Metacognitive Awareness Of Reading Strategies And Critical Reading Education Essay

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Researchers believe that awareness and monitoring of ones comprehension processes are critically important for skilled reading. Such awareness and monitoring processes are often referred to as metacognition. Recent researches show that metacognitive strategies differentiate between effective and ineffective learners i.e. the more a student knows about how he learns, the better he will learn. This study was designed to investigate the relationship between metacognitive awareness of reading strategies and critical reading ability of the students. To this end, 113 third/forth year Iranian college students majoring in English translation/literature, aged around 21-36 were selected to participate in this study. They took part in a Nelson test of proficiency, and a critical reading comprehension test. They also completed a questionnaire, namely Metacognitive Awareness of Reading Strategies Inventory (MARSI). Data analysis through Pearson Correlation Coefficient formula showed that there is a significant relationship between the students' metacognitive awareness of reading strategies and their critical reading ability. The findings can have implications for EFL learners and teachers in developing an authentic, interactive and learner- centered environment in their reading classes.

Key words: Learning strategies, Metacognition, Metacognitive awareness of reading strategies, Critical reading

1. Introduction

The recent years have witnessed an increasing interest in developing critical thinking skills of students in order to improve their thinking and learning abilities and help them to succeed in their educational goals. Improving students' critical thinking skills will help students:

a) improve their thinking about their course work

b) use sound thinking on tests, assignments, and projects in their courses

c) have the strategic, analytical, problem solving, and decision-making skills they need when they are at college

d) have the strategic, analytical, problem solving, and decision-making skills they need when they move to the workplace.

The term "critical thinking" when used by educators has varied meanings in different contexts-whether in formal logic courses, where it has a precise meaning; when applied to arguments or in casual discussions in a faculty lounge about students' struggles to grasp the course content, where the term is used more loosely to simply mean good thinking (Pierce, 2005). Before proceeding any further, an account will be provided as how critical thinking has been defined in literature:

As stated by Thomson (1996), the critical thinking tradition, which derives from both philosophy and education, originates in the USA. Some of its foremost American proponents were John Dewey, Edward Glaser, and Steven Norris; in Britain, the name most closely associated with critical thinking is that of Alec Fisher.

In Learning to Think: Disciplinary Perspectives (2002), Janet Donald (quoted in Keller 2008) presents a variety of approaches to thinking based on the work of different academic disciplines. She provides a "working model of thinking processes in higher education" in which she describes a perspective on different "methods of inquiry." The working model offers a set of procedures followed by most disciplines, including: description, selection, representation, inference, synthesis, and verification. Under each topic on this inventory, then, she lists subtopics indicating their relation to the diverse inquiry methods she previously connected to academic areas. In a later summary of the "most important thinking processes used generally across disciplines," she lists separately "Identify the context" and "State assumptions," then reduces her previous set of common procedures to those of selection, representation, and synthesis.

In Maclellan and Soden (2001, quoted in Keller 2008), we see the following set of critical thinking skills:

a) unpacking concepts-ability to unpack or break down ideas, concepts or theories;

b) recognizing contradictions-differentiating between viewpoints and counterarguments;

c) development-explaining a phenomenon, joining ideas together to form lines of arguments;

d) providing evidence-supporting or justifying assertions;

e) examining implications of evidence-generating hypotheses about consequences or examining the relationships between key factors;

f) alternative interpretation-questioning or challenging an interpretation of the evidence and offering an alternative.

After the above review on what critical thinking is, now we turn to critical reading. A major issue in education today is the concern about students' ability to read critically and to evaluate the material. Critical reading is taught as a sub-skill of comprehension with appropriate exercises. Critical reading enjoys several features which make it appear rooted in critical thinking. Among the features we can mention the followings listed by "students counseling service" of Salisbury University:

a. previewing: Learning about a text before really reading it.

b. contextualizing: Placing a text in its historical, biographical, and cultural contexts.

c. questioning to understand and remember: Asking questions about the content.

d. reflecting on challenges to your beliefs and values: Examining your personal responses.

e. outlining and summarizing: Identifying the main ideas and restating them in your own words.

f. evaluating an argument: Testing the logic of a text as well as its credibility and emotional impact.

g. comparing and contrasting related readings: Exploring likenesses and differences between texts to understand them better.

