Metacommunication is an increasingly important concept in the learning sciences. An important question concerning the metacommunication concept or the metadiscourse concept is if it´s possible to measure the presence of these phenomenon in a reliable way in natural language. In Knowledge Building research one attempts to develop indicators that can automatically assess key concepts such as Idea advancement. Metadiscourse is seen upon as a kind of discourse that might have a significant impact on Idea development.
One big methodological challenge with selecting indicators (verbs) is that the may be used both in metadiscourse and in ordinary discourse at “first level”. It`s difficult also because the metadiscourse concept is so tightly connected to the ongoing discourse. The list below illustrate some possible verbs and other words that may indicate the presence of metadiscourse.
Jianwei Zhang has together with his colleagues published some new research papers about the topic. His research can be summarized in the following key points.
1. Two different metadiscourse strategies Zhang, Lee and Wilde (2013) relate the metadiscourse concept to students’ efforts to co-construct ideas and develop shared, promising research goals. This study examined two complementary designs of metadiscourse in two Grade 5/6 classrooms that investigated astronomy. Teachers tested two different metadiscourse designs which were intended to help students develop a progressive course of inquiry. Both these approaches are different from a traditional inquiry-based approach where students often solve pre-specified problems or tasks which rarely generate curiosity-driven questions spontaneously.
1.1. Co-reviewing student questions Class A’s metadiscourse focused on reviewing student questions to formulate deepening goals. This focus on progressive questions could be said to represent an “inside out” process to deepen inquiry because personal wonderment and curiosity serve as the driving force. This strategy supports student collaborative efforts to monitor what is known and what is missing in order to identify knowledge goals based on their deepening wonderment (Zhang, Lee & Wilde, 2013).
About once every two weeks the whole class had a “metacognitive meeting” which lasted 20-30 minutes. The students reflected on progress and identified the focus of their further inquiry. Before each meeting, students were given time to read the online entries of their peers. They then contributed with new and deeper questions in Knowledge Forum by using the discourse scaffold “I need to understand”. Furthermore, these questions were listed on chart paper and reviewed in the whole class meetings. In the meeting, the teacher and the students tried to identify promising questions that seemed important and might stimulate deep inquiry. These questions were revisited in the subsequent metacognitive meetings (Zhang, Lee & Wilde, 2013).
It was challenging for the students to identify promising ideas. The teacher encouraged student reflection by asking questions such as: “Which question…that seems like… really ‘meaty’…? So, that’s a question that shows a lot of promise. We could probably do lots with that...A question we could generate lots of discussions. Lots of people can have input into it.” (Zhang, Lee & Wilde, 2013). The teacher also tried to illustrate characteristics of good questions:
- Teacher A: “How big is the Sun?” Would that be a question that would generate lots of different conversation and people could input lots of different things? - Student 1: No. - Teacher A: No, and why not? (Students murmur. Student 2’s voice gains their attention) - Student 2: It’s pretty… It’s like a simple question …How does it heat people?... that would be a bigger, deeper question…Like, “How does the Sun heat the Earth?” or something. - Teacher A: Right. So… There are lots of questions about the Sun, that would be deeper, richer kinds of questions, that would generate lots of discussion, and those are the questions we’re really looking for. (Zhang, Lee & Wilde, 2013).
1.2. Co-monitoring of key disciplinary concepts Class B’s focused on co-monitoring of key disciplinary concepts in readings that could deepen their inquiry into the “intellectual heart” of a discipline. Students made use of authoritative sources in order to focus on core concepts in the field. This represents an “outside in” process for students to monitor what is out there in the larger world and selectively “adopt” ideas from the field to grow their own inquiry. Such key concepts serve as conceptual landmarks that can help students better navigate the landscape of the discipline. According to Zhang, Lee and Wilde (2013) both the two described designs of metadiscourse support students work to deepen the collective inquiry. They suggest that an integration of both will likely lead to a more balanced metadiscourse.
2. Idea Thread Mapper According to Chen, Zhang and Lee (2013) it is usually difficult for students to overview their online collective work. As a consequence it may be difficult to deepen the inquiry because the work is too disconnected. In addition much research has focused on small-group discussion which is not necessarily applicable to discussions in more complex larger groups. In a research study, Zhang et al. (2013) use an ITM (Idea Thread mapper)-tool which supports students in getting an overview over the material. