Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2009

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Teaching and Learning

First Advisor

Dipardo, Anne

Second Advisor

Colvin, Carolyn

First Committee Member

Elmborg, James

Second Committee Member

Fitch, Kristine

Third Committee Member

Trachsel, Mary


While much has been written about the efficacy of academic support programs for increasing the retention rates of university students deemed academically underprepared, few studies examine how students engage the support classroom with an emphasis on expressions of literacy. This qualitative study responds to recent calls in student development literature for more studies into particular practices of university support programs. Focused on an exemplar support program at a larger, public university in the American Midwest, the study gathered perspectives about the support of academically underprepared students, teasing out the differences in administrators', instructors', and students' voices. Insights from the perspectives revealed that explicit metaphors of support in the programmatic discourse emphasized a skills model for academic development and a utopian model of student safe houses. In the classroom, however, five focal students suggested that literacy learning was far more complex. In particular, students' data revealed the generative potential of sociocultural literacy theory for conceptualizing praxis in an academic support program.

Examining how five focal students responded to the complex programmatic perspectives of support showed that student engagement was far more intricate than strong retention rates. First, a close analysis of five focal students revealed that learning academic discourses was more than appropriation of skills; it was ways of discerning which practices to use for different communities and learning to signal one's role in these communities. Second, students revealed that student community in the support program was a borderland of difference rather than a safe house. Finally, students illustrated that opportunities for creative improvisation in literacy performances was integral to student engagement.

The findings have insights for how to conceptualize pedagogy in support programs related to emergent sociocultural theories of Third Space. Specifically, imagining the support classroom as borderland play suggests that the how of student engagement was often how the five focal students proactively co-constructed the learning.


basic writing, qualitative methodology, sociocultural literacy, support programs


xiii, 310 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 294-310).


Copyright 2009 Aimee Cheree Mapes