Self efficacy, writing, composition, agency, first year composition


According to educational theory, learning to write necessitates self-belief that one is capable of performing required tasks. This belief is called self-efficacy, a component of human agency. Students who enter First-Year Composition (FYC), are often unaware of the writing challenges that lie ahead, and many educational psychologists posit that self-efficacy beliefs are the most important factor in meeting these writing challenges. While socio-cognitive theory shapes views of self-efficacy in education literature, to date, measures of self-efficacy in writing have focused only on the individual cognitive beliefs as they influence writing performance outcomes. However, current research in writing studies as well as posthuman theories of agency point to a broader, more contextually-bound view of agency for writing as emergent and enacted in socially constructed systems. This dissertation challenges the current view of self-efficacy as it is described in the educational literature as well as the ways in which self-efficacy in writing is measured, suggesting instead that self-efficacy beliefs and learning to write are deeply contextualized. In this dissertation, I examine student self-efficacy in writing using the lens of activity theory, not only as a set of stated individual beliefs but also as belief-in-action measured as images on writing maps, subtle shifts in language and talk about writing, as well as changes in writing practices. More importantly, I examine the agency that is constructed in the social system of FYC classrooms which may only later become internalized individual beliefs about abilities to write. My study suggests that self-efficacy beliefs are not bound by inside the head as belief about performing certain rules for writing, but instead self-efficacy beliefs about writing are emergent and enacted and bound to particular writing systems. Lingering feelings of agency for iii working in particular systems can move with students to similar systems; however, strong beliefs about writing as fixed and rule-bound can actually hinder how much students learn in FYC. The evidence suggests that self-efficacy in writing may be better theorized as writing efficacy, emergent agency for writing that strengthens as participants become engaged in working toward the motives of a writing system.


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Graduation Date





Wardle, Elizabeth


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Arts and Humanities

Degree Program

Texts and Technology








Release Date

August 2012

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Arts and Humanities -- Dissertations, Academic, Dissertations, Academic -- Arts and Humanities