Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Patricia H. Perry


It may be useful to identify this so-called gap that seems to plague first-year college writers before attempting to discover why it exists. In order to identify the gap, I want to define these writers who are leaving high school and finding difficulty in college composition classes. Patricia Bizzell defines basic writers as "those who are least well prepared for college" (Bizzell "What Happens When Basic Writers Come to College?" 294). I'd like to broaden her definition of basic writers and use the term "inexperienced writers" as the field now defines them. In order to fully understand why most college freshman writers are not successful, I will outline the type of thinking and reasoning that students are expected to display when they get to college, and thus the new world view Bizzell discusses in her article. Since Piaget's theory takes us only through the formal operational stage that he claims children may reach when they are 11 or 12 years old, I had to turn to two studies that detail the thinking strategies of late adolescents and adults. William Perry conducted a study in the 1950's and 1960's on the intellectual and ethical development of college students through a series of interviews with undergraduate men. He outlines three world views, or cognitive and ethical developmental stages through which undergraduates pass during their postsecondary education: Dualism, Relativism, and Commitment in Relativism. Perry's model details how students, as they move through the levels, make sense of the information, opinions, and theories confronting them in a college classroom (Perry 57-134). I use William Perry's concept of cultural exploration as Patricia Bizzell interprets it through her article ["What Happens When Basic Writers Come to College?"] to explore the demands of college composition classes. I am using Bizzell's interpretation because she outlines how Perry's model meshes with writing instruction, and writing is the central focus of my thesis. I examine how students are asked to think and relate to their own culture in both two and four-year institutions using Perry's world view stages not so much as a strict guideline, but as a framework for student cognitive development. After determining how the writing curriculum of three different Virginia post-secondary institutions -- Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Richmond, and J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College -- engage with Perry's scheme, I use the model to interpret how two major writing assessments, the Virginia Standard of Learning (SOL) and the SAT essay, coincide with post-secondary philosophy. Finally, I examine how an international curriculum, the International Baccalaureate (IB), corresponds with Perry's scheme and affects writing instruction at the high school level. By analyzing these secondary assessments and curricular program, I move closer to answering why the gap continues to exist.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

June 2008