Metacognitive Strategies in the ESL Classroom

Mike Heath. December. 2016

Last year while studying, we were set some group work for our module 'Language Learning and Technology'. Our goal was to research and develop a presentation talking about cognitive and meta-cognitive strategies in second language learning so first of all, here's our final video ably produced on by Navila Razak.

Once you've finished reading the blog below, join the discussion in the comments below.

We’d love to know:

  1. Do you use meta cognitive strategies in your classroom?

  2. Are they effective?

  3. What are the biggest constraints you've faced when implementing these ideas?

  4. Any links to good ideas or materials? ;)

So lets begin...

First off, what are the benefits of meta-cognitive strategies? (Or why bother reading on? ;) )

“The use of meta-cognitive strategies ignites one’s thinking and can lead to more profound learning and improved performance”(Anderson: 2002)

autonomous learning.png


So, in theory, students become more aware of learning strategies, can self regulate their own learning more effectively and become more autonomous, effective learners.

Secondly, what is meta-cognition?

The most frequent description I've found about metacognition goes something like:

Meta-cognition is a higher order thinking process which can be seen as 'thinking about thinking'.

Thus asking students to reflect on:

  • How successful were they during a task?

  • Which strategies did they use/not use?

  • Which kinds of strategy did they find most helpful useful or difficult?

  • What might they do in future to improve their performance on a specific kind of skill (for instance a listening skills  lesson).

Should be meta-cognitive in nature. This helps to raise students awareness of the cognitive strategies they employed during a lesson or task.

This is all well and good, but is deceptively simple. Note that my examples all happen post task and stop short of including students in concrete decision making on activities/tasks or content chosen in the future. This learner centred aspect is crucial to creating autonomous learners, one of the key outcomes we're looking for.

Lets look at this description taken from Tracey Gurbin  /  Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences   191  ( 2015 )  1576 – 1582 Click here for the paper

Meta-cognition is the executive function process through which students monitor, assess, and modify their own learning progress and can prompt students to improve their own learning (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000).

I prefer this description as it helps classify different kinds of meta-cognitive strategy into a more easily implemented structure. The only aspect which isn't explicitly mentioned, but is elsewhere, is planning. This description also places students at the centre of the process as opposed to the curriculum and materials making all of the major decisions.

I think most of the teachers and other colleagues I've worked with throughout my career generally agree that autonomous, motivated students learn best, but we've all struggled to successfully implement procedures which result in the desired skills and attitudes in our learners.

Gurbin discusses three types of meta-cognitive knowledge: Tracey Gurbin  /  Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences   191  ( 2015 )  1577

  1. The person variable: The knowledge and belief's a learner has about their own or other students' abilities as learners.

  2. The task variable: Knowledge of available  information, resources and task difficulty.

  3. The Strategy variable: Identifying goals including the thought and action required to complete these goals.

These three aspects of meta-cognitive knowledge help students to self regulate their learning by helping them to:

  • Plan learning

  • Monitor learning

  • Assess/evaluate learning

To my mind this becomes both a process the student goes through and a framework via which a teacher or school may facilitate students' meta-cognitive awareness, knowledge and skills, and therefore help them to reap the benefits outlined in section 1.

OK so I need some examples....

The Metacognitive Awareness Listening Questionnaire (MALQ) is a great example of a tool developed to help second language learners develop their meta-cognitive strategies and awareness was developed by Vandergrift et al (2006). In this case for listening skills.

I've reproduced and slightly adapted the version shown by Goh. Goh; RELC Journal 2008; 39; 188

Check out the MALQ online.

Check out the following link. LD@school have some really clear PDF tools for use in a reading skills context including a great reading skills strategy matrix.

What next?

So now we've done the project, I'm pumped to go and try out some of these ideas in practice, but I can see some constraints ahead. What if i have a large group? What if I don't see the same students regularly, What if I'm asked to follow specific materials? What if the students don't buy it? What if I'm a teacher trainer and my teacher's don't buy it? Let's follow up in the discussion below.

Keep scrolling for more resources on this topic.

References and further reading:

Metacognitive Strategies or “Thinking About MyThinking. LD@School.

Metacognition. WIKIPEDIA.  

Theories of Reading. British Council.  

The Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach: Model for Linguistically Diverse Classroom (1996). Chamot & O'Malley.  

Learning Strategies in Second Language Acquisition (1990).O'Malley.  

Using Computer as Tutor, Tool, Tutee. Mahmoud Mohamed Gaber.  

Modern Everyday Cognition. Tabatabaeian.  

Meta-cognitive Instruction for Second Language Listening Development: Theory, Practice and Research Implications. Goh,  RELC Journal 2008; 39; 188.

Metacognition and Technology Adoption: Exploring Influences. Tracy Gurbin, Procedia - Social and Behavioural Sciences 191 (2015) 1576 - 1582.

Further videos on this subject...