Furthermore, Burmeister (1986, qtd in Cherney 1986) defines critical-creative reading and thinking as requiring the skills of analysis, synthesis and evaluation. He adds that such cognitive abilities require readers or thinkers to reason using techniques of formal logic or at least to be consciously aware of the thought processes they are using. Analysis, according to Burmeister, requires the examination of parts of the whole; synthesis is the act of combining or unifying elements into a coherent whole and evaluation requires the establishment of standards and also a judgment as to the goodness of fit of the idea. Burmeister considers evaluation to be the highest level of the cognitive domain. (p.256)

The researchers assume that metacognitive strategies are among the strategies which can foster critical thinking and hence reading. However, it sounds reasonable to ask why such a relationship is felt. To answer this question an attempt will be made to clarify metacognitive strategies.

Sheorey and Mokhtari (2001) state that many studies recognize the role of meta-cognitive awareness in reading comprehension, whether one is reading in the native language or a second language. Indeed, the consensus view is that strategic awareness and monitoring of the comprehension process are critically important aspects of skilled reading. Such awareness and monitoring is often referred to in the literature as 'meta-cognition,'' which can be thought of as the knowledge of the readers' cognition relative to the reading process and the self-control mechanisms they use to monitor and enhance comprehension. Auerbach and Paxton (1997) and Carrell et al. (1989), for example, consider meta-cognitive awareness-planning and consciously executing appropriate actions to achieve a particular goal-to be a critical element of proficient, strategic reading. Such meta-cognition, according to Auerbach and Paxton (1997), ''entails knowledge of strategies for processing texts, the ability to monitor comprehension, and the ability to adjust strategies as needed'' (pp. 240-41).

Furthermore, Taylor (1999) defines meta-cognition as "an appreciation of what one already knows, together with a correct apprehension of the learning task and what knowledge and skills it requires, combined with the ability to make correct inferences about how to apply one's strategic knowledge to a particular situation, and to do so efficiently and reliably." (p.126)

To increase their metacognitive abilities, students need to possess and be aware of three kinds of content knowledge: declarative, procedural, and conditional. Declarative knowledge is the factual information that one knows; it can be declared-spoken or written. An example is to know the formula for calculating momentum in a physics class (momentum = mass times velocity). Procedural knowledge is knowledge of how to do something, of how to perform the steps in a process; for example, knowing the mass of an object and its rate of speed and how to do the calculation. Conditional knowledge is knowledge about when to use a procedure, skill, or strategy and when not to use it; why a procedure works and under what conditions; and why one procedure is better than another. For example, students need to recognize that an exam word problem requires the calculation of momentum as part of its solution. (Paris, Cross and Lipson, 1984. qtd. in Pressley 2002).

This notion of three kinds of knowledge applies to learning strategies as well as course content. When they study, students need the declarative knowledge that (1) all reading assignments are not alike; for example, that a history textbook chapter deals with factual information differs from a primary historical document, which is different from an article interpreting or analyzing that document. They need to know that stories and novels differ from arguments. Furthermore, they need to know that there are different kinds of note taking strategies useful for annotating these different types of texts. And (2) students need to know how to actually write different kinds of notes (procedural knowledge), and (3) they need to know when to apply these kinds of notes when they study (conditional knowledge). Knowledge of study strategies is among the kinds of meta-cognitive knowledge, and it too requires awareness of all three kinds of knowledge (Pierce, 2003).

Many of the current studies recognize the role of awareness in reading comprehension. Reading strategies are of interest for the way readers use them to manage their interaction with the written text and how these strategies are related to text comprehension (Rigney, 1978).

