Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Curriculum and Instruction

First Advisor

Dr. Kristen H. Perry


In this multiple case study, I examined what types of sociocultural resources adult English learners brought with them from their previous contexts and what new resources they drew upon in the U.S. while learning to write in the essay genre. The study also identified how the participants chose to use previous and new sociocultural resources as mediated by the essay genre in the U.S. The following research foci shaped this study: (1) What types of sociocultural resources do adult English learners use while learning to write in the essay genre prior to and after their arrival in the U.S.? (2) How does the essay genre mediate adult English learners’ choices about sociocultural resources in the U.S.?

Data collection involved semi-structured interviews, in-class and out-of-class participant observations and collection of artifacts over a period of seven weeks. Six weeks were dedicated to essay writing in an English composition course and English workshop, and one week was used to conduct a final in-depth interview with each participant. Analysis of data included coding and theme analysis. Four refugee students with diverse cultural backgrounds and who had different contacts within the educational system in the U.S. participated in the study.

Results indicate that the participants relied upon seven categories of social, symbolic, and material resources when they learned to write in the essay genre. The categories are not mutually exclusive, but they do capture the variety of resources participants drew upon as writers in the essay genre prior to and after their arrival in the U.S. To draw upon their resources in the U.S., the participants also made choices that resulted in three types of actions. Those actions included losses, retentions, and gains. The essay genre mediated some retentions and gains. Those choices were driven by the essay genre demands of the participants’ new sociocultural context and, consequently, were rooted in their interaction within the new environment. Not all of the participants’ choices were mediated by the essay genre; some of them were shaped by contextual influences. Contextual influences shaped losses, as well as some of their retentions and gains. Those were general choices that were situated within particular contextual realities.

As my study shows, the essay genre along with context played a significant role in contributing to shaping participant’s agentive capacity. The essay genre, in particular, shaped the kind of competencies they had to demonstrate; contextual influences shaped the types of resources and their access to them. Understanding this interaction and, in particular, how genre helps students make purposeful choices and act as competent writers contributes to a more holistic understanding of learning to write as a sociocultural act. Implications for theory, research, and practice are discussed.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)