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The research team, led by Dureshahwar Shari Lughmani from the English Language Centre of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), analysed data of undergraduate students from different departments and programmes. These students were drawn from four writing intensive General Education courses with an integrated English writing assignment of 2,500 words, carrying at least 40% of the overall course grade. The assignment was written over a 13-week semester, with students receiving detailed feedback from language teachers on two successive drafts.

To facilitate L2 students’ writing development in the new subject areas, and help them understand the assignment requirements, a systematically developed set of tools was deployed at different stages of the writing process. This set of tools represents a range of metacognitive strategies that refer to the ability to plan a learning task, take necessary steps to problem solve, reflect on and evaluate results, and modify the approach as needed, as is exemplified by the English Writing Requirement of General Education courses at PolyU.

“The language teachers guided the students in the use of tools that promoted metacognitive strategies such as planning, monitoring, evaluating, and revising,” said Lughmani. “These tools included assignment orientations, assignment guidelines, assignment checklists, feedback reports, consultations, and student reflections.”

The research team explored students’ perceptions of metacognitive strategies, as well as what strategies were more effective in improving students’ writing performance. They found that the most popular strategy adopted by L2 students was consulting the assignment guidelines, and this strategy was also associated with greater improvements in students’ writing. The team also discovered that, while reflection was also a popular strategy, it was not directly associated with significant improvements in students’ writing performance. Instead, using the assignment checklist was the second most effective strategy.

“Assignment guidelines refer to the most fundamental document setting the framework of the assignment,” said Lughmani. “As a metacognitive strategy, assignment guidelines provide a list of reminders and resources developed by language teachers in collaboration with the subject teachers which help students understand and develop the assignment. It is not surprising that it was the most popular tool with students, who are aware that their work needed to be relevant to the genre and to their discipline teacher’s expectations.”
CBS1A22checklist1a           CBS1A22checklist2
Sample checklists which students receive separately as part of the assignment template.

While assignment guidelines presented the genre requirements in the planning stage, the assignment checklist presented the same set of requirements in the monitoring stage. These explicit instructions made clear to students what they needed to do, which made these strategies the most beneficial and important to their writing performance.

These findings extend previous studies on the use of metacognitive strategies and could help language teachers better guide their L2 students when writing in new subject areas.

 

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