Reading in second language reading suggests that strategies improve reading comprehension. Reading strategies indicate how readers conceive a task, how they make sense of what they read and what they do when reading comprehension is difficult (Singhal, 2001).

Indeed researchers agree that strategic awareness and monitoring of the comprehension process are critically important aspects of skilled reading. Such awareness and monitoring is often referred to in the literature as metacognition, which is used to monitor and enhance reading comprehension (Pressley and Afflerbach, 1995; Alexander and Jetton, 2000; Pressley, 2000).

Recent researchers (Cohen, 1998, Anderson, 2002, Santana, 2003) show that the strategies that mark the true differences between effective and ineffective learners are the metacognitive strategies. In spite of the fact that many of the previous studies have obtained information about learners' strategies and reading process, few of them have examined readers' metacognitive awareness of reading strategies ( Singhal, 2001).

Considering the important role of metacognitive reading strategies in reading comprehension with suspicious eye, this study is designed to investigate the relationship between metacognitive awareness reading strategies and critical reading ability and to view the notions of meta-cognitive awareness strategies and critical reading in the same horizon. For this purpose, we also need to have references to critical thinking because, as was mentioned above, critical reading roots in critical thinking.

1. 1. Statement of the problem

For the improvement of critical reading, instructors should teach a variety of strategies that research has shown to be effective, like: generating questions and answering them, writing summaries, writing elaborations and using organizing strategies. The preceding strategies already seem to have been taken into account by Iranian teachers and learners.

However, a potential problem in applying the mentioned strategies in reading comprehension can be the absence of meta-cognitive awareness about them. Hence, the researcher assumes that a set of meta-cognitive strategies can strengthen the above line of activity and foster the progress of critical reading.

1. 2. Research Question

Is there any significant relationship between metacognitive awareness of reading strategies and critical reading ability?

3. Statement of the hypothesis

The null hypothesis underlying this proposal is that "there is not any significant relationship between meta-cognitive awareness of reading strategies and critical reading ability."

2. Method

2. 1. Participants

A community sample of 130 male and female participated in this study in the second semester of 2010 majoring in English language literature and translation in Qom Islamic Azad University. They were all in their third and forth year. These students were asked if they would volunteer to participate in the study. Out of 130 participants who completed the questionnaires and tests, about 113 participants were accepted to participate in the study.

2. 2. Measure and Procedure

The researchers visited the classes to administer one questionnaire and two tests. A total of 130 students were instructed to answer the proficiency test in one session and to the critical reading test and MARSI questionnaire at a later session. Students rated the items of MARSI, using a 5-point likert-type scale ranging from 1 (I never do this) to 5 (I always do this). From this population, some students were eliminated because they had not properly completed their questionnaires.

The general proficiency test (Nelson test, 300 B) comprised 50 multiple-choice and vocabulary items. The total score of the test was 50 and one point was assigned to each correct answer.

The critical reading comprehension test consisted of four passages with 4 or 5 multiple-choice items for each passage. So the 20 items were scored by one point for each correct answer. Then the score for all items were added and an ultimate score was calculated. The range of scores for this test was between 9 to 18.

For scoring the Metacognitive Awareness of Reading Strategies Inventory, the procedure proposed by Mokhtari & Richad (2002) was used. A score was assigned to each answer which ranged from 1 to 5: never or almost never=1, occasionally=2, sometimes=3, usually=4, always=5. Then the scores for all items were added up and an ultimate score was calculated. The range of scores for this scale was between 46 to 146.

3. Data analysis

To carry out the statistical analysis of the study, several statistical techniques were utilized: to calculate the reliability of the Nelson test, the Cronbach alpha (a) formula was utilized.

In order to estimate the reliability of the critical reading comprehension test, the Cronbach alpha (a) formula was utilized. Considering the point that the participants will be assigned interval scores both for their meta-cognitive awareness and critical reading ability, the statistical analysis was Pearson's product Moment Coefficient of Correlation.

