Original Research Proposal 8.12.12


Provisional title of thesis 

“Using online tools to teach metacognitive strategies to secondary school students in order to improve learning outcomes and lower attrition rates in secondary school second language classes.”

Introduction / background

A 2003 Ministry of Education stocktake of the New Zealand Curriculum recommended that an eighth Learning Area, Learning Languages, be established.  Joe Guthrie, the Languages Advisor at the time, wrote:

“The fact that relative to other countries, New Zealand has very low levels of language learning was one of the issues considered in this report…The rationale for the establishment of this new learning area is:

  • Learning languages is key to students developing greater understanding of the cultures of others.
  • Relative to other countries, New Zealand has very low levels of language learning.
  • Language education helps to foster bicultural and multicultural awareness.
  • The teaching of languages supports literacy in English and forms part of a broad general education for all students.
  • There is general agreement amongst the New Zealand languages community that years 7-10 are the most appropriate years for any significant investment in languages teaching.
  • Schools should be required to provide instruction in another language for students in years 7 to 10 (except for Māori immersion settings), but it should not be mandatory for all year 7-10 students to learn another language. Languages include foreign, community and heritage languages and second language learning in English and in te reo Māori.”

Despite hope at the time that the new learning area and the push to begin languages in Year 7 would increase numbers of students continuing into the senior secondary school, numbers in language classes have continued to drop.  Students might begin to study in Year 7, but retention rates into senior secondary school classes remain low.  Students who continue their language learning are often taught in combined classes or by correspondence.  So nothing much has changed since 2004 when Guthrie wrote:  “In… state schools, then, just over half the students who begin or continue learning a language at high school… can expect that there will still be a class operating in that language by the time they reach Year 13.”

So, how can we improve the numbers learning languages at secondary school?  Could teaching metacognitive strategies, such as control and regulate, help improve learning outcomes and so stem high attrition?

In 2008, Rod Ellis formulated “a set of general principles for instructed language acquisition.”  Principle nine states that “Instruction needs to take account of individual differences in learners.”  On page 5, Ellis says:

“Studies of good language learners suggest that successful language learning requires a flexible approach to learning. Thus, increasing the range of learning strategies at learners’ disposal is one way in which teachers can help them to learn. Such strategy training needs to foster an understanding that language learning requires both an experiential and an analytical approach.”

Ellis explains further that “While it is probably true that teachers can do little to influence students’ extrinsic motivation, there is a lot they can do to enhance their intrinsic motivation.”

Metacognition strategies are part of an analytical approach and could enhance intrinsic motivation.

In his article entitled The role of Metacognition in Second Language Learning, Neil Anderson says that “The teaching of metacognitive skills is a valuable use of instructional time for a second language teacher. When learners reflect upon their learning strategies, they become better prepared to make conscious decisions about what they can do to improve their learning. Strong metacognitive skills empower second language learners.”

R Ramesh agrees that “The use of metacognitive strategies… can lead to more profound learning and improved performance… Understanding and controlling cognitive processes may be one of the most essential skills that classroom teachers can help L2 learners develop… However, while all learners use learning strategies, successful learners learn how to use them effectively.”

So what are effective metacognitive strategies?

Ramesh quotes the work of Wendon, Chamot and O’Malley et al, saying that there are “two major components to metacognition: knowledge about L2 learning and control of the learning process.”

He explains that “good learners are able to plan their learning approach, monitor their success, and modify their approach as needed.”  He says they exercise ‘executive control.’

In the past two years, I have used shared googledocs and a range of other tools to encourage primarily senior but also junior French students to reflect on and take ownership of their learning, encouraging them to think about what they have done, what it has achieved and why, and what the next steps towards achieving learning goals are.

This experimentation has dovetailed with a tutor group teachers’ initiative at the school.  The tutors have embarked on learning conversations around the Key Competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum.  The Key Competencies are to become the substance of future tutor teacher conversations with students and parents with a view to increasing learning outcomes and improving learning habits across the curriculum.

As a member of both the PD and Reporting Committees and a subject teacher who has trialled using technology to facilitate students’ reflection on learning, I wonder about the comparative effectiveness of metacognition to increase learning outcomes when students reflect on the more general Key Competency skills with their tutor teachers and when they reflect on the more targeted subject-specific skills with their subject teachers.

Aim and research question(s) and rationale

The overall aim of the research, therefore, is to discover whether teaching effective metacognitive strategies to secondary school second language students will improve their learning outcomes and stem the tide of attrition into the senior school.

I also ask whether student reflection on subject-specific learning improves language learning outcomes more than the more global reflections on Key Competencies?

