An Investigation on Metacognitive Learning Strategies of Middle School

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The theory of metacognition was first put forward by American psychologist J. H. Flavell in 1976. He described it as follows: Metacognition refers to ones knowledge concerning one's own cognitive process or anything related to them, e.g, the learning-relevant properties of information or data" (Flavell, 1976:231). Wu Heping (2000:14) puts Metacognition more simply, "Metacognition can be defined simply as thinking about thinking." Flavell (1979) holds that metacognition is divided into metacognitive knowledge and metacognitive strategies. Since Flavell advocated the theory of metacognition, increasing number of studies have been undertaken to investigate the relationship between metacognition and different learning tasks.

As an important component of metacognition, metacognitive strategies refer to strategies used by learners to plan, manage, monitor and evaluate their learning. O'Malley and Chamot (2001) consider they are high-order executive skills that entail planning for, monitoring or evaluating the success of a learning activity. They are general skills through which learners manage, direct, regulate and guide their learning (Brown et al, 1983). Many researches both at home and abroad have found that the difference in using these strategies is one of the main factors leading to the different learning proficiency between good and poor learners. Metacognitive strategy is one of learning strategies, which can effectively help students with English learning. Anderson (2005) points out that the use of metacognitive strategies can ignite one's thinking and can lead to more profound learning and improved performance. O'Malley et al. (1985:6) also make a point: "Students without metacognitive approaches are essentially learners without direction, or opportunity to plan their learning, monitor their progress or review their accomplishments and future learning directions."

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A group of well-known scholars in China, such as Wen Qiufang (1995), Wu Yi'an (1993), Cheng Suping (1996) and Deng Xiaofang (2004) have done a lot of researches on metacognitive strategies and achieved a lot in this field. The fruits and achievements have had a profound influence on both the theory and practice of foreign language learning and teaching. Wen Qiufang (1995) points out that, during the learning process, excellent students can have a good command of all strategies effectively and they always reflect what they have achieved as well as the strategies they have used in learning. Actually, Wen Qiufang's (1996) concept of management strategies in the analysis of learning strategy is equal to what O'Malley and Chamot (2001) called metacognitive strategies. Liu Peihua (1998) also believes that metacognition has a positive effect on language learning. As the description above shows, metacognitive strategies are pivotal to the success of a learning activity. Therefore, it has become a new focus in language learning and teaching. Many empirical studies on it have been conducted on the basis of relevant theories. However, Wen Qiufang (2003) considers the research on metacognitive strategies in China is still weak. There is also a fact that in the research of metacognitive strategies, most researchers in China do not pay much attention to middle school students, they are only interested in college students. Therefore, the author of this paper attempts to investigate the general situation of metacognitive strategies of senior middle school students with a quantitative research method and aims to improve their English achievements. What makes this study different from others is that its theoretical model is based on O'Malley and Chamot's theory of metacognitive strategies.

1.2 Research questions

As a significant part of learning strategy, metacognitive strategies have attracted more and more attention. The research questions of this study are as follows:

(1) What is the overall situation of metacognitive strategies and every category of them in senior middle school?

(2) Are metacognitive strategies and English scores correlated with each other?

(3) Are there any differences in metacognitive strategies between high- and low-score students?

(4) Are there any differences in metacognitive strategies between male and female students?

â…¡ Research methodology

2.1 Research subjects

The participants of this research were 150 students from four classes in a private senior middle school (Xingyuan Middle School in Zuoyun County). Although from different classes, they were exposed to the same language materials and the same language learning context. All of these classes were ordinary ones.

Table 1 Information of the Subjects

Class

5

7

8

10

Number

Percentage

Male

27

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26

28

15

96

64%

Female

14

12

11

17

54

36%

Total Number

41

38

39

32

150

100%

2.2 Research instruments

The research instruments employed in the study included a questionnaire and an English test.

The questionnaire used in this experiment was adapted from the questionnaire of Wen Qiufang's (1995). Its form was five Likert-scales from "never true of me" (1 point) to "always true of me" (5 points). In order to avoid response bias, some of the statements were negative while others were positive. Altogether, there were 20 questions, and 6 of them were negative. For the convenience of describing, the negative questions were shifted into positive ones when their scores were put into the computer. The questionnaire was presented in Chinese. Cronbach's Alpha of this questionnaire is shown in Table 2, the Table reveals it has a high reliability (α=.8687). It used the classification of metacognitive strategies by O'Malley and Chamot as its framework and consisted of three parts: planning (seven questions), monitoring (six questions), and evaluation (seven questions).

