Seven metacognition-enhancing interventions I will implement this year

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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.

L.I.F.T. – an effective writing-proficiency and metacognition enhancer

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Many years ago, as an L2 college student writer of English and French I often had doubts about the accuracy of what I wrote in my essays, especially when I was trying out a new and complex grammar structure or an idiom I had heard someone use.  However, the busy and under-paid native-speaker university language assistants charged with correcting my essays rarely gave me useful feedback on those adventurous linguistic exploits of mine. They simply underlined or crossed out my mistakes and provided their correct alternative. As an inquisitive and demanding language learner I was not satisfied. I wanted more.

So, I decided to try out a different approach; in every essay of mine I asked my teachers questions about things I was not sure about, in annotations I would write in the margin of my essays (e.g. should I use ‘with’ or ‘by’ here?; should this be ‘whose’ or ‘which’?) eagerly awaiting their replies – which I regularly got. Knowing my teachers were busy I would focus only on five or six things I had particular issues with and only after looking through my books and dictionaries in search for clues as to whether I was right or wrong.

This process ‘forced’ my teachers to give me more feedback than I had been getting; consequently, not only I learnt more, but I also became more ‘adventurous’ and ‘daring’ in my writing. This strategy really helped me a lot.

Later on in life, when I became a foreign language teacher, I recycled this strategy with my students. I call it L.I.F.T (Learner Initiated Feedback Technique). Although I had been using it for a long time already, a few years ago I decided to put its effectiveness to the test by conducting a little experiment. I used L.I.F.T. with one of two groups of able 14 years old I was teaching, whilst I used traditional error correction with the other. The students were asked to underline anything they were not sure about and write a question on margin explaining briefly what their problem or doubt was about; one condition I put was that they had to research the issues they were asking me about using web-based resources (e.g the www.wordreference.com forums). I used exactly the same teaching materials and covered the same topics with both groups.

When I compared how the two groups evolved over the time of the ‘experiment’, what I found out was interesting: they both made more or less the same type and number of mistakes; however, the group I had tried L.I.F.T. with had generally written longer and more complex sentences using more ambitious grammar structures and idioms. Moreover, I found that the questions the students were asking in their annotations had become increasingly more complex; a sign that they were becoming more inquisitive, ambitious and risk-taking. Why?

One reason refers, I think, to the fact that learners, especially the less confident ones, usually tend to avoid structures or idioms they are not sure about. However, L.I.F.T counteracts this avoidance behavior as it encourages them to try new things out and take risks; knowing the teacher is encouraging and endorsing this kind of risk-taking by ‘pushing’ them to ask for feedback elicits the use of this technique even more.

Moreover, since I made clear to them that they had to try and solve the problems by themselves first and then write down their questions, my students reported doing more independent study than before, especially the less committed ones. I also felt that they became more inquisitive as a result of the process as they were asking themselves and me more questions about grammar and vocabulary usage that google had no answer for (not a straightforward and easy-to-find one, at least).

Finally, quite a few of them reported paying more attention to my corrective feedback than before as they had requested it in the first place!

Another benefit was that, as part of the process, giving feedback became more interesting and enjoyable for me because it felt like a real dialogue between the students and myself, especially with the more adventurous and ambitious linguists; not just a top-down approach totally directed and owned by  the teacher. Also, because I felt that– most of the time, not always – they had indeed tried to answer the questions themselves, I put more effort into it.

Also, and more importantly, this process provided me access to some of my students’ thinking process and to the kind of hypotheses they formulated about how French worked.

Recently I discovered a study by Andrew Creswell (2000) who used a very similar approach with higher proficiency students than mine and reported very similar gains. His students reacted very favourably to the technique and he states that training learners in this technique created ‘a context in which students were able to work responsibly’.

I strongly recommend this technique not only for the benefits reported above, but also because if your students eventually do incorporate this technique into their learning strategies repertoire, they will acquire a powerful life-long metacognitive strategy that they might transfer to other domains of their learning and professional life.

More on this  and on my appraoch to language teaching and learning in the book I co-authored with Steve Smith “The Language Teacher Toolkit’, available here

Six ‘useless’ things foreign language teachers do

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  1. Recasts

Recasts are the most frequent form of feedback that teachers give students in the course of oral interactions. They consists of utterances by the teacher that repeat the student’s erroneous utterance but ‘fix’ the mistake(s) without changing the meaning in any way. Example:

Student: hier j’ai allé au cinéma

Teacher: je suis allé au cinéma

Recasts, according to research (e.g. Doughty, 1994) are extensively used in the classroom representing up to 60 or even 70 % of all teacher feedback on oral performance. An interesting finding by Doughty is that recasts tend to concern themselves with minor errors rather than big problems.