Key questions might be:

  • What are effective metacognitive language learning strategies?
  • Can they be learned?
  • Does the use of effective metacognitive strategies increase learning outcomes?
  • What can teachers do to encourage the acquisition of effective metacognitive language learning strategies?
  • What conditions must be in place before students initiate the use of such strategies rather than relying on teacher facilitation?
  • Does reflecting on subject-specific learning improve language learning outcomes more than reflections on Key Competencies?
  • Does the learning of effective metacognitive strategies increase retention rates in language classes?
  • What technology tools best facilitate the acquisition of effective metacognitive language learning strategies?
  • Can the learning of reflection strategies improve learning outcomes for Maori and Pasifika students and increase their retention in language classes?

The proposed research is important because it aims to establish the most effective metacognitive strategies to help students help themselves, to improve learning outcomes and retention rates, and to create lifelong learners.

Research context and design

The context of the proposed study is language teachers in a Professional Learning Group (PLG) and their students.  Using collaborative action research, online teacher and student journals, and appropriate achievement and retention and attrition data, participants will establish strategies to use with their students and measure the success of their implementation against achievement data and attrition rate data.


Reference List

Second Language Acquisition

Ellis, R. (December 2008)  Principles of Instructed Second Language Acquisition. In CALdigest. Washington DC: Centre for Applied Linguistics (www.cal.org)

Krashen, Stephen D. (1995)  Principles and practice in second language acquisition. Hertfordshire: Prentice Hall Europe.

Lightbown, Patsy M. & Spada, Nina. (1993)  How languages are learned. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Learning to Learn

Anderson, Neil, J.  (April 2002)  The Role of Metacognition in Second Language Teaching and Learning.  Retrieved Oct 2012 at: www.cal.org/resources/digest/0110anderson.html

Clegg, J.   Metacognition: an overview of its uses in language-learning.  Retrieved Oct 2012 at: www.puglia.istruzione.it

Dyer, Wayne, Hadfield, J. & Marsden, Nick. (2008)  Top tools for literacy and thinking.  PearsNZ.

Lai, Emily, R.  (2011)  Metacognition: A literature review.  Online: Pearson Assessments.  Retrieved Oct 2012 at: http://www.pearsonassessments.com/hai/images/tmrs/Metacognition_Literature_Review_Final.pdf

Ramesh, R.  (30 Nov, 2009)  Metacognitive strategies for enhancing second language acquisition.  Retrieved Nov 2012 at: http://www.iste-community.org/profiles/blogs/metacognitive-strategies-for

Town, Douglas Andrew.   Metacognition and its development.  Retrieved Nov 2012 at: http://www.monografias.com/trabajos16/metacognition/metacognition.shtml 

Williams, Marion. & Burden, Robert L. (1997)  Psychology for language teachers.  Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press.

Research and Learning Outcomes

Marzano, Robert J., Pickering, Debra J., & Pollock, Jane E.  (2001)  Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement.  Alexandra, VA: ASCD.

Nunan, David.  (1992)  Research methods in language learning.  Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press. 

Stoop, Graham. (Chief Review Officer, ERO).  (July 2012) Literacy and mathematics in years 9 and 10: Using achievement information to promote success.  Wellington, NZ: Education Review Office.

Timperley, H., Wilson, A., Barrar H. & Fung I.  (2007) Teacher professional learning and development: Best evidence synthesis iteration (BES).  Wellington NZ: Ministry of Education.


Byrne, R.  (Ed)  The super book of web tools for educators: A comprehensive introduction to using technology in all k-12 classrooms.  Retrieved Sept 2011 at: http://www.freetech4teachers.com/2010/12/super-book-of-web-tools-for-educators.html

Redecker, Christine, AlaMutka, Kirsti, Punie, Yves.  (19th October 2008)  Learning 2.0 – the use of social computing to enhance lifelong learning.  Final Presentation at European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Annual Conference, Poitiers. Retrieved Nov 2012 at: s.jrc.ec.europa.eu/pages/EADTUpresentationFINAL.pdf.pdf  

Rollins, Mark J.  (2011)  Moodle 2.0 for teachers: An illustrated guide.  Great Britain: Lulu Enterprise.

Suzuki, Renata.  (June 2004)  Diaries as introspective tools: From Ashton-Warner to Blogs.  In Teaching English as a second language, Vol 8(1).  Retrieved July 2004 at: http://www.kyoto-su.ac.jp/information/tesl-ej/ej29/int.html

Wojcicki, Esther. (June 25, 2007) Google teacher academy: Docs and spreadsheets in the classroom.  Retrieved Nov 2012 at: www.slideshare.net/heywoj/new-necc 

The New Zealand Curriculum

Guthrie, Joe. (2005)  Have you got a Japanese teacher up your sleeve?”: New Zealand principals’ perceptions of language teacher supply. In New Zealand Studies in Applied Linguistics Volume 11 (2).

Ellis, R.  (2005) Instructed second language acquisition: a literature review.  Report to the Ministry of Education.  Auckland: Uniservices Limited.

Ministry of Education.  (2007)  The New Zealand Curriculum.  Wellington: Learning Media Limited.



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