Table 2 Cronbach's Alpha of the Questionnaire

Variable Name

Metacognitive strategies

Planning

Monitoring

Evaluation

.8687

Cronbach's Alpha

.6722

.6068

.8107

The English test was a latest English test given by the subjects' school before the questionnaire was administered. The total score was 100. The scores of each individual were used to classify them into three levels: high, middle and low achievers.

2.3 Data collection

The questionnaire was handed out and finished in class. Data collection was done by the teachers of the subjects. Altogether 150 pieces of questionnaires were distributed, 140 were collected at the end of the experiment and 3 of them were blank. Therefore, 137 pieces of questionnaires were used for data analyses and the others were treated as invalid. The valid rate was 91.3%.

2.4 Data analysis

Data analyses were carried out with SPSS (version 10.0). Four analyses were performed: (1) Descriptive statistics was used for the overall situation of metacognitive strategies and every category of them in senior middle school. (2) Correlation analysis was performed to analyze the correlation between metacognitive strategies and English scores. (3) Independent samples T-test was adopted to test the differences in metacognitive strategies between high- and low-score students. (4) Independent samples T-test was conducted to analyze the differences in metacognitive strategies between male and female students.

â…¢ Results and discussion

3.1 The overall situation of metacognitive strategies

In order to obtain a full and detailed description regarding the current situation of metacognitive strategies and every category of them in senior middle school, descriptive statistics were carried out in terms of all the students, who are in different score groups and of different gender. The comprehensive results are contained in Table 3. The differences are indicated through comparison of means and standard deviations.

The total mean of metacognitive strategies is 2.79. It belongs to "medium: sometimes use strategies" according to the explanation on SILL from Oxford. The means of planning (M=2.73), monitoring (M=2.80) and evaluation (M=2.85) are quite small but the standard deviations are relatively big. This indicates there is a big difference in the three strategies. Among them, the mean of evaluation ranks the highest. Namely, they use evaluation as frequently as possible. Through evaluation, students can find both their weak and strong points in learning. In other words, middle school students are somewhat clear about their advantages and disadvantages in language learning. From the means of each category, it can be found that evaluation strategies are used most frequently, while the planning strategies are used least.

Table 3 Descriptive Statistics of the Overall Situation of Metacognitive Strategies

Mean

Standard Deviation

Planning

2.73

0.64

Monitoring

2.80

0.71

Evaluation

2.85

0.74

Metacognitive Stratigies

2.79

0.61

Table 4 gives a description of the use of every metacognitive strategy. The numbers, means and standard deviations are offered for a clearer idea of every strategy used. As can be seen from the Table, the strategy employed with higher frequency is Q1 (M= 3.51). It tells that the subjects are usually active in finishing their homework. On this occasion, it can be concluded that some Chinese students are diligent and hard-working. Items with relatively higher means are Q17 (M=3.06), Q18 (M=3.06), Q19 (M=3.03), which hints they are relatively good at planning their learning processes and bettering their learning methods according to their individual situation. They also do well in evaluating whether they have mastered what they have learned. The mean of Q9 is the lowest (M= 2.39), which implies that the participants, after making a plan, never or almost never consider how to or when to perform it. However, the high standard deviation reveals that students are different in using this strategy. There is a possibility that some students can make good use of their plans. The Table also shows the means of other strategies ranging from 2.44 to 2.96, which demonstrates that they only sometimes use these strategies. For example, having a clear aim of learning (Q15, M=2.88); learning through newspaper, radios and so on (Q10, M=2.63). Furthermore, sometimes, they can evaluate the learning processes correctly and choose proper methods according to different learning tasks. From Q5 and Q20, it can be seen that sometimes the students can not be absorbed in their learning.

