Orality and Literacy in High School Beginning Composition

Date of Graduation

Summer 1999


Master of Arts in English



Committee Chair

Mark Smith


Early in a teaching career, a beginning composition teacher may notice that even though he spends an inordinate amount of time marking and grading papers, many students continue to make the same mistakes. This phenomenon may be due to the fact that students are of an oral mindset. In other words, the student's brain does not operate in the manner needed to produce the type of work expected by the literate audience. In 1932, Alexander Luria proved that the oral mind works differently. In 1982, Dr. Walter J. Ong of St. Louis University expounded on the psychodynamics of the oral mind. This thesis uses the information provided by Luria and Ong to demonstrate that students are of an oral mindset and that a curriculum can be devised to bring students to a more literate level. In work that took more than a year, the Beginning Composition curriculum was revised to address the oral mindset. Writing samples were collected throughout the semester from more than 50 juniors and seniors. Although the improvement made by the students was modest, the revised curriculum did help several students become better writers.

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


© Steven A Ward