Also, the reliability index of the translated version of MARSI was assessed by applying Cronbach alpha (a) formula.

After administrating the instruments with the main subjects of the study and correcting the papers, the ultimate scores on critical reading comprehension test and MARSI were calculated and entered into SPSS.

3. Results

In order to be certain of the homogeneity of the participants of the study in terms of language proficiency, a general language proficiency test (Nelson test) was utilized. The test was extracted from "Nelson English language tests" by W.S. Flower and Norman Goe (1976). It composed of 50 multiple choice grammar and vocabulary items. Through the pilot study, the reliability of the Nelson test was estimated and the following result was achieved:

Table of reliability statisticsof the Language Proficiency Test (Nelson)

Cronbach's Alpha

N of Items

.899

50

As it is noticed, the reliability of the Nelson test was estimated as .89 through the pilot study among 42 students, so the test enjoyed the acceptable reliability.

The present study, also used a new self report measure, the Meta cognitive Awareness of Reading Strategies Inventory (MARSI) (Mokhtari & Richard, 2002), which is designed to assess adolescent and adult readers' awareness and perceived use of reading strategies while reading materials. According to the author of MARSI, the major purposes of developing of this inventory were to devise an instrument that would permit one to assess the degree to which a student is or is not aware of the various processes involved in reading and to make it possible to learn about the goals and intentions he or she holds with coping with reading tasks.

As a result of employing this inventory, the second statistical procedure was to estimate the reliability of the translated version of Metacognitive Awareness of Reading Strategies Inventory (MARSI) administered to the subjects in the pilot study.

Table of reliability statistics of the translated version of MARSI

Cronbach's Alpha

N of Items

.799

30

According to table 4. 2., the reliability index of the students' answers to the MARSI, assessed by applying the Cronbach alpha (a) formula, was 0.79.

In order to assess the participant's ability in reading critically, a test of reading comprehension, extracted from a model TOEFL, was applied. The reliability of this test administered to the subjects in the pilot study was estimated to be:

Table of reliability statistics of critical reading comprehension test

Cronbach's Alpha

N of Items

.748

18

It is necessary to add that in order to validate the critical reading comprehension test, basically four steps were taken such as checking the content validity, face validity, criterion related validity, and construct validity. The procedure for each step can be found in the following in details.

The test was compiled according to the recommendation of Alderson and Urquhart (1984). Four different texts were selected. The texts were found from among the materials suggested for preparation of language learners for TOEFL test. Of course it was evident that not any passage could qualify: the passages had to be of an independent entity and understandable without a larger context. However, the main principle in text selection was to find text types that Iranian students of English were likely to read critically. I also consulted my supervisor to ensure the content validity of the passages and also to get confident that the questions could not be answered without reading the passages critically. The texts found were also sent to my advisor to make sure if there were any specific issues to be reconsidered. At the end of each passage, four or five questions were asked. Answering to the questions would be almost impossible without reading the test critically. The text chosen represented the following text types:

a scientific text from a field relevant to Chemistry;

a text containing materials about body language and communication;

a passage about the sinking of the luxurious ship, Titanic ;

a biographical passage about an influential citizen of the United States, John Muir.

In addition to improving the test items through item analysis (item facility, item discrimination and choice distribution), the face validity of the test was examined in qualitative terms. The students in the pilot study were asked to state their reasons for estimating the reading test as being critical or not. The comments (40 students) were rather divided. Some disliked the test but many of them liked it. Those who liked it wrote that it required imagination, and cleverness and a few compared taking the reading test with doing philosophical reasoning. Those who disliked the test mostly argued that it required to test other abilities besides language proficiency (e. g. imagination). Some complained that the test was too difficult and that they could mainly perceive the structure of the sentences. For criterion related validity, the researcher followed the same procedure as Assar (2008). With the help of the Nelson language proficiency test and by running correlation between these scores and those obtained from the improved reading test, among 32 students who participated in the pilot study, the concurrent validity of the test was established with an index of 0.71.

