ERIC Identifier: ED250670
Publication Date: 1984-00-00
Author: Standiford, Sally N.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Reading and Communication Skills Urbana IL.
Metacomprehension. ERIC Digest.
Teachers make many instructional decisions based on their assessments of
student comprehension. "Excellent" students, for example, are often given
enrichment materials so they will not be bored while the teacher works with
other students; "poor" students, on the other hand, are often given remedial
materials to help them "catch up." Almost always, such decisions are based on
what a student knows or does not know relative to the teacher's questions.
Assessment of a student's comprehension, although necessary and important, is
not always sufficient. Teachers might consider another dimension: the student's
metacomprehension, or awareness of his or her own understanding.
WHAT IS METACOMPREHENSION?
Who of us has not had the experience of reading a book and becoming aware
that we have not understood the content of the last few pages? At the point of
that awareness, our metacomprehension was very high --we knew we had not
processed anything just read. On the other hand, while we were reading
absentmindedly, our metacomprehension was very low-- we were unaware of our own
level of understanding. Metacomprehension, then, is the awareness of and
conscious control over one's own understanding or lack of it.
Regardless of whether or not students are "doing well" (by whatever grading
scheme we use), they may or may not be aware of their own degree of
understanding. Students with high metacomprehension are either those who know
they understand when, in fact, they do, or those who know they do not understand
when, in fact, they do not. Their awareness of their understanding accurately
reflects their comprehension.
Students have inaccurate or low metacomprehension if they are uncertain or if
they are unaware that they do or do not understand. Poor metacomprehension may
be exhibited in different ways: there are students who are sure they just "blew"
tests on which they subsequently get top scores, students who believe that they
have the material "down pat" and perform poorly, and students who just have not
thought about their own state of understanding.
By combining comprehension-metacomprehension dimensions, we can divide
students into the following four groups:
--High Comprehension-High Metacomprehension (students who know and are aware
that they know)
--Low Comprehension-High Metacomprehension (students who do not know and
realize they do not know)
--High Comprehension-Low Metacomprehension (students who know but think they
do not know)
--Low Comprehension-Low Metacomprehension (students who do not know but think
they do know)
WHY IS METACOMPREHENSION IMPORTANT?
One of the primary goals of instruction is to help students become efficient
and effective learners-- to have them become responsible for their own learning.
Effective learning requires awareness of one's understanding or lack of it, as
well as knowing what to do when one fails to understand.
Baker and Brown (1980) have identified three main reasons for comprehension
--the learner does not have enough information about the topic to interpret
the message (written or oral)
--the learner has the appropriate schemata, or prior knowledge, but there
aren't enough clues in the message to suggest them to the learner
--the learner interprets the message consistently, but the interpretation is
different from the one intended by the author or speaker
It is very unlikely that students in the third group will take remedial
action, because they will not realize that their comprehension has failed.
Students who fail to construct consistent interpretations are more likely to
attempt activities to clarify their understanding. "Such self-awareness is a
prerequisite for self-regulation, the ability to orchestrate, monitor, and check
one's own cognitive activities," according to Brown, Campione, and Day (1980).
WHAT CAN ENGLISH/LANGUAGE ARTS TEACHERS DO?
Asserting that sophisticated reading is a complex, acquired skill, Stewart
and Tei (1983) state that readers need to learn how to engage in certain
activities to achieve the goals of reading. One such goal, for example, is
reading to study. This may involve skills such as recognizing and retaining main
points, rereading important sections, making adjustments in reading rate, and
self-testing to monitor the success of various strategic activities. Awareness
of the understanding and use of these skills is necessary to metacomprehension.
Schallert and Kleiman (1979) have identified some strategies reading teachers
can use to help students' metacomprehension:
--Focusing the student's attention on the main ideas
--Asking students questions about their understanding to help them monitor
--Relating the student's relevant prior knowledge to the new information
As teachers we need to teach students how to use such activities and
encourage their independent use.
