|Australasian Journal of Educational Technology
2010, 26(7), 1075-1089.
A metacognitive approach to enhancing Chinese language speaking skills with audioblogs
Yuh Huann Tan
Ministry of Education, Singapore
Nanyang Technological University
Situated in the field of computer assisted language learning (CALL), this article reports an instrumental case study on the use of audioblogs for developing students' Chinese speaking skills. The intervention focused on scaffolding students in metacognitive reflection of their oral performances. The case focused on seven students who completed substantial part of the activities, and the main sources of data came from the oral recordings and interactions in their audioblogs. A significant improvement in the mean scores of pre- to post-test oral performance was found, which indicated the benefits of this approach. The students were found to adopt a systematic approach in their reflection: evaluating --> monitoring --> planning, with greater amount of attention devoted to the monitoring strategy. However, a disproportionate distribution of metacognitive knowledge usage was found in students' self-assessment. Task knowledge was the predominant metacognitive knowledge used by students, whereas person knowledge and strategy knowledge were neglected by the students. Teachers who are keen to implement a similar instructional approach could develop strategies to focus the students' attention on the latter two types of metacognitive knowledge.
As in the case of other technologies, educators worldwide have been leveraging the affordances of blogs for teaching and learning (e.g., Ladyshewsky & Gardner, 2008; Tekinarslan, 2008). Some common applications include the use of blogs by students to publish their writings, to review each other's work, and to build personal portfolios. Within a short time, multimedia content became important, creating new variants of blogs like podcasting or audioblogs, and vlogs (video blogs), which generated new affordances for educational purposes. Educational research, however, is yet to catch up with this rate of technological development and there is a need for empirical studies on the impact of blogs. In this paper, we studied the applications of audioblogs (blogging with audio posts) as the mediating information and communication technology (ICT) tool for the teaching and learning of Chinese language speaking at secondary school level. We focused particularly on scaffolding students in their metacognition to build their competencies in self-evaluation of their oral performances and planning for their future speaking tasks.
The history of blogging can be traced to the use of the web for personal daily entries ('logs') by Jorn Barger in 1997. One of the most predominant applications among bloggers is to recollect, reflect and write on one's past experience. Educators have since adopted the use of blogs in at least four ways (Ray, 2006):
Given the relatively short history of blogging technology, research on the use of blogging for language learning has gained momentum only recently. Through a survey with 1298 Primary Four (Grade 4) students in Hong Kong, Tse, Yuen, Loh, Lam and Ng (2010) found that 60% of the students had not read any Chinese blogs and 80% had not read any English blogs. The students' reading proficiency was significantly correlated with their consultation of blogs and the choice of blogs was dependent on social distance, that is, their familiarity with the owners or persons related to the blogs. Lou, Wu, Shih and Tseng (2010) found that the use of blogs enhanced high school students' performance in Chinese language composition; the students also indicated positive attitudes towards the use of blogs and composition writing. Sun (2010) found that extensive writing using blogs helped undergraduate students who studied English as a foreign language to improve their writing skills; the process also improved their motivation to write and helped to develop self-monitoring strategies. Shih (2010) found that a blended learning approach with video-based blogs was effective in helping university seniors improve their public speaking skills. Among the 44 participants, 82% of them improved in professional public speaking skills in aspects such as enunciation, articulation, facial expressions, posture, and gestures. Research on educational applications of audioblogs remains scarce. For example, Hsu, Wang, and Comac (2008) reported positive user experience in using audioblogs for learning of English language. Davis & McGrail (2009) described how a teacher provided feedback to fifth-grade bloggers using podcasting, which helped the students to improve their proof-revising skills and influenced them to provide feedback to their peers using podcasting.
The paucity of studies on audioblogs leaves us little clues about the pedagogical applications of audioblogs for teaching and learning of speaking skills. Given the affordance of blogs as a reflective tool, we identified metacognition as one aspect of intervention that we can focus on.