Finally the critical reading test was construct-validated. To this end, the researcher took a process oriented approach following the picture depicted by Hirano (2008) and devised a questionnaire based on the discussed issues found in the literature on critical thinking and reading. The questionnaire was piloted among 40 students. First, they took the critical reading comprehension test, and immediately after they were asked to answer the questions in the questionnaire. Through a frequency count, it was discovered that the test had led to a critical reading successfully.

The following table shows the result of the students' answers to the fifteen questions in the devised questionnaire by the researcher based on the discussed issues found in the literature on critical thinking and reading. The results in the "Mean" column show the average score for each of the fifteen questions calculated based on a liker scale for each question ranging from 0 to 3.

Table and bar-graph of descriptive statistics for the students'performance on questionnaire for process validation of the reading comprehension test

N

Minimum

Maximum

Mean

Std. Deviation

Question 1

40

2.00

3.00

2.8000

.40510

Question 2

40

1.00

3.00

2.1500

.62224

Question 3

40

.00

3.00

2.0750

.94428

Question 4

40

1.00

3.00

2.1500

.76962

Question 5

40

1.00

3.00

2.0000

.45291

Question 6

40

1.00

3.00

1.6750

.65584

Question 7

40

1.00

2.00

1.3000

.46410

Question 8

40

.00

3.00

1.8500

.89299

Question 9

40

2.00

3.00

2.5750

.50064

Question 10

40

1.00

3.00

1.5000

.59914

Question 11

40

.00

3.00

1.7250

.75064

Question 12

40

2.00

3.00

2.4500

.50383

Question 13

40

1.00

3.00

1.4000

.63246

Question 14

40

.00

3.00

1.9250

.79703

Question 15

40

1.00

3.00

2.4000

.84124

Valid N (listwise)

40

Furthermore the reliability for the questionnaire distributed in the pilot study was estimated as 0.62. The following tables present the results:

Table of reliability statistics for the reliability of critical reading questionnaire

Cronbach's Alpha

N of Items

.624

15

It is necessary to mention that after the reliability of the questionnaire for process validation of the reading comprehension test was calculated, the researcher tried to revise some of the questions. It is, therefore, hoped that further studies through the revised questionnaire will provide more reliable results.

Finally we come to the research question, which was concerned with relationship between metacognitive awareness of reading strategies and critical reading ability of the students. To investigate this question, the Pearson product correlation coefficient was run. The result of statistics is presented in the following table:

Table of correlation coefficient between critical reading ability and metacognitive awareness of reading strategies (MARSI)

Critical reading ability

MARSI

Critical reading ability

Pearson Correlation

1

.703**

Sig. (2-tailed)

.000

N

113

113

MARS

Pearson Correlation

.703**

1

Sig. (2-tailed)

.000

N

113

113

**. Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).

According to the above table, correlation is significant at the 0.01 level. By using Pearson product correlation coefficient formula, the correlation between the two variables was estimated as .70. That is, there is a significant relationship between metacognitive awareness of reading strategies (MARSI) and critical reading ability. The results have been illustrated in the following scatter plot graph:

Graph/Scatter plot for Correlation coefficient between critical reading ability and meta-cognitive awareness of reading strategies

The above scatter plot illustrates the correlation coefficient between critical reading ability and meta-cognitive awareness of reading strategies including 113 subjects. Variable 1 (Y axis) is related to meta-cognitive awareness of reading strategies in an interval scale up to 130; variable 2 (X axis) is related to critical reading ability in an interval scale from zero up to 20.

4. Discussion

This study was an attempt to investigate the relationship between metacognitive awareness of reading strategies (MARSI) and critical reading ability of Iranian students majoring in fields of English translation and literature. The statistical results proved that there is a significant relationship between the two variables of metacognitive awareness of reading strategies and critical reading ability.

