Carnegie Mellon University

Self-regulation and Writing Transfer: How Students Navigate Unfamiliar Writing Situations

Author: Ryan Roderick
Degree: Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Carnegie Mellon University, 2018

It is well documented that, as students encounter new genres throughout their academic and professional careers, most struggle to develop their writing knowledge and processes. The process of developing writing knowledge and practices in new situations has become studied as adaptive transfer. Mainstream pedagogical approaches are designed to teach adaptive transfer by showing students how to analyze genres so that they may infer conventions and apply that knowledge to their processes. However, knowledge about genre is not the whole story. Some students may have knowledge about genres yet still fail to take up successful writing processes, while others may initially lack genre knowledge and gain it as an effect of their writing processes.

This dissertation analyzes what writing processes are associated with adaptive transfer and how we teach them in first-year writing. I analyzed students' processes through the lens of self-regulation, defined as an ability to monitor and refine behaviors and emotions in accordance with new situations. My research was carried out through three related studies. The first study, which looked at successful and unsuccessful students engaged in adaptive transfer, found successful students used the challenges they faced as opportunities to improvise new goals and adapt. Study two, which followed one graduate student during his struggle through the first four semesters of graduate school showed that some students use genre conventions unproductively if they frame them as goals, rather than using them as a creative tool to think through arguments. Study three takes a step back from self-regulation strategies associated with adaptive transfer to measure how a curriculum that teaches genre analysis affects students' self-regulation strategies on new writing tasks by helping them use model texts more strategically.

Taken together, these studies offer instructors pedagogical interventions for teaching self-regulation. Study three suggests that teaching students to analyze genres can be a good starting point for helping them make more strategic choices about how to implement genre knowledge in their own writing. However, studies one and two suggest that there are other self-regulation strategies that could help students engage in adaptive transfer if they were explicitly taught self-regulation strategies as part of a genre analysis curriculum.