As several studies have clearly shown, recasts do not really ‘work’ as they are not noticed most of the time. Havranek (1999) investigated to what extent learners recall corrective feedback from the teacher or their own or their peers’ mistakes. She found that less than one third of the learners who were corrected remembered having been corrected; peers did not pay attention to the correction of others and, most importantly, whether the corrections were recalled or not made little difference to whether the errors were or were not committed later.

The main reason why recasts do not work is that when the learners’ Working Memory is interrupted in the middle of speech production by the correction, it will not rehearse that correction for the time necessary to commit it to long-term memory -because it will be concentrating on resuming the interrupted conversation flow. Hence, the content of the correction will often be lost – which explains why Havranek’ subjects did not recall more than two thirds of the correction.

In view of the little surrender value of recasts in terms of acquisition, interrupting the students to correct them whilst they are talking may do more harm than good. Not only it may have a negative cognitive impact by disrupting their prospective memory; but it may also affect their self-esteem, especially if the correction relates to minor errors – as Doughty’s study found.

The above are valid reasons not to engage in recasts. It may be more productive and less threatening for the learners if teachers made a mental note of the mistakes noticed and treat them later on in contexts in which the learner’s attentional resources can be more productively channelled.

  1. Direct and Indirect error correction of written errors

Direct correction, whereby the teacher corrects an erroneous grammatical form and provides the correct version of that structure with an explanation on margin is pretty much a waste of valuable teacher time. Why? Tons of research (e.g. Cohen and Cavalcanti, 1990; Truscott,1996; Conti, 2001 and 2004) have demonstrated that most students do not process the correction in a way that is conducive to learning; most of them simply look at the mark, quickly read the comment and put the essay away, never to look at it again. Unless, as I argued in my post “Why teacher should not bother correcting errors in their students’ writing”, teachers engage students in more productive ways of processing teacher feedback, Direct correction is not going to enhance L2 acquisition. Error correction can be valuable when it places the errors into the students’ focal awareness, engages them in deep processing of teacher corrections, generates their intentionality to eradicate error and keeps it up for a sufficiently long period of time for any remedial learning to occur.

Indirect correction, on the other hand, is not likely to contribute much to acquisition as the learner will not be able to correct what s/he does not know (e.g. I cannot self-correct an omission of the subjunctive if I have not learnt it) and if s/he is indeed able to correct, s/he will not really learn much from it. To learn more about my views on this issue read my blog “Why asking students to self-correct their errors is a waste of time”.

  1. One-off learning-to-learn sessions

Not long ago I came across a beautiful Power Point on a teaching-resources website which purported to train students in effective approaches to the memorisation of vocabulary. It contained numerous slides packed with interesting suggestions on how to best commit vocabulary to memory and lasted long enough to cover a whole lesson. In the past, I myself produced similar Power Points and delivered one-off sessions on learning strategies which the students usually found quite interesting and engaging. But did they actually learn from them?

The problem is that, unless there are several follow-up sessions and some form of scaffolding reminding the students to use the strategies that the Power Point presented, thirty years of research (see Macaro, 2007) clearly show that this approach does little more than raising learner awareness of the existence of these strategies, but will not result in learner uptake, i.e. very few if any learner will incorporate these strategies in their active repertoire of learning strategies.

For any learner training to be successful it must involve learners in extensive practice of the target strategies.

  1. Identifying students’ learning styles and planning lessons accordingly

Research has clearly shown that learning styles and multiple intelligences are invalid constructs totally unsupported by theory and research. Moreover, there is not a single shred of evidence to show that teaching students based on their alleged learning style actually enhances their learning. Teachers should not waste valuable teaching time administering questionnaires or other ‘tests’ in an attempt to identify students’ learning style or ‘dominant intelligence(s)’. Most importantly, they should not bother planning lessons or remedial learning programs based on the findings obtained.

In view of the invalidity of these constructs, labelling students as visual, kinesthetic or other may lead them, especially the younger ones, to form a self-fulfilling prophecy that may ultimately be detrimental to their learning.

