Metacognition just means “thinking about thinking.” Or in the case of my class yesterday, learning a bit more about how they learn.
It was time to revisit our revised learning schedule (longish computer time twice a week, and a longer lesson twice a week ending in conversation) after a one-week trial. The students were telling me what they liked, what was so-so, and what was terrible about this new schedule.
We did decide to stick with it for another four weeks and then revisit it again. But along the way, one of the students said that she thought conversation time was terrible because during it, they speak broken English instead of correct English.
At this point, I took a risk. I reminded them that I’m a student, studying to get my Master’s in teaching ESL. People study students and how they learn. I taught them something I learned.
There are two different speaking skills: speaking correctly, and speaking fluently. It was easy for them to understand the former; I demonstrated the latter and explained that fluent meant smooth, easy, and with not much thinking.
I drew a line between the two on the board. I told them that you can’t practice both at the same time. They are different. They can do both in Spanish and Korean and Chinese because they’ve known them for a long time. But when you’re learning, you can’t be correct and fluent together.
I told them that if we only study speaking correctly, after five years they’ll sound like this: “Excuse me……………..where…………..is- no are………………..the………………………pants.” (It sounded even more awkward than it looks!) It’s correct, but it’s not comfortable and it’s not fluent.
So it’s actually important to make some mistakes in conversation time, because that means you can practice being more fluent. I explained that in every lesson, I tried to give them time to practice being correct and time to practice being fluent.
I know my class pretty well, and I wasn’t seeing baffled bewilderment on their faces, nor was I hearing distracted side conversations. I should have checked for understanding better than I did, but I have reason to believe that they were with me. Very cool.
Later, when we moved from an accuracy activity to a fluency activity, I pointed it out. I used my hands to show them that in the first activity, I wanted high accuracy and low fluency, but in the next activity I wanted more fluency so they could worry about accuracy a bit less (not zero though!).
Maybe this was the key to overcoming my natural hesitance to use a lot of fluency activities: the class now knows some learning theory too, so I have to be sure I don’t lean too heavily toward accuracy!