Table 4 Descriptive Statistics of Every Category in the Questionnaire

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Items

Mean

Standard Deviation

Variance

Planning

Q2

2.74

1.01

1.16

Q4

2.96

1.14

1.31

Q6

2.44

1.01

1.03

Q9

2.39

0.86

0.74

Q10

2.63

1.24

1.53

Q15

2.88

1.20

1.43

Q17

3.06

1.16

1.35

Monitoring

Q1

3.51

1.11

1.22

Q3

2.57

1.33

1.79

Q5

2.67

1.16

1.33

Q8

2.58

1.37

1.88

Q13

2.70

1.06

1.12

Q20

2.77

1.23

1.51

Evaluation

Q7

2.62

0.95

0.91

Q11

2.55

1.06

1.13

Q12

2.92

1.02

1.05

Q14

2.91

1.08

1.17

Q16

2.85

1.12

1.25

Q18

3.06

1.12

1.48

Q19

3.03

1.13

1.23

Q2: I have my own learning plan besides finishing the homework. Q4: I can employ different methods for different learning tasks. Q6: Although I have my own learning plan, I can not carry it out on time. Q9: My learning plan is very simple, when making a plan, I usually not consider when and how to carry it out. Q10: I try to study English through many different ways (newspaper, English magazines, radios and so on). Q15: I have a clear aim in foreign language learning. Q17: I can adjust my plan and find the corresponding learning strategies in accordance with my own learning results. Q1: I am always too lazy to finish my homework. Q3: I seldom check my homework or test paper before they are handed in. Q5: I can easily be influenced by the surroundings and can not concentrate on the class. Q8: I always give attention to others when they speak in English. Q13: I can preview and review my lessons of my own accord. Q20: I can not be absorbed in my learning all the time; I can easily be affected by other things. Q7: I always consider the reasons of my success or failure in learning, and then sum up my success experience. Q11: I usually evaluate my learning strategies; consequently, I can find problems and the way to solve them. Q12: I can evaluate my learning correctly and then find the weak points and ways to overcome them. Q14: I always explore the learning methods that suit me well. Q16: I can analyze the types of my learning tasks and find the corresponding learning techniques. Q18: I know what parts I have not understood in using the language. Q19: After learning something, I can check whether I have really mastered it.

Actually, the subjects are poor in applying all the strategies, which may be the reason of their low English scores (M=60.8). A poor command of metacognitive strategies may indicate that middle school students and teachers are not familiar with the new findings in the research of metacognitive strategies or they have not paid adequate attention to them in language learning and teaching. The frequent use of planning can make students know more about their aims and can avoid blindness and casualness in learning. The application of monitoring can urge them to study hard, which is closely related with the teacher's requirement of the students. Evaluation can reveal what their weak and strong points are in learning, and urge them to develop the learning methods according to their own cases. So it is necessary for teachers to teach the students how to use these strategies effectively. A good command of the strategies will help them become more successful language learners.

3.2 The correlation between metacognitive strategies and English scores

To test the correlation between metacognitive strategies and English scores, a correlation analysis was performed between English scores and the three categories of metacognitive strategies. Research results show that there is a positive and significant correlation between English scores and planning, monitoring and evaluation strategies at the 0.01 level (See Table 5). This result is in accordance with Deng Xiaofang and Chenjing's (2004). However, Zhangxuan (2005) finds both evaluation and monitoring are not correlated with English scores, although these two strategies are used relatively frequently by the students. He accounts that it may be due to the fact that they can only take effect with the help of other strategies.

The Pearson correlation coefficient between metacognitive strategies and English scores is 0.645**, statistically significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed), which indicates that two factors are positively related to each other. Deng Xiaofang (2004) points out that metacognitive strategies are closely related to the students' learning proficiency and the difference in using metacognitive strategies is an important factor affecting their English levels. Huang Shuimei (2006) also finds the Pearson correlation coefficient between metacognitive strategies and English scores is 0.604**. It is obvious that there is a positive significant correlation between metacognitive strategies and English scores. So these findings are in accordance with Deng Xiaofang's (2004) and Huang Shuimei's (2006). However, Wu Yi'an (1993) and Yu Xianglian (2006) find that there is no relation between metacognitive strategies and English scores. So these findings do not agree with theirs.

