Joint Program in English and Education

Degree: Doctor of Philosophy in English and Education

Danielle Lillge

After receiving her master's from our school in 2005, Danielle worked in a series of positions in Wisconsin public schools. From high school English teacher to a secondary literacy coach position and finally to work developing and providing professional development on literacy issues to secondary schools in northeast Wisconsin. Through each of these positions, she has become increasingly focused on teachers’ learning about secondary composition in the disciplines. 

While working on professional development, she looked for information tying together disciplinary literacy, composition, and secondary education. When she couldn't find it, she decided to return to earn her doctoral degree working in these areas. 

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The program, offered under the auspices of the Rackham Graduate School, prepares students with prior teaching experience to assume professorial positions in English and/or education or to pursue other opportunities in research and/or administration. The program draws upon the top-flight resources in both the Department of English Language in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, and in the School of Education. Fundamentally interdisciplinary, the program emphasizes research traditions and methods appropriate to study in the discipline of English as well as those customarily followed in the study of educational issues.

What is the Program Like?

One of the program's chief strengths is the consistent and supportive colleagueship that has developed among students at all stages of the program and faculty. The program has helped its many students achieve a satisfying, rich doctoral experience, in large part because it offers mature graduate students the flexibility they need to achieve their own aims in a demanding intellectual environment. The interdisciplinarity of students’ training also encourages students to develop original, innovative projects that advance the field.

"One of the things that makes our program particularly unique is that it brings together a discipline in the humanities and a discipline in the social sciences," says Professor Anne Gere. "What you get as a result of that particular combination is an unusually rich mixture, both conceptually and methodologically. It's designed for people who are ready to make a career change. They go from being a high school English teacher, say, to becoming a university professor of English or education. Or they go from someone who has been teaching writing, often as a lecturer or adjunct, to being someone who is a tenure-track professor. The preparation that students get here combines the humanistic tradition of rhetoric with the educational tradition of literacy studies, so these people are unusually well prepared."

Professor Anne Curzan adds, “Another distinctive part of this program’s interdisciplinarity is the opportunity for students to focus rigorously on issues of language, from linguistic diversity in the classroom to standard language ideology to the history of the English language. The University of Michigan has a long tradition of English language study, and it has been exciting to see the ways in which JPEE students have applied expertise in English linguistics to educational issues.”

Traditionally, graduates of the program have obtained jobs in university English departments, focusing on rhetoric, composition, English language studies, or English education, and in university departments of education, teaching methods courses, adolescent literature, new media, or literacy courses. Some graduates have found joint appointments in English departments and schools of education. The program's placement rate is excellent; please take a moment to view a list of our alumni and their current positions.


Students have opportunities to participate in research projects with faculty in both the School of Education and the Sweetland Center for Writing. Currently students are working on the following:

Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis of First-Year Writing: Working with some 5000 essays written by entering first-year students at the university, this study employs both qualitative move analysis and corpus linguistics to identify language features that characterize the writing of more and less successful students.

Policy Research: Students help to produce the research briefs that appear in the Council Chronicle published quarterly by the National Council of Teachers of English.

Assessment of Writing: Directed self-placement, an assessment of writing currently employed at the university, is the subject of multiple studies of undergraduates' development as writers as well as transfer from high school to college writing.

In the research for their dissertations, students typically integrate methods and perspectives from both English and education, as the following titles and descriptions of dissertations indicate.

Bethany Townsend Davila - Enduring Patterns:  Standard Language and Privileged Identities in the Writing Classroom
Cochairs: Anne Curzan and Anne Ruggles Gere
This dissertation explores the indexicality (the ideological process that links language and identity) of “standard” edited American English (SEAE), revealing common patterns that associate privileged, white students with standardness and disassociate marginalized—especially African American—students from SEAE. Importantly, this project argues that SEAE both signals identity and is rhetorically constructed as linguistically neutral. Throughout this project, I examine the presence, perpetuation, and production of ideologies related to language, standardness, and privilege—specifically standard language ideology (SLI) and whiteness—in instructors’ talk about student writing. These ideologies simultaneously justify the indexicality of SEAE and work to position SEAE as linguistically neutral, a positioning that masks the troubling indexical patterns described in this dissertation. Ultimately, this dissertation offers inroads to challenging SEAE’s indexicality and perceived neutrality, both of which offer unearned privilege to some students at the expense of others and, in the process, perpetuate race- and class-based privilege.

Jill Lamberton - Claiming an Education: The Transatlantic Performance and Circulation of Intellectual Identities in College Women's Writing, 1870-1900
Cochairs: Yopi Prins and Anne Ruggles Gere

This dissertation surveys nine different archives of late nineteenth-century college women's writing to illuminate the significant role that student writing played in establishing women's university education on both sides of the Atlantic. More than we have previously understood, college students' writing was *the* forum for circulating methods of securing access to, and succeeding in, the elite higher education newly opened to women. In letters, diaries, campus-based magazines, and writing published in popular nineteenth-century periodicals, college women continuously discussed what it meant to be an educated woman in the late nineteenth century how the college-educated woman was received in her family and in her old social circles after college; what effects her public behavior and academic performance had on the future of women's higher education; and what social responsibilities were implicit in her privileged study. When we look closely at the rich variety of writing that college women circulated, we see that they were savvy rhetorical agents, constituting their own intellectual identities through language, and collaborating to claim an education through persuasive performances of their own intellectual abilities.

Jennifer Buehler - Words Matter: The Role of Discourse in Creating, Sustaining, and Changing School Culture
Chair: Lesley A. Rex

This three-year ethnographic study analyzes how a "toxic" school culture was produced through interactions among staff members at Centerville High School, an under-resourced high school where I conducted fieldwork from 2004-2007. Using discourse analysis, I examine adults' competing beliefs about low-income and minority students, and I analyze how differences in belief immobilized the staff. Against this backdrop, I trace the attempts of one small group of teacher-leaders to change their discourse interactions as they grappled with difficult questions about race and class in the context of school reform. This study shows that the widespread helplessness and frustration which plagued Centerville staff members developed in part because adults were unwilling to talk publicly about the dilemmas that shaped their work. When staff members admitted what they did not know about teaching low-income and minority students, they opened up a productive space for exploring the challenges of work in urban and under-resourced settings.

Laura L. Aull - Forgotten Genres: The Editorial Apparatus of American Anthologies and Composition Textbooks
Chair: Anne Ruggles Gere
Though university English textbooks are widely circulated and heavily critiqued (for example, for being didactic and oversimplified), we have little understanding of how and why they function they way they do.  This dissertation project suggests we can learn about how textbooks construct fields and positions of authority through the material that distinguishes textbooks: their editorial apparatus — specifically textbook prefaces and introductions, which I call apparatus genres. As a beginning inquiry into how these genres function, this dissertation takes a corpus linguistic (computer-aided) and rhetorical approach to apparatus genres in popular American literature and college composition textbooks over time.  The discourse patterns therein are considered in light of rhetorical genre theory with the valuable addition of concepts from social psychology positioning theory, especially to consider: (1) narratives of disciplinary paradigms and shifts; and (2) discursive positioning of student, editor, and instructor authority.

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610 E. University Avenue, Room 4204
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1259

Phone: 734.763.6643

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