  1. Asking pre-intermediate/lower intermediate learners to peer assess oral performance

Although it has some (modest) surrender value in terms of metacognitive enhancement, the practice of involving fairly inexperienced learners in peer assessment is not justified by the learning gains it produces, especially in terms of language acquisition. Firstly, as these learners do not usually possess enough declarative knowledge of the language to be able to assess and feedback on language use in a way that can significantly benefit the recipient of the feedback; secondly, and more importantly, they do not possess sufficient levels of procedural knowledge to be able to apply any declarative knowledge they have whilst processing what they hear their classmates say – which means they cannot effectively evaluate their oral output.

In fact, even with more proficient learners peer assessment practice may not always be beneficial. In a little experiment I made last year, I got 16 students that I had practised peer assessment with almost on a daily basis to assess their classmates after a typical IGCSE conversation, using the CIE evaluation rubrics. When I compared their assessment scores to mine the discrepancies were huge, most of them having been on average 25 % more generous than me in allocating marks.

  1. Asking students to create digital artefacts in class

As I wrote in my blogs ‘Five central psychological challenges of foreign language learning’ and ‘Of SAMR and Samritans”, creating a digital artefact in class is not likely to be conducive to language acquisition enhancement at pre-intermediate to intermediate levels of L2 proficiency. The main reason is that human cognitive resources being finite, the working memory of an intermediate/lower intermediate MFL learner will not usually be able to process language effectively and efficiently whilst concurrently focusing on the operations he/she will be performing, e.g. cutting, pasting, ‘googling’ pictures, videoing, recording, ‘smashing’ Apps, etc.

Hence, forgetting by divided attention often occurs with not much learning at all taking place. I will never forget a group of Year 6 students telling me, after being involved for 5 weeks in making an iMovie about the topic ‘Ma maison’ in class, that all they remembered was the French for the rooms in the house.

Students, when involved in such activities should not do any ‘digital manipulation’ in lessons, unless we believe that this is very likely to enhance their target language proficiency. Classroom time should be devoted to learning the target language.

You can find out more about my approach to language teaching and learning in the book I co-authored with Steve Smith: “Breaking the sound barrier: teaching learners how to listen” available for purchase here

12 metacognition-modelling strategies for the foreign language classroom

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Metacognitive skills are arguably the most important set of skills we need for our journey through life as they orchestrate every cognitive skill involved in problem-solving, decision-making and self-monitoring (both cognitive and socio-affective). We start acquiring them at a very early age at home, in school, in the playground and in any other social context an individual interacts with other human beings. But what are metacognitive skills?

What is metacognition?

I often refer to metacognition as ‘the voice inside your head’ which helps you solve problems in life by asking you questions like:

  • What is the problem here?
  • Based on what I know already about this task, how can I solve this problem?
  • Is this correct?
  • How is this coming along?
  • If I carry on like this where am I going to get?
  • What resources should I use to carry out this task?
  • What should come first? What should come after?
  • How should I pace myself? What should I do by when?
  • Based on the criteria I am going to be evaluated against, how am I doing?

The challenge is not only to develop our students’ ability to ask themselves these questions, but also, and more importantly, to enable them to do this at the right time, in the right context and to respond to those questions promptly, confidently and effectively by applying adequate cognitive and social strategies.

How does one become highly ‘metacognizant’?

Let us look at two subjects from an old study of mine, student A and student B, in the examples below.The reader should note that the data below were elicited through a technique called concurrent think-aloud protocol (i.e. the two students were reflecting on the errors in their essays, whilst verbalizing their thoughts).

Self-questioning by student A:

Question: What is the problem here?

  • Too many spelling mistakes
  • I must check my essay more carefully with the help of the dictionary
  • I also need to go through it more times than I currently do, I think

Self-questioning by student B:

Question 1: What is the problem in my essay?

  • There are too many spelling mistakes
  • I need to check my essay more thoroughly
  • I rarely use the dictionary I usually trust my instinct
  • I also need to go through it three or four times

Question 2: What are my most common spelling mistakes?

  • Cognates, I get confused
  • Longer words, I struggle with those, too
  • I usually make most of my mistakes toward the end of the essay
  • I also make mistakes in longer sentences

Question 3: But why in longer sentences?