For students with low comprehension-high metacomprehension, teacher questions
and feedback designed to help students apply appropriate studying strategies and
techniques can be effective. These students do not gain from those teacher
responses that simply indicate that they are wrong--they already know that. As
teachers better understand these strategies and techniques, they can train
students to use them more effectively. For example, instructing students to
summarize a reading without giving them any criteria for development of a
summary does a disservice to those students who are aware that they do not know
how to construct such summmary.
Students with high comprehension-low metacomprehension need consistent,
positive verbal and written reinforcement. Although some research has
demonstrated that the positive reinforcement of confirming correctness for some
students is ineffective, regular positive reinforcement is effective for this
subset of students, since their lack of confidence is critical.
The approach for students with low comprehension-low metacomprehension should
be to focus on the metacomprehension dimension first, breaking through their
false sense of understanding rather than teaching them content. One might ask
these students questions that help them recognize a contradiction between what
they really know and what they think they know, but don't. For example, a
student who draws an illogical inference from a reading passage due to
incomplete background knowledge may be unconvinced if simply told that he or she
is wrong. Such a student could be confronted with his or her misunderstanding by
being shown similarities and/or differences between the passage in question and
analogous material more familiar to the student.
HOW CAN TEACHERS EVALUATE STUDENT METACOMPREHENSION?
One of the simplest ways to assess a student's awareness of understanding is
to ask the student to rate the certainty that he or she has answered correctly
or incorrectly. Students with good metacomprehension will respond that they are
relatively certain that their correct answers are correct or that their
incorrect answers are incorrect.
Poor metacomprehenders will have a mismatch between their answers and their
confidence ratings. A word of caution: younger students frequently respond
positively when questioned on how sure they are of what they know, regardless of
the truth of their assertions (Baker and Brown 1980). More direct evidence of
metacomprehension for these students might come from monitoring the
self-correction of their errors during such learning activities as reading.
"The ability to reflect on one's own activites ... is a late developing skill
with important implications.... If ... the child is not aware of his own
limitations as a learner or the complexity of the task at hand, then he can
hardly be expected to take preventive actions in order to anticipate or recover
from problems" (Baker and Brown 1980).
It is not enough for a teacher to be aware of the dimension of comprehension
awareness. Development of the student's own awareness is crucial. To better
serve their students, English language arts teachers should regularly and
actively integrate metacomprehension strategies in their classrooms.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Baker, Linda, and Ann L. Brown. METACOGNITIVE SKILLS AND READING. Technical
Report No. 188. Cambridge, MA: Bolt, Beranek, and Newman and Chamapaign, IL:
Center for the Study of Reading, 1980. ED 195 932.
Brown, Ann L., Joseph C. Campione, and Jeanne D. Day. LEARNING TO LEARN: ON
TRAINING STUDENTS TO LEARN FROM TEXTS. Technical Report No. 189. Cambridge, MA:
Bolt, Beranek, and Newman and Champaign, IL: Center for the Study of Reading,
1980. ED 203 297.
Markman, E. M. "Realizing That You Don't Understand: Elementary School
Children's Awareness of Inconsistencies." CHILD DEVELOPMENT 50 (1979):643-658.
Schallert, Diane L., and Glenn M. Kleiman. SOME REASONS WHY TEACHERS ARE
EASIER TO UNDERSTAND THAN TEXTBOOKS. Reading Education Report No. 9. Cambridge,
MA: Bolt, Beranek, and Newman and Champaign, IL: Center for the Study of
Reading, 1979. ED 172 189.
Standiford, Sally N., Kathleen Jaycox, and Anne Auten. COMPUTERS IN THE
ENGLISH CLASSROOM: A PRIMER FOR TEACHERS. Urbana, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Reading and Communication Skills and National Council of Teachers of English,
1983. ED 228 654.
Stewart, Oran, and Ebo Tei. "Some Implications of Metacognition for Reading
Instruction." JOURNAL OF READING 27 (October 1983):36-43.
Wagoner, Shirley A. "Comprehension Monitoring: What It Is and What We Know
about It." READING RESEARCH QUARTERLY XVIII (Spring 1983):328-346.