Home > Strategies and Skill Development > Social Reasoning Strategy Families > Rhetorical Analysis > Literature Note - The Role of Metacognition and Metadiscourse


Metacognition (and associated strategy-based thinking) clearly have a key role in the development of the ability to create rhetorical analyses. Reflective thought requires the thinker not only to carry out certain cognitive operations, but to represent them in the mind, and to make strategic decisions about how to carry them out. It is thus natural that the literature on the social aspects of communication attributes a key role to metalanguage.

In the first instance, the emergence of a theory of mind is strongly associated with the emergence of a vocabulary that enables children to communicate with others about internal mental states. In a seminal article, Brotherton and Beeghley (1982) presented evidence that children who show mastery of the language needed to talk about mental states are also the children who show facility in attributing false beliefs to others, evidence strongly supported in subsequent research, some of which is reported in other sections of this text. The ability to think reflectively about mental states, and the acquisition and mastery of the vocabulary needed to talk about them, appear to be causally linked.

Similar observations seem to apply to metadiscourse, the ability to communicate explicitly about social communicative acts using a variety of lexical and syntactic resources, including speech act verbs, nouns identifying genre types or aspects of generic text structure, rhetorical terminology, discourse connectives, stance markers, and the like. Kamberelis (1999) noted that metadiscourse appears most richly in the classroom in relation to genre types such as narrative with which children appear most skilled and on which teachers focus more teaching time, such that the richness of metadiscourse about a genre is directly associated with depth of genre knowledge. In addition, as Hyland (2005) noted, metadiscourse plays an important role within genres, where it plays an important structuring role. The rhetorical organization of a text can be explicitly signaled using metadiscourse elements, and as Skulstad (2005) argued, this function can be particularly important in new genres, where the expectations of the audience and author are less closely aligned. In general, we can expect that the ability to approach genre reflectively is closely linked to familiarity with and mastery of the lexis and syntactic patterns characteristic of metadiscourse. Development of the underlying concepts may support acquisition of metadiscourse; conversely, acquisition of metadiscourse may facilitate acquisition of the underlying concepts. In either case, there is good reason to believe that metadiscourse plays a crucial role in the ability to reflect on the social dimensions of text.

References
Brotherton, I., & Beeghly, M. (1982). Talking about internal states: The acquisition of an explicit theory of mind. Developmental Psychology, 18(6), 906-921.

Hyland, K. (2005). Metadiscourse: Exploring interaction in writing. London, England: Continuum.

Kamberelis, G. (1999). Genre development and learning: Children writing stories, science reports, and poems. Research in the Teaching of English, 33, 403-460.

Skulstad, A. S. (2005). The use of metadiscourse in introductory sections of a new genre. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 15(1), 71-86.




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