Jack C. Richards’ Response REDUX

[I posted the below previously with the second segment containing his reply in a comment. I wanted to get both together in a post though. So here goes…] 

Metacognition = just a fancy word for ‘knowing what you’re knowing’ / ‘learning what you’re learning’ I suppose.

Jack C. Richards is this week’s Cambridge English Teacher consultant and he’s chatting about teaching grammar. Below is my post to the discussion thread and I’m sure hoping he picks up on my query re: metacognition…


I thought I’d copy it here and see if any of my rag-tag network of blog readers/would-be blog readers/twitter comrades might have 5 cents or pence or baht or yen worth of thoughts to drop down. These days I’m primarily interested in the role of metacognition in teacher learning, but it’s all absolutely of a piece for sure. As with most of my ‘content’ this is a raw, quickly and perhaps sloppily wrought jumble, but I trust that it points in a coherent direction…

I’m interested in the issue of metacognition in this ‘bridge between accuracy and fluency’ process that transforms the declarative ‘inert knowledge’ of language form(s) (grammar) into procedural/functional knowledge which manifests not only as basic fluency but also finally, successfully ‘bends to complexity’ in more expert ways.

If the skill acquisition process can more or less be described as this 4-step process: unconscious incompetence –> conscious incompetence –> conscious competence –> unconscious competence (and so-called ‘grammaring’ is best thought of as ‘the 5th SKILL’ rather than static info to be learned and referenced), to what extent is it helpful to facilitate learners’ conscious, explicit self-awareness of what, how, why, and THAT they are learning grammar? For example, teaching learners more explicitly what we’re discussing here re: accuracy vs. fluency vs. complexity? And including activities which focus on awareness of learning above and beyond content learning itself?

Many times we’ll teach a speaking lesson focused primarily on accuracy with target language, yet not share the precise pedagogical parameters of the lesson with the students by stating explicitly, ‘you will study and practice/you just studied and practiced to increase your accuracy…tomorrow we will shift towards fluency/complexity’ etc.

I have a hunch that a greater degree of explicit awareness of these things may support learners in their attempts to ‘seal’ what they learn with the ultimate conscious recognition of what, how, why, and THAT they’ve learned it. Only then, perhaps, can learned items/clusters be ‘put away’ into sub-/unconsciousness while remaining within the conscious performative repertoire just like the native speaker…. Excusing my surely inadequate powers of description and explanation here, I’d be thrilled to hear any of your thoughts regarding this and thank you for being here! 🙂

What followed and his reply:

Isn’t the internet amazing…none but the one and only Jack C. Richards responded to my comment at some length (and called it ‘interesting’). Yay internet! This was his reply:

“Your interesting comment touches on a number of issues, including feedback and inductive versus deductive learning.

The development of grammatical competence is a gradual and lengthy process, during which learners make use of a variety of sources of input about the nature of English and their use of English. Some of this is the feedback learners receive about their performance.

Two important issues are: (1) How can the learner become aware of errors in his or her own production, and (2) What kind of instructional techniques are likely to be most effective in helping remove fossilized errors? Suggestions for addressing the first question involve learners becoming active monitors of their own language production through listening or viewing recordings of their own speech or through having others monitor their speech for fossilized errors in focused listening sessions. The second question raises the issue of error correction: What kinds of errors should be corrected, when and how? Current approaches to grammar in language teaching today vary from those that can be referred to as ‘grammar first’ to those that can be characterized as ‘grammar last’, as well as a range of positions in between.

Approaches in the first category represent traditional views of the status of grammar in language learning. The assumption is that learners should build up knowledge and use of grammar step by step through activities involving presentation of grammar and controlled practice in using the grammar, then leading to more open-ended use of the grammar in simple, guided oral and written tasks. With this approach, teaching follows a predetermined, carefully graded grammatical syllabus. Texts, dialogs and other forms of input serve as vehicles for presenting grammar. An example of the latter category may involve using content, texts or tasks as the framework for selecting and practising language use, where grammar is only taught as it is needed to discuss the content, create the texts or carry out the tasks. This approach is seen in Text-based teaching, Task-based Teaching, Content-based teaching and CLIL.

Less radical approaches involve including both a grammatical syllabus and communicative tasks, which together form the basis for teaching activities. This approach is typically seen in global ESL coursebooks. Regardless of approach, teachers have a choice whether to teach grammar inductively or deductively. In an inductive approach, students are encouraged to ‘discover’ the rules themselves, based on the input presented to them. In a deductive approach, the rules are given to the students, along with language exemplifying them. There is no single ‘right’ way to teach or learn grammar. Many teachers use a combination of these two approaches, based on their students’ learning styles.”

….aaaand now it’s on me to write something smart about THAT. Thing is, I’ve been and I am really busy (also I’m not that smart), and, well…there’s a lot to process. So it’s another one of those posts which must lead to future posts. In the meantime, if anybody out there has something to say about any of this, you know what to do! 🙂

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