How Do First-year College Students Experience a Self-regulated Learning Intervention in a Composition Course

Jennifer C. Nardacci

Major Professor: E Shelley Reid, PhD, Department of English

Committee Members: Jan Arminio, Amy Swan

Research Hall, #162
November 14, 2016, 03:00 PM to 12:00 PM


This dissertation examines how students experienced and valued a self-regulated learning intervention in their first-year college writing course. This study’s main research question was: how do students experience self-regulated learning in a first year composition course.  The study also looked at the extent to which students valued self-regulated learning and whether they reported altering their writing behaviors as a result of the intervention.  Because much of the published research on college students and self-regulated learning is quantitative, conducted in pre-post survey formats, much about the nuances of how students learn to self-regulate, and how they apply self-regulatory practices, is unknown.  A longer-term qualitative approach was needed to acquire a richer understanding of how students interact and engage with self-regulatory concepts and strategies. By studying student perspectives on their experiences throughout the semester, educators and researchers alike will gain insight into what matters to students about self-regulation in their first-year writing course, and how self-regulated learning might best be integrated into a content course. 

Using a phenomenological approach, this study analyzed the journal writing of students in two sections of first-year composition, as they wrote three major essays for the course.  In these journal entries, students created goals and plans, monitored their performance and progress, and reflected on their process at points roughly correlated to stages in the writing process: upon receiving the assignment, about mid-way through composing the essay, and upon submitting their work.  The primary data set for this study comprises the online journal entries written over the course of a semester; each student responded to approximately 11-13 journal entry prompts as they wrote their assigned essays. The intervention was designed to take minimal class-time so as to maximize the content learning required in the course.

The study found that students did not immediately take to self-regulated learning as a means for writing achievement.  Rather they used the intervention to explore more personal and pressing concerns such as their ability to manage their time, and concerns about learning the expectations of a college-level writing course. Yet, this study also found that many students benefitted from extended and repetitious practice with self-regulating, in that they reported improvements in adhering to their planned strategies as the semester continued. Self-regulating one’s learning is not intuitive for most students and so they benefitted especially from having more time and opportunity to practice self-regulation with the deliberate intentionality they needed in order to sustain their learning. Even so, a few students resisted the experience entirely.  Implications for practice and further research are discussed. 

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