Where speaking is concerned, there appears to be few empirical studies that link metacognitive knowledge to the learning of speaking. Zhang and Goh (2006) studied the relationship between students' metacognitive awareness of speaking and strategy knowledge; Nakatani (2005) investigated the relationship between metacognitive awareness-raising training and oral communication strategy use; Kaderavek, Gillam, Ukrainetz, Justice and Eisenberg (2004) explored the relationship between narrative production and children's self-assessment of their oral performances. Among the limited research studies, the findings were generally positive in that learners benefited and improved their oral skills when metacognitive strategies were introduced in the training (Nakatani, 2005). As existing research tends to focus on cognitive strategy applications and languages of the Western world, this study attempts to study the effect of incorporating metacognitive strategies for the learning of Chinese language.
The above review helps to identify several research gaps, in particular, the sporadic attempts to teach speaking skills with CMC tools, the scarcity of empirical research on the educational applications of audioblogs to facilitate learning of Chinese speaking skills, and the lack of study on the roles of metacognition in learning of speaking skills. This study could contribute to these areas of research. In addition, the findings could provide practical information for teachers who are interested in the use of audioblogs for enhancing students' speaking skills.
The 25 participants were initially assigned randomly into groups of five. Four weeks into the study, the students were re-assigned into groups of three (with an exception of one group of four) to provide more opportunities for students to interact with each other. As an instrumental case study that focused on understanding the phenomenon that is being studied, it is critical for the students to follow the cycle of activities so that the treatment effect can be accounted for. Because the participation was voluntary, only seven students followed through the prescribed activities and completed at least four out of seven cycles of speaking activities in the eight weeks. Our analysis focused on the oral performance and the posts from these seven students.
The students carried out a weekly cycle of activities as follows:
|0 (Pre-test)||Teenagers buying branded goods|
|1||Bullying in school|
|2||Pressure faced by teenagers|
|4 and 5||Do Singaporeans display courtesy?|
|6||Which is more important, appearance or inner beauty?|
|7||Teenagers running away from home|
|8||Youth's addiction to online gaming|
|9 (Post-test)||Teenagers engaging in a boy-girl relationship|
|Note: Italicised words are used as a short-form to refer to the topic title in subsequent sections.|
For the pre- and post-tests, no peer and self-assessment were conducted. The topics given to the students (see Table 1) were modelled after topics that appeared in the General Certificate of Education (GCE) O-Level Chinese Language examinations. These topics focused on social issues that most teenagers faced. For each topic, the students were provided with newspaper reports or documentary programs to gain some background knowledge of the issues concerned.
To build up students' capacity in metacognition, the following scaffolding strategies were used: (1) Assessment criteria for oral performance were provided (Table 2); (2) Sentence opening cues were provided for students to provide feedback to their peers (Table 3); and (3) sentence opening cues were provided for students to assess their own performance (Table 4). Note that all the information provided to the students was in Chinese; Tables 2, 3, and 4 reported in this paper are the English translations.
The assessment criteria presented in Table 2 were adapted from the assessment rubrics used in the GCE O-level Chinese Language examinations, which elaborated on the key areas that are expected of a student's oral speaking in an oral examination.
A list of sentence openings designed based on Bloom's taxonomy (1956) in the form of a printed handout was provided as scaffolds for the students to think more critically when commenting upon their peers' recordings (see Table 3). Bloom's taxonomy was chosen as the students had learnt about the different types of thinking skills in their school curriculum.
After the students had exchanged comments, they were required to perform a self-assessment of their oral performances. A list of sentence openings designed on the basis of the metacognitive framework proposed by Goh and Zhang (2001) was provided in the form of a printed handout (see Table 4). The students were asked to reflect on the four areas listed in the table. They were not specifically told that metacognition was involved in the reflection process they were going through. After the reflection, students were required to immediately perform an oral recording on the same topic and upload it to their audioblogs.
|Sentence openings||Types of meta-|
|Note: The table provided to students was in Chinese and excluded the last column on "Types of metacognitive strategy".|
After the above weekly cycle of activities that the students were tasked to conduct in their own time, the teacher would check whether the students had carried out their assigned learning activities in the follow up, face to face session. During this session, good examples of students' reflections were highlighted to encourage students to learn from their peers on how ideas can be represented in their self assessment. This was followed by the introduction of a new topic for their next speaking task. During weeks 4 and 5, there were school-wide common tests. As the students had to spend more time to prepare for their tests, the activity was extended to two weeks. In the ninth week, a post-test was administered using the same procedure as the pre-test except that students were required to speak on a new topic. The same test was not reused to reduce the confounding testing effect that could lead to better performance (Bygate, 2001). The pre-test and post-test topics were of similar level of difficulty as judged by three experienced Chinese language teachers.
