Metacognition-enhancement is the area of teaching and learning that has always interested me the most as a teacher. As a researcher I investigated this area as part of my PhD 15 years ago and, as a research officer, on a classroom-based research study involving six English state schools under the supervision of Professor Ernesto Macaro of Oxford University – one of the greatest authorities in the realm of learning-to-learn research.
This year I intend to embed the following metacognition-enhancing interventions in my teaching practice to test their effectiveness as one of my professional development targets. My ‘guinea pigs’ will be a class of 18 year 10 students of French preparing for their IGCSE examination. The reason for wanting to enhance my students’ self-regulation and meta-learning skills has to do with the nature of the examination they will sit next year and the relatively limited contact time available (two hours per week). I do believe that these students – especially the weaker ones – will benefit from the following interventions as they need to become more responsible for their own learning, more aware of their problem areas and must learn to optimize their use of the little teaching and learning time available.
The reader should note that in many cases, as a result of the self-regulatory processes and metacognitive dialogues that the activities below will spark off I will also have to model to my students specific cognitive and affective strategies to address any issues identified in their learning.
1. Reflective journal – Every week I will ask my students a different question which will ‘force’ them to reflect on how their learning is going. I have set up a google folder and google doc per student in which they will write a 50-words-minimum answer to each question. The first question – next week – will be: What aspects of French learning cause you the most anxiety? How can I help you? How can you help yourself? Every week I will change the focus of the students’ reflection; but every so often I will go back to an ‘old’ question to see if there has been any progress in a specific area.
I will not ‘mark’ the students’ journal entries, but will give them a rapid read and respond with a concise comment and/or a request for clarification or expansion. If I do think that the quality of the reflection is below my expectations of a given student, I will have a chat with them at the end of the next lesson.
2. Retrospective verbal reports on essay-writing – the week after next I will ask my students to write a short essay (around 150 words) under time constraints which I will assess through the same criteria used by our examination board. At the end of the essay I will ask them to reflect on and write in as much detail as possible about any issues they encountered in carrying out the task in the areas of grammar and vocabulary as well as any other problem they experienced (e.g. stress; cognitive block). As they write I will walk around and scaffold the process by asking probing questions if I feel they need prodding. I intend to do this twice a term.
Every time I have carried out retrospective verbal reports they have yielded valuable data and have served another very important goal: enhancing students’ awareness of their problem areas. This has always provided me with a very useful platform for starting a very productive metacognitive dialogue with my students.
3. Think-aloud protocols – later on in the term, after identifying the three students who are most seriously underachieving in reading and/or writing I will involve them in think-aloud sessions in which they will perform a reading or writing task whilst verbalizing their thoughts; I will often intervene in the process by asking probing questions to delve further in their thinking process. This technique, as I have already discussed in a previous post, has a double effect: firstly, it yields incredibly useful data as to how the students tackle the tasks and where they go wrong or experience linguistic and/or cognitive deficits; secondly, it engages their metacognition.
I will only focus on three extreme cases not because there is something special about this number, but merely for reasons of manageability/time constraints. I tried bigger numbers before and did not cope very well.
4.L.I.F.T. – I will encourage the students to use L.I.F.T in every single essay of theirs as much as possible – although I will not make it compulsory. As I have already discussed in another post, L.I.F.T stands for Learner Initiated Feedback Technique, i.e.: whenever a student has a doubt about a grammatical or lexical structure she will ask the teacher a question that she will annotate on margin (e.g. have I been right in using the present subjunctive here?). The teacher will then answer the questions in her written or oral feedback on that essay. L.I.F.T enhances students’ metacognition by scaffolding their ownership of the corrective process whilst fostering risk-taking and task-related awareness.
5. Error log – In order to raise their awareness of their problematic areas – which hopefully will have started with the first retrospective verbal report (see 1, above) – I am going to ask my students, on giving their essays back, to log on a google document five different types of mistakes I highlighted in their essays along with a concise explanation of the possible cause of those mistakes (e.g. didn’t know the rule; got confused with Spanish) and a reminder of the grammar rule broken. The process will enhance their awareness of their problem areas and may trigger the future deployment of editing strategies aiming at addressing them.
6.Lesson videoing + student ‘pet hates’ – I will video one lesson per term and ask my students to write down – anonymously – one or more things about that lesson that they found useful and enjoyable and one or more things they found annoying, tedious and/or not very useful. I will then go through the students’ comments and view the video to get a better grasp of the issues they refer to; I might do this with colleagues to get their opinions and suggestions.
This process will serve three important purposes. Firstly, it will involve students more actively in the learning process by getting them to think about how my teaching impacts their learning; secondly, it will give them the feeling that I heed their opinion; thirdly, it will pave the way for the kind of activities illustrated in the next point.
7. Videoing of student speaking performance with introspection – After showing the students that I am willing to be videoed, evaluated and assessed by them, I am less likely to encounter resistance when I ask to do the same to them. Once a term I will video students I have concerns about for five minutes as they converse with me in French and spend 15-20 minutes going through the video together, discussing key points in their performance and possible strategies to address any issue identified. The metacognitive element of this process refers not simply to problem identification but also to the introspection that my questions will trigger.
At the end of the year I will interview my students in order to find out how the above interventions impacted their attitudes to French and their learning.
Although the above list may look like a tall order, it is much more manageable than it seems as it is mostly student-led. I am particularly looking forward to activities 6 and 7.