Academic journal article College English

"The Video Was What Did It for Me": Developing Meta-Awareness about Composition across Media

Academic journal article College English

"The Video Was What Did It for Me": Developing Meta-Awareness about Composition across Media

Article excerpt

"Prior to this, my major problem was saying too much, not getting to my point, and not reflecting. Those are three major things that the video taught me, and by looking back on past papers, I saw what I did wrong, and now I can go forward. I've even used it in a different class. I'm able to go forward and make a plan, able to reflect, re-read, and do drafts. All those things have helped me, not just in English, but in writing period."

-Logan

In fall 2012, Logan1 was a student in first-year writing (FYW), and she and her classmates concluded their work in the course with an unusual genre-they composed videos. Logan spoke of learning how to be a better writer through the video assignment, just as she does in the epigraph. According to her narrative, after composing the video Logan emerged more apt to reflect on her digital and print writing, more willing to plan in advance, to monitor and evaluate progress, and to make global revisions when necessary. Her talk about her learning along with her video product itself suggest that Logan developed meta-awareness about composition through the video assignment: she moved back and forth between enacting compositional choices and articulating how and why those choices were or weren't effective for her purposes and audiences. Additionally, her awareness grew in several areas that are common sites of emphasis in writing courses-she learned about composition as a process, compositional techniques, rhetoric, and similarities and differences across media-and she talked about applying this knowledge in a variety of contexts beyond FYW. Logan's learning experiences, which I examine in further detail, provide one example of how meta-awareness about composition can develop within a writing course as students compose with different tools and modes of expression.

Researchers in rhetoric and composition have written about meta-awareness as one factor that may lead to the transfer of writing knowledge, just as it did for Logan, when knowledge acquired in one context is adapted for use in a different rhetorical situation (Beaufort, Nowacek, Wardle). As I and others point out elsewhere, though, meta-awareness as a theoretical concept can be ill-defined (Gorzelsky et al., Scott and Levy, VanKooten), often discussed with overlapping terminologies that include metacognition (Gorzelsky et al.; Robertson et al.; Sternglass), metacognitive awareness (Negretti), or rhetorical awareness (Bergmann and Zepernick, DePalma). In the field, metacognition has been defined broadly as "the ability to reflect on one's own thinking" (CWPA, NCTE, & NWP 1), but many writing researchers who use this term do not define or specify what aspects of thought are most relevant for writing in particular. Elizabeth Wardle's definition of "meta-awareness about writing, language, and rhetorical strategies" as students' ability to "analyze assignments, see similarities and differences across assignments, discern what was being required of them, and determine what they needed to do in response" (76-7), while somewhat difficult to observe, is useful in that it suggests that meta-awareness might involve both thoughts and actions. Building on Wardle's definition of meta-awareness about writing, I use the term meta-awareness about composition to refer to a student's ability to move consistently between enacting multimodal compositional choices2 and articulating how and why those choices are effective or ineffective within a rhetorical context.

In this article, I use a qualitative case study that is supported by theoretical framing from educational philosopher John Dewey and educational psychologist Gregory Schraw to explore how and why video composition could be a particularly useful site for the development of meta-awareness about composition within a writing course. In the case study, video provided an educative experience full of obstacles (Dewey, Interest 55), and in order to surpass those obstacles, students participated in rhetorically layered actions and metacognitive articulations in a recursive process. …

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