The ELT Blog Carnival on the theme of listening has inspired me to “interact with” the following article: Metacognitive awareness and second language listeners written by Christine Goh and published in ELTJ vol. 51/4 October 1997 by Oxford University Press.
In this article, Goh reports on a diary study that she carried out in China, with a group of learners whose average age was 19. Learners sent her one diary entry a week, in which they reflected on specific occasions on which they had listened to English, problems they had experienced and how they had helped themselves to listen better, as well as thoughts on learning to listen in general and ways of practising listening. They did this for ten weeks.
The methodology she used is one that any language teacher could follow: she takes three categories of awareness – drawn from Flavell (1979): Person knowledge, Task knowledge and Strategic knowledge. She then broke these down into several sub-headings, each of which contained multiple entries. So, for example, Task knowledge was broken down into “Factors that affect listening comprehension”, “Input useful for developing listening (and reasons given)” and “Nature of second language listening”, each containing a list of factors. Goh then classified the students’ observations, as taken from the diary entries of forty diaries, using the categories she had developed. She didn’t have a colleague to cross-check her classifications, but repeated the exercise again 4 months after completing it the first time round, then comparing the initial classifications with what she had done after her 4 month break. Where there was a discrepancy, she looked at it again and chose what she thought was the most suitable category, with some categorisations being cast aside in the process.
What Goh discovered is that learners reported at length on elements of all of her categories, demonstrating varying degrees of metacognitive knowledge. She exemplifies her findings by showing extracts from various learners’ diaries, cross-referencing the extracts to her sub-categories. The diaries showed that learners were aware of their cognitive processes and were able to verbalise them. Goh believes that keeping a listening diary provided the stimulus for this to happen and recommends that listening journals become a teaching tool rather than just a research tool. In terms of implications for teaching, she explains that discussion in listening classes tends to be limited to the content of the listening text being used – be it brainstorming in advance, or discussing the content further after the listening exercises and that the focus is on helping learners understand that particular text – but that it can really benefit learners for discussion of factors relating to person, task and strategy knowledge, what she calls process-based discussion, to be included too. Goh provides ideas for how development of task and strategy knowledge can easily be incorporated into a listening lesson – for example, learners can discuss the appropriateness of particular strategies for the task in question, share what strategies they used, perhaps try out different strategies either later in the sequences of activities, or in a similar task in the future, and evaluate the effectiveness of the different strategies they try. She suggests that in doing this, learners gain a better understanding over what contributes to their listening successes and failures.
This kind of process-based discussion can also be based on listening diaries – learners can share their reflections, prompted by similar titles or questions to those responded to in their journals e.g. “How I practice listening outside of class”, giving learners the opportunity to learn from one another. Some learners have more metacognitive awareness of their learning processes than others and it is worth drawing on this valuable resource so that all learners can benefit from it, potentially increasing their speed of progress. Learning how to listen more effectively, developing person, task and strategic knowledge, also helps learners become more autonomous, by giving them greater control over development of their language.
I have used listening diaries in class on a couple of occasions, having discovered this article and another by Jenny Kemp (The Listening Log: motivating autonomous learning, also from the ELTJ – vol. 64/4 October 2010), while doing my Delta, but I’ve not yet had the chance to use them for an extended period of time (e.g. the ten weeks that Goh carried out her project for). Nevertheless, the results of using them even for the short periods of time that I have done, have been positive: In my (albeit thus far limited) experience, learners welcome the opportunity to discuss such things as are recommended in Goh’s article. I’ve also read Goh’s (and, of course, Vandergrift’s) book, Teaching and learning Second Language Listening: Metacognition in Action and am very much a fan of her/their metacognitive theory. Additionally, I think that, as well as giving learners the opportunity to learn from one another, this approach gives the teacher a chance to learn from the learners – you can gain an insight into what your learners are doing to help themselves listen better and what they are struggling with. Furthermore, if learners have developed successful strategies for themselves, that perhaps hadn’t occurred to you previously, you can remember these and share them with future learners. (Or use them yourself if you begin learning another language!)
Finally, kept over a decent length of time, I think these listening journals could also be used as a way for learners to measure their own progress – by turning them into an awareness-raising tool: If learners are becoming frustrated and don’t think they are progressing, encouraging them to compare recent entries with older entries (with suitable prompt questions to help them) could be a way of helping them see that they are progressing after all – both in terms of the content, i.e. in terms of their awareness, and the development of the effectiveness of their person/task/strategy knowledge over time, and their writing, i.e. over time they are likely (we hope!) to become better able to express themselves at greater length and with greater complexity/accuracy. Of course, a journal is not limited to pen/paper/notebook – there could also be a role for blogs/other electronic tools, with the possibility of generating learner interaction outside of the classroom. But that is another blog post!
All in all, I found Goh’s article greatly interesting and I particularly liked how straightforward – although obviously very time-consuming! – the methodology is. That said, as she has already created all the categories, that helps us all a bit! We could all try it out and would stand to learn a lot in the process. I would definitely recommend reading the article and hope to try out Goh’s methodology myself in due course, by having learners keep a listening diary over a sustained period of time and then analysing their entries using the categories she laid out. How about you? 🙂