The analyzed results of the questionnaire (See Table 6) show the following results:

(1) The strategies used with higher correlation with English scores are Questions 11, 16, 12, 14, 18, 17, 8 (in a descending order with Pearson correlation coefficients more than 0.4). Five of them (11, 12, 14, 16, 17) belong to evaluation strategies, which demonstrates the special importance of evaluation in language learning. For instance, through evaluating one's own learning strategies and English levels, the students can make a good sense of their learning deficiencies and their current states of learning. Go a step further; they can explore the specific strategies properly for them. In such a circumstance, it can be seen that evaluation is worthy to be noticed. Q17 implies that the frequent change of one's learning plan in accordance with one's own style is also important. Namely, the students are required to restructure their learning plans more often. According to the progress they have made, they can choose the best and the most efficient learning plan. Q8 indicates that listening to others when they speak English is also a good way to improve the learning efficiency. By means of listening to others, the students can find both advantages and disadvantages of others. For the strong points, they can learn from and imitate others. For the weak points, they can make a comparison with others, and then they will find their own shortcomings in learning. It can be concluded from Q18 that whether the students can distinguish what they have understood or not also plays a role in their use of English. Therefore, when using the language, the students should pay more attention to those they have not understood.

Table 6 Correlation Between English Scores and Every Category items

Items

English Score

Items

English Score

Items

English Score

Q1

.229**

Q8

.401**

Q15

.399**

Q2

.393**

Q9

.161

Q16

.451**

Q3

.214**

Q10

.363**

Q17

.409**

Q4

.378**

Q11

.461**

Q18

.417**

Q5

.356**

Q12

.447**

Q19

.385**

Q6

.133

Q13

.292**

Q20

.245**

Q7

.332**

Q14

.430**

-

-

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

*Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed)

(2) Shown from Q2, 4, 7, 10, 15, 19 that the subjects not only need to finish their homework, but also need to learn something else in their spare time. They are requested to have a clear aim of learning and try to learn English through many different ways, such as newspapers and radios. They are also required to sum up their learning experience as often as possible. It can be summarized from Q5 and Q20 that whether students can concentrate on their learning is also an important factor correlating with their learning proficiency.

(3) Q1 and Q13 hint laziness may be an aspect preventing them finishing their homework or learning plan. However, sparing some time in preparing and reviewing their lessons can do them grate good. In fact, most of the strategies (except for Q6 and Q9) have a positive correlation with English scores, which has further proved that metacognitive strategies play a significant role in improving the subjects' English learning achievements.

(4) Shown from the Table, Q6 and Q9 are not significantly correlated with English scores. This implies that although the students should have a learning plan, it is not necessary for them to make a well-conceived one. They may have a general learning project and learn in a planned way. However, sometimes, it is inessential to let everything go according to the dogmatic plan, so that they are required to learn in a more flexible way and change the plans based on their individual situation.

3.3 Comparing high and low achievers' metacognitive strategies

An independent samples T-test with "high" and "low" groups as grouping variable was made to investigate the difference between metacognitive strategies. Groups were divided based on the students' English scores in the test done before the questionnaires were administered. 36 students in the top 27% were labeled as "high", and 36 students in the bottom 27% as "low".

Table 7 Difference Between High and Low Achievers

Level

N

Mean

SD

MD

t

P

Planning

High

36

3.17

.74

.96

6.421

.000

Low

36

2.21

.51

Monitoring

High

36

.3.31

.72

.94

6.028

.000

Low

36

2.37

.59

Evaluation

High

36

3.46

.76

1.19

7.054

.000

Low

36

2.27

.67

Metacognitive Strategies

High

36

3.31

.66

1.04

7.650

.000

Low

36

2.28

.47

Note: N=Number SD= Standard Deviations MD=Mean Difference

Table 7 shows that the high and low achievers are significantly different in their responses to all the three categories of metacognitive strategies. High achievers scored higher in all categories. The mean differences of the three categories in a descending order are: evaluation (MD=1.19), planning (MD=0.96) and monitoring (MD=0.94). There is a significant difference between high and low achievers in all the metacognitive strategies. It is quite obvious that good learners do much better than poor ones in their using of these strategies. The statistical comparisons show that they can use the strategies more effectively and frequently. Deng Xiaofang (2004) points out that students in different English levels are significantly different in their using of planning, monitoring and evaluation. She also finds poor students nearly have no sense of metacognitive strategies, while good students can use these strategies as often as possible.

