A lot of langauge learners find listening comprehension an area of difficulty, perhaps because it involves both correctly perceiving and understanding language. In EAP, an extra challenge is added with the aim of learning subject content through listening and the demands of simultaneously taking notes or reading presentation slides. To help EAP students manage these challenges, explicit and extensive training programmes have been developed; this study investigates the efficacy of metacognitive strategy instruction on students’ comprehension of academic lectures.
Challenges of listening to academic lectures for EAP learners
Even students who have passed IELTS or TOEFL to access academic programmes taught in English often report difficulties in academic listening. Such listening tasks include listening to activity instructions, in-class explanations of subject content, seminar discussions, and of course lectures. Understanding non-verbal and phonological aspects of spoken language can be challenging, and students may also be listening to a number of different speakers, who may have differing accents and rhetorical styles. Rahimirad & Moini mention Fulcher’s (1999) research discussion, which highlights the impact of general language skills and abilities as more significant for academic success than subject knowledge. They go on to point out that a lack of listening comprehension skills can impact on a students’ general academic success, since lacking basic input means students are unable to process information deeply enough to lead to optimum recall or higher-order thinking skills.
Metacognitive Processes in Academic Lecture Listening Comprehension
To help EAP students manage these challenges, training programmes have been developed, which may include one of more types of learning strategies;
- cognitive strategies, e.g. deduction, note-taking – unconscious interactions with material
- metacognitive strategies, e.g. planning, monitoring – conscious regulation of learning process
- socioaffective strategies, e.g. interaction with peers through questions, discussions.
THIS STUDY: Does metacognitive strategy instruction improve academic lecture listening comprehension among EAP learners?
- 15 academic instructors on computing, physics and chemistry at Uni. of Oom in Iran, aged 26-38, hold MAs in Engineering (passed general English requirement for MA entry.)
- experimental group N=8, control group N=7
- pre-test based on academic listening section of IELTS – participants had lower-intermediate / intermediate levels
- initial interview about difficulties with listening to academic lectures.
- all participated in university workshops on academic listening and speaking; experimental group workshops included training in metacogitive strategies
- workshops comprised 8 sessions of 90 minutes, over 4 weeks, and used 16 academic lecture recordings.
- experimental group received strategy instruction on planning, directed attention, monitoring, selective attention, problem solving, evaluation
- experimental group sessions based on four stages of listening instruction proposed by Vandergrift (2003)
- post-test based on academic listening section of IELTS
- final interviews with experimental group about perceptions of metacognitive strategies and their contribution to listening comprehension abilities
Regarding the IELTS-type test scores, independent t-test results indicated no statistically significant difference between experimental and control groups before the study in academic listening comprehension (t = −.932, p ≥ .05). Independent t-test results showed a statistically significant difference between groups after the workshops (t = −2.431, p ≤ .05), implying that the experimental group outperformed the control group in improving academic listening comprehension as a result of metacognitive strategies.
Initial interviews revealed participants’ worry about finding academic lectures difficult to comprehend, often due to (self-reported) low-level general listening proficiency. More specific problems mentioned included losing concentration, frustration with lack of comprehension, and trying to simultaneously understand and take notes. These problems have been explored in previous research.
Final interviews with experimental group reported reduction in these key problems, especially lower levels of frustration. Perceptions of the workshops with metacognitive strategy instruction were generally positive, with the strategies viewed as helpful, and discussions of strategies among peers were seen as inspiring individuals to try out different strategies. The students employed different types of metacognitive strategies to differing extents, but all found them motivating and helpful for their ability to comprehend academic lectures.
Frequently used metacognitive strategies by EAP learners
Almost all experimental group participants reported using planning and directed attention, and finding these strategies effective. Planning is said to be a helpful strategy because it can activate previous knowledge of the subject, which facilitates comprehension. Students also reported the directed attention strategies having helped them to not give up and stop listening when they had difficulties with comprehension during a lecture.
Evaluation and monitoring were the second and third most commonly used strategies according to students’ reports.
Hardly any students had anything to report about using the selective attention strategy, because did not think they understood it properly or did not use it appropriately in class.
Conclusion & Take-away
This study provides empirical support for the inclusion of metacognitive training in EAP listening instruction. The sample was small, however, and focused only on low-level learners in Iran; thus we should be cautious about generalising too widely.
The qualitative findings show metacognitive strategy training as helpful in terms of enabling students to assume responsibility of their own learning, by embracing a cycle of planning, directed and selective attention, monitoring, and evaluation. The results indicate that it can be beneficial for EAP instructors to take a strategic approach to training academic listening and to adopt a process-oriented approach in order to enable students to effectively extract content information from oral input.
Specific activities that may be useful to practice:
- predicting lecture/seminar content from the title, inc. predicting key terms and information
- verifying and modifications based on introduction to lecture/seminar
- listening out for details / key information based n predictions
- understanding signposting language/non-verbal signals used to highlight key points
- evaluating and sharing lecture/seminar notes and filling out areas where individuals found comprehension difficult
- discussing comprehension or note-taking (etc.) strategies
- linking new information to previous knowledge and other topic areas (to encourage top-down processing)
- listening for gist vs detail
- asking for clarification or repetition
Fulcher G. (1999). Assessment in English for academic purposes: Putting content validity in its place. Applied Linguistics, 20, 221–236.
Rahimirad, M. & M.R. Moini, ‘The Challenges of Listening to Academic Lectures for EAP Learners and the Impact of Metacognition on Academic Lecture Listening Comprehension’, SAGE Open, April-June 2015, pp. 1-9.
Vandergrift L. (2003). Orchestrating strategy use: Toward a model of the skilled second language listener student. Language Learning, 53, 463–496. doi:10.1111/1467-9922.00232
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