The pre-test, post-test, and all the oral performances were graded by three Chinese language teachers who had been appointed examiners for the GCE 'O' Level oral examinations by the Ministry of Education and were familiar with the requirements of the national examination. The teachers graded the recordings independently and the students' identities were not revealed to these teachers.
The domain www.audioblogging.net was specially set up for this study so that the students could remember the website easily. Movabletype.org, an open source blogging platform, was used because it has a user friendly interface that was attractive to the youths and it includes essential functions like commenting.
Figure 1: Screen capture of a student's audioblog
Figure 2: Mean scores of pre- and post-oral performances
Visual inspection of the mean scores showed that the students seemed to perform better in the post-test compared to the pre-test. Since the sample size was small, the pre- and post-test mean scores were compared using the non-parametric Wilcoxon test. Taking W as the sum of the signed ranks, W=-28 for n=7. Using a two-tail test, it is significant at p=.02 level. The mean score for the post-test oral performance is significantly higher than the pre-test mean score. This result suggests that the there was an improvement in the students' Chinese language speaking skill after the intervention.
There were 175 instances of metacognitive behaviour identified. The distribution of the metacognitive strategy is summarised in Table 5.
|Examples (English translation)||Number of|
The result showed that the students invested a larger amount of effort on monitoring how various factors could affect their oral performance. In contrast, a smaller amount of effort was devoted to evaluating speaking performance on the whole and planning for the next recording.
In terms of sequencing of the three strategies, among the 32 pieces of self-assessment, 31 (96.9%) of these began by employing the evaluating strategy. This was always followed by the use of a monitoring strategy in all the cases. There was one reflection that began with the monitoring of the oral performance. In this reflection, the evaluation of the speaking task began midway through the reflection. Students used a planning strategy in 26 out of 32 self-assessment posts. In all these cases, the monitoring strategy always preceded the use of the planning strategy. Four of the six pieces of self assessment that did not demonstrate the planning strategy occurred in the last cycle of practice. It is possible that since it was the last cycle of practice, the students could have decided to leave out planning for the next speaking task in their reflection.
In terms of the type of metacognitive knowledge that was used in the self assessment, task knowledge was most frequently exhibited (See Table 6). Students did not use person knowledge and strategy knowledge frequently.
The frequency of metacognitive knowledge suggests that the students' reflections focused on the content and their expression during the performance of a speaking task, but not much attention was devoted to the use of person knowledge and strategy knowledge in their self assessment.
To better understand the use of person knowledge and strategy knowledge during self appraisal, we analysed students' use of person knowledge and strategy knowledge across three metacognitive strategies. The distribution of the type of metacognitive knowledge used when students apply a metacognitive strategy is shown in Table 7. It seems that person knowledge is used more often than strategy knowledge in monitoring strategy, and the reverse is true for planning strategy. The students rarely used person knowledge and strategy knowledge in their evaluation strategy.
We also examined the students' metacognitive behaviours when providing feedback to their peers. There were 27 comments made by these 7 participants. Task knowledge was most frequently used (93.3%). Person knowledge (5.9%) and strategy knowledge (0.7%) were much lower in frequencies. Table 8 summarises these findings.
|Meng||1 (4.8%)||20 (95.2%)||0 (0.0%)||21|
|Ning||3 (33.3%)||6 (66.7%)||0 (0.0%)||9|
|Shing||0 (0.0%)||11 (100.0%)||0 (0.0%)||11|
|Ting||0 (0.0%)||4 (100.0%)||0 (0.0%)||4|
|Hwee||2 (6.9%)||27 (93.1%)||0 (0.0%)||29|
|Yuan||0 (0.0%)||26 (96.3%)||1 (3.7%)||27|
|Zen||2 (5.9%)||32 (94.1%)||0 (0.0%)||34|
|Total||8 (5.9%)||126 (93.3%)||1 (0.7%)||135|
Similar to the metacognitive behaviours in self-assessment, the results showed that the students used their task knowledge most frequently when they provided comments to their peers. On the few occasions when person knowledge was used, the students took note of their peers as language learners with individual characteristics and provided comments. The use of strategy to critique their peers' speaking task appeared to have eluded the students except in one occasion.