3.4 Comparison of metacognitive strategies between the male and female

As seen in Table 8, there is no significant difference between the male and female students in their using of planning, monitoring and evaluation strategies (Pï¹¥0.05). So it can be concluded that male and female students are not significantly different in their responses to metacognitive strategies. This result agrees with Deng Xiaofang and Chenjing's (2004) in their research of metacognitive strategies. However, Huang Shuimei (2006) finds there is a significant difference between male and female students in their using of metacognitive strategies and the female can use these strstegies more often than the male. So the writer's findings are not in accordance with Huang Shuimei's.

Table 8 Differences between the Male and Female

N

Mean

SD

t

P

Planning

Male

89

2.74

.71

.286

.775

Female

48

2.71

.50

.318

.751

Monitoring

Male

89

2.79

.76

-.369

.713

Female

48

2.83

.61

-.394

.694

Evaluation

Male

89

2.87

.77

.442

.659

Female

48

2.81

.70

.456

.650

Metacognitive Strategies

Male

89

2.80

.65

.167

.868

Female

48

2.78

.51

.180

858

Note: N=Number SD= Standard Deviations

â…£ Conclusion

This thesis intends to investigate the general situation of metacognitive learning strategies in the senior middle school. Being an indispensable component of learning strategy, metacognitive strategy is one of the elements affecting the learners' learning achievements. However, the students' employment of it is of an ordinary level. The model of metacognitive strategy is evaluation, monitoring and planning. The participants can not make good use of all these strategies as frequently as possible, which may indicate that they do not have the general knowledge about metacognitive strategies or they have not realized the true value of them. However, most of the subjects are found painstaking in finishing their homework. They can change their learning plans based on different learning tasks. Some of them can frequently assess whether they have mastered what they have to thoroughly. Therefore, there is still much room for them to strengthen their use of all the strategies and learn how to study English in a more relaxed way. Among the three categories of metacognitive strategies, the most frequently-used one is self-evaluation, while the least used one is planning. The monitoring strategies rank in the middle. There may be some reasons for this phenomenon. For example, the students do not have to spare too many efforts in employing evaluation and monitoring strategies, so they use them more often. The poor use of planning indicates that the students do not have an effective learning plan, they just learn in a blind or casual manner.

Research results also show that most of metacognitive strategies are closely related to learners' English marks and students can benefit a lot from using of them. For instance, evaluating one's learning strategies and deficiencies as often as possible can help them form a good habit of learning. Having a clear aim and insisting on previewing and reviewing their lessons can facilitate their learning. However, the author supposes the most important thing correlating with the learner's learning proficiency is whether they can concentrate on the class and be more diligent in learning. High- and low-score students perform quite differently due to their use of metacognitive learning strategies. Excellent students can have a better command of all these strategies than the poor ones. They can take advantage of planning, monitoring and evaluation and know how to make a useful and flexible learning plan according to their own situation. Thus, in order to improve the low achievers' achievements, teachers may teach them more about metacognitive strategies. Actually, it needs the teachers and the students' integrated efforts to achieve this goal. From the aspect of the teachers, they can have a general knowledge of the students and then give them some advices in terms of their individual weak points in learning. Of course, students should try their best to cooperate with teachers. In this way, students will have a general knowledge of themselves and know how to make full use of all the strategies. Finally, they can make great progress in a short time. It can also be found that male and female students use all these strategies in the same way. There is no significant difference between learners of different gender in their using of metacognitive strategies.

It can not be denied that there are several limitations in this study. For instance, the subjects of this research are all from the same school and the same grade. The results would be more convincing if they were from many different schools and in different grades. This study is an example of analyzing metacognitive strategies in senior middle schools on the basis of O'Malley and Chamot's theory of it. According to the results of this study, both teachers and the subjects themselves in Xingyuan Middle School can have a good understanding of the present situation of the subjects. It is hoped that this research will facilitate the subjects' learning in the future, and it is also attempted that it can help all the senior middle school students gain awareness of their metacognitive strategy use in the language learning process and improve their learning proficiency.

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