So the present study has found evidence that good and poor students are significantly different in their awareness and perceived use of metacognitive strategies. That is, the more a student knows about how he learns, the better learner he will be. Therefore, helping students to be more aware of their metacognitive reading strategies plays an important role in not only developing their critical reading ability but also in their general reading comprehension ability.

The results of this study can be compared and contrasted with those of other researchers. For instance, findings of the present study are in congruity with the study conducted by Parson (2002) whose major purpose of his study was to investigate the strength of the relationship between the use of metacognitive strategies and critical reading ability of the students. It was conducted, specifically, to test the effectiveness of a teaching procedure designed to improve critical reading ability by training students in metacognintive strategies. He discovered that the students who were instructed with this metacognitive training package (questioning, summarizing, predicting and speculating on the author's intended tone and purpose) should become more aware of their own mental processes and will demonstrate not only increased critical reading ability, but also increased general comprehension ability. Also, qualitative improvement noted in subjects' strategy use provided sufficient evidence for further study into the effectiveness of this training procedure.

Furthermore, the findings could indirectly support Icmez's (2009) findings who suggests that in a critical reading course, developing a competence in critical reading skills evokes curiosity and the novelty essential for students with high levels of proficiency.

Finally, we can conclude that our findings here is in line with what Ajideh (2009) suggests, that poor readers in general lack effective metacognitive strategies and have little awareness on how to approach to reading. They also have deficiencies in the use of metacognitive strategies to monitor for their understanding of texts. In contrast, successful L2 readers know how to use appropriate strategies to enhance text comprehension.

5. Conclusion

As mentioned previously, among the tools that students use to learn a second language, learning strategies have been given a crucial role in all academic studies. Language learning strategies have been known as a factor that differentiates successful language learning from unsuccessful language learning. In recent years, there has been an increasing awareness of the necessity to examine human personality in order to find solutions to the perplexing problems in language learning. It is evident that a student uses language learning strategies while he is under the influence of many linguistic, cognitive, and affective factors. Thus, such an intertwined network can provide an answer to the wide individual differences within the classroom.

Also, the ability to critically analyze written materials has long been recognized as being crucial to the educational process.

In this study, it has been tried to explore the relationship between metacognitive awareness of reading strategies and critical reading ability of the students. With respect to the research question, it was found that when the students show more metacognitive awareness of strategies, they can read more critically and therefore it is more probable that they score higher on reading comprehension test.

Based on the results, it can be concluded that there is a meaningful relationship between the students' metacognitive awareness of reading strategies and their performance on critical reading comprehension test. Therefore, metacognitive strategies could provide the missing link between cognitive processes and critical reading ability. Metacognition refers to one's awareness of and control over his/her own mental processes (Brown, 2007).

Consequently, it is worth mentioning that the relationship demonstrated here is only part of a complex picture, which reveals just some of the factors operating in mind of our students that warrant investigation. It should be mentioned that language learners' strategies and their effect in the process of learning is a highly complex issue. Therefore, metacognitive strategy awareness may not be just the only aspect of this achievement in learning; rather, we need to investigate other types of language learning strategies and look at what helps the students to increase their ability in achieving the best results.

6. Implications

The present study has found evidence which supports previous research findings that demonstrated that good and poor students are significantly different in their awareness and perceived use of metacognitive strategies. That is, the more a student knows about how he learns, the better learner he will be. Therefore, helping students to be more aware of their metacognitive reading strategies plays an important role in not only developing their critical reading ability but also in their general reading comprehension ability.

So based on the above results, the finding of the study can have implications for teachers in reading classes. To be more specific, training good readers means more than just improving their knowledge about language structure and general study skills, and it needs raising their awareness of metacognitive strategies for critical reading.

Also the results in this study may have implications for reading comprehension assessment. As mentioned before, critical reading skills are essential for the students with high level of proficiency. That is the higher the level of proficiency, the higher the ability for critical reading. Therefore, one of the factors to be included in the assessment of language proficiency can be the ability to read critically especially at higher level of proficiency.

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