  • Maybe because I tend to focus on verbs and agreement more than I do on spelling

Both students identify the same problems with the accuracy in their essays. They both start with the same identical question, but Student B investigates it further through more self-questioning. In my study, which investigated metacognitive strategies, most of my informants tended to be more like student A; very few went spontaneously, without any prompt from me, as far as student B, in terms of metacognitive self-exploration.

How did student B become so highly metacognizant? Research indicates that, apart from genetic factors (which must not be discounted), the reason why some people become more highly metacognizant than others is because that behavior is modelled to them; in other words, caregivers, siblings, people in their entourage have regularly asked those questions in their presence and have used those questions many a time to guide them in problem solving or self-reflection. I cannot forget how my father kept doing that to me, day in day out since a very early age: ‘why do you think it is like this?’, ‘how could we fix this?’, ‘why do you think this statement is superficial?’, ‘how can you write this introduction better?’ – he would ask. I used to hate that, frankly, as I would have preferred to just get on with reading my favourite comics or watching tv; but it paid off. The intellectual curiosity, the habit of looking at different angles of the same phenomenon, the constant quest for self-improvement that I eventually acquired were ultimately modelled by those questions.

This is what a good teacher should do: spark off that process, by constantly modelling those questions, day in day out, in every single lesson, so as to get students to become more and more aware of themselves as language learners: what works for them and what doesn’t; what their strengths and weaknesses are and what they can do to best address them; how they can effectively tackle specific tasks; what cognitive or affective obstacles stand in the way of their learning; how they can motivate themselves; how can they best use the environment, the people around them, internet resources, etc. in a way that best suits them, etc.

Twelve easy steps to effective modelling  of metacognitive-enhancing questioning

But how do we start, model and sustain that process? There are several approaches that one can undertake in isolation, or, synergistically. The most effective is Explicit Strategy Instruction, whereby the teacher presents to the students one or more strategies (e.g. using a mental checklist of one’s most common mistakes in editing one’s essay); tells the students why it/they can be useful in improving their performance (reduce grammatical, lexical and spelling errors); scaffolds it for weeks or months (e.g. asks them to create a written list of their most common mistakes to use every time they check an essay produced during the scaffolding period); then phases out the scaffolding and leaves the students to their own devices for a while; at the end of the training cycle, through various means, the teacher checks if the target strategy has been learnt or not.

The problem is, with two hours’ teacher contact time a week, doing the above properly is a very tall order, and the learning gains in terms of language proficiency may not justify the hassle. I implemented a Strategy Instruction program as part of my PhD study; it was as effective as time-consuming and I could afford it because I was a lecturer on a 14-hour time-table. Would I recommend it to a full-time secondary teacher in a busy UK secondary school? Not sure…So what can we do to promote metacognitive skills in the classroom?

There are small and useful steps we can take on a daily basis which can help, without massively adding to our already heavy workload. They involve more or less explicit ways of modelling metacognitive or metacognitive-enhancing self-questioning. Here are some of the 41 strategies I have brainstormed before writing this article.