The content analysis of students' self-assessment shows that they devoted greater attention to monitoring strategy compared to planning and evaluating strategy. A possible explanation is that there are more ways and aspects for monitoring one's performance, for example, by comparing performance with other students or commenting on various aspects of the oral performance like pace, fluency and use of vocabulary. A more detailed analysis revealed that the students adopted a systematic approach to self assessment. Most students' self assessment contained all three metacognitive strategies when they reflected on their speaking task. Although the scaffolds provided opportunities for different approaches to the self-assessment, a prominent pattern emerged in almost all the reflection notes: evaluating --> monitoring --> planning. In a few cases, some students added an additional evaluating step at the end, that is, evaluating --> monitoring --> planning --> evaluating.
Among the three types of metacognitive knowledge, task knowledge served as the basis for the students' activities in the audioblogs. More than 86% of the occurrences in students' self assessment made use of task knowledge. Likewise, nearly 92% of the occurrences in students' peer critique made use of their task knowledge on the speaking task. This finding coheres with Zhang and Goh's (2006) finding that while Grade 9 Singaporean students were generally aware of the usefulness of listening and speaking strategies, their perceived use of these strategies was much less frequent. In our intervention, the term metacognition and its meaning were not made known to the students and the scaffolds provided to them were not labelled as metacognitive strategy or metacognitive knowledge. The fact that the students had focused very much on task knowledge showed their task-oriented disposition. The students might have a parochial view that merely focusing on the task components could help to improve one's speaking skills. They may not realise how other factors (e.g. learner's characteristics, application of learning strategies) could contribute to and affect their oral performances.
The findings also show that the students had the tendency to use person knowledge more often during monitoring of their past speaking tasks and they used strategy knowledge more often during their planning for their future speaking tasks. This imbalance in the application of metacognitive knowledge suggests that the students had not acknowledged the importance of how their individual characteristics can influence their future learning events and how learning strategies can be adapted and applied to suit their different personalities. We observed in the students' self assessment how their habits, such as the tendency to use "Singlish" (a colloquial variety of language used by Singaporeans), had affected some of their oral performances. It would probably be more effective if students were able to turn inwards to review their person knowledge and adapt their strategy knowledge accordingly each time they reviewed the past speaking task and planned for the future task. The finding that the students were not drawing as much on person knowledge and strategy knowledge also suggest that there is a need to raise their awareness and improve their abilities to draw upon these resources when learning to speak Chinese language. Of course, person knowledge and strategy knowledge cannot work in isolation without task knowledge. It is important to highlight to students the importance of synergising all three types of metacognitive knowledge so that their overall level of metacognitive awareness can be enhanced.
The scaffolding questions play an important role in scaffolding students' reflection and self-assessment. The students adopted a systematic approach in their reflection: evaluating --> monitoring --> planning, with greater amount of attention devoted to the monitoring strategy. A disproportionate distribution of metacognitive knowledge usage was found in students' self assessment. Task knowledge was the predominant metacognitive knowledge used by students; person knowledge and strategy knowledge were neglected by the students. Teachers who are keen to implement a similar instructional approach could develop strategies to focus the students' attention on the latter two types of metacognitive knowledge. These can possibly lead to an improvement in all three types of metacognitive knowledge.
The approach used in this study involved the use of audioblogs as the technological platform. The provision of disk space and the availability of bandwidth for the server are important considerations as voice recordings are relatively big in file size. As blogging technologies are still emerging, readers who are interested could explore newer audioblogging services, such as www.podbean.com, which include new features such as analysis tools, integration to other social software, and mobile access; web-based recording services, such as www.vocaroo.com, can also be explored for teachers who faced storage space constraints. Nevertheless, the introduction of these technologies into an oral speaking classroom can possibly tap on some experiences that we have shared in this paper.
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|Authors: Yuh-Huann Tan, Educational Technology Division, Ministry of Education, Singapore.|
Seng-Chee Tan (contact author), Learning Sciences and Technologies Academic Group, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University.
Please cite as: Tan, Y. H. & Tan, S.-C. (2010). A metacognitive approach to enhancing Chinese language speaking skills with audioblogs. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 26(7), 1075-1089. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet26/tan-yh.html