepared, Student Success, Community College


The primary objective of this dissertation was to help illuminate why most students who enroll in developmental English at community colleges never make it to a college-level course. The extant literature suggests that students’ learning experiences in a course largely account for success or failure, yet few studies have uncovered how students experience content and pedagogy in developmental English at community colleges, and how these experiences shape students’ success or failure in their course. To remedy this gap, I conducted a semester-long, classroom level, qualitative study of three sections of developmental English at one community college. I primarily relied upon participant observations and interviews to uncover details about the pedagogy enacted in the classrooms, how students responded to the pedagogy, and how their responses shaped success or failure. During the course of the semester, I observed 58 classroom sessions, interviewed the three instructors and a sample of 23 students from the three classes. Additionally, I collected over 100 pages of course documents handed out to students (i.e. syllabi, assignment sheets, quizzes, tests, rubrics, etc.). I coded the field notes from the classroom observations, the interview transcripts, and the documents. Analysis focused upon three main analytic themes: High School Comparisons (students’ understanding of their developmental English coursework compared to their high school coursework), Students’ Strategies (students’ approaches to passing the course), and Teaching/Learning Literacy Practices (explicit how-to direction from professors about college-level reading and/or writing). Using an analytic induction process I entered the coded observational, interview, and memo data into a matrix display to understand the similarities and differences in how students’ approached their coursework, how these approaches changed during the semester, and to what extent their approaches shaped success or failure. To understand how these approaches interacted with or were shaped by pedagogy, I compared the summary finding and individual students’ experiences from the data display to the corresponding observational, professor interview, and course documents data. The findings suggest that students’ initial approaches to their developmental English assignments were developed through their urban K-12 school experiences where passing grades were given for simply submitting assignments by the end of a marking period. The sample of 23 who participated in interviews described how they initially used a similar approach for the writing assignments in their developmental English course; they quickly essayed their thoughts and submitted their assignments without revision. When this approach resulted in failure, students were surprised to fail and disoriented by their professor requirement to “revise.” For the 18 students who reported passing at least the composition portion of their course, success was essentially a matter of developing the capacity to revise an unacceptable draft of an essay assignment into a satisfactory one using their professor’s feedback. Five students reported that they were never able to revise their essays in ways that met with their professor’s expectations. Their difficulties seemed to stem, at least in part, from continuing to approach their writing assignments as they did their high school coursework.