  1. At the beginning of each lesson, after stating the learning intentions, ask the students how what they are going to learn may be useful/relevant to them (e.g. ‘Why are we learning this?’, ‘How is this going to help you be better speakers of French?’)
  2. Before starting a new activity ask the students how they believe it is related to the learning intentions; what and how they are going to learn from that activity (e.g. ‘Why are we doing this?’);
  3. On introducing a task, give an example of how you would carry out that activity yourself (whilst displaying it on the interactive whiteboard/screen) and take them through your thought processes. This is called ‘think-aloud’ in that you are verbalizing your thought processes, including the key-questions that trigger them (e.g.: I want to guess the meaning of the word ‘chère’ in the sentence “C’est une voiture chère”. I ask myself: is it a noun, an adjective,…? It is an adjective because it comes after the word ‘voiture’ which is a noun. Is it positive or negative? It must be positive because it I cannot see ‘pas’ here. Does it look like any English word I know? No, it doesn’t… but I have seen this word at the beginning of a letter as in ‘Chère Marie’… so it can mean ‘dear’ … How can a car be ‘dear’? Oh I get it: it means expensive. It is an expensive car!)
  4. At the end of a task, ask students to self-evaluate with the help of another student (functioning as a moderator, rather than a peer assessor) using a checklist of questions, the use of which you would have modelled through think-aloud beforehand. For the evaluation of a GCSE-like conversation this could include: Where the answers always pertinent? Was there a lot of hesitation? Was there a good balance of nouns, adjectives and verbs? Were there enough opinions? Were there many mistakes with verbs? Etc.
  5. Encourage student-generated metacognitive questioning by engaging students in group-work problem-solving activities. The rationale for working in a group on this kind of activities is that at least one or two of the students in the group (if not all of them) will ask metacognition-promoting questions and by so doing they will model them to the rest of group. If this type of activities become daily practice (in all lessons, not just MFL ones), the questions they generate might become in the long-term incorporated in one’s repertoire of thinking skills. Such activities may include: (1) inductive grammar tasks, where students are given examples of a challenging grammar structure and they have to figure out how the rules governing that structure work (see my activity on French negatives:https://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resource/inductive-task-on-negatives-6316942 ) ; (2) inferring the meaning of unfamiliar words in context; (3) Real life problem solving tasks: planning a holiday and having to reserve tickets online, find out a hotel that suits a pre-defined budget, etc.
  6. Get students, after completing a challenging task, to ask themselves questions like: “what did I find difficult about it?”; “Why? ”; “What did I not know?”, “What will I need to know next time?”.
  7. On giving students back their corrected essays, scaffold self-monitoring skills by getting them to ask themselves: “Which ones of the mistakes I made in this essay do I make all the time?”, “Why?”, “What can I do to avoid them in the future?”
  8. Every now and then (do not overdo this), at key moments in the term, get the students to ask themselves questions about the way they learn, e.g. After telling them, concisely and using a fancy diagram (e.g. the curve of forgetting by Ebbinghaus) how and when forgetting occurs, ask them to reflect on what distracts them in class or at home and what one can do to eliminate those distracting factors;
  9. At the beginning of each school year, to get them into a reflective mood and to gain a valuable insight into their learning habits and issues, ask them to keep a concise reflective journal to write at end of each week with a few retrospective questions about their learning that week. Avoid questions like: “What have I learnt this week?” Focus on questions aimed at eliciting problems about their learning and what they or you can do to address them.
  10. Ask them, whilst writing an essay, to review the final draft of the essay and ask themselves the question: “What is that I am not sure about?” and ask them to highlight every single item in that essay evoked by that question.
  11. Ask them, at the end of a lesson, to fill in a google form or just write on a piece of paper to hand in to you the answer to the questions: “What activity benefitted me the most today? Why?”
  12. Ask your students to think about the ways they reduce their anxiety in times of stress (e.g. the run-up to the French end-of-year exams?); do they always work? Are there any other techniques they can think of to keep stress at bay? Are there any other techniques ‘out there’ (e.g. on the Internet) that might work better? I have done this with a year 8 class of mine and I was truly amazed at the amount of effort they put into researching (at home, of course) self-relaxation techniques and at the quality of their findings (which they shared with their classmates).

It goes without saying that there are classes with which one would be able to do all of the above and others where one will be lucky if one can use one or two of the above strategies. It is also important to keep in mind that by over-intellectualizing language learning in the classroom you may lose some of the students; hence one should use those strategies regularly but judiciously and, most importantly, to serve language learning – not to hijack the focus of the lesson away from it . The most important thing is that the students are exposed to them on a daily basis until they are learnt ‘by osmosis’ so to speak.

Metacognitive literacy and explicit instruction

Ideally, the modelling and fostering of metacognitive self-questioning will be but the beginning of a more explicit and conscious process on the part of the teacher, to, once s/he believes the student have reached the maturity necessary to do so, impart on them a metacognitive literacy program. By this I mean that, just as we assign a name, in literacy instruction, to each part of speech or word class (e.g. adjective, noun, ect.), we should also acquaint them with what each metacognitive strategy is called,  what purpose it serves and which of the questions modelled to them over the months or years it relates to. The importance of sharing a common language is crucial in any kind of learning, especially when dealing with high order thinking skills. After all, as Wittgenstein said; “The limits of my language, are the limits of my world”.

Once that common language is well-established in the classroom, the implicit metacognitive modelling that the teacher has embedded regularly in his/her lesson can be made explicit and strategy training can be implemented using the framework that I have already outlined above and that I reserve to discuss at greater length in a future post:

1. Strategies are named and presented

2. Strategies are modelled

3. Strategies are practised with scaffolding

4. Strategies are used without scaffolding

5. Strategies uptake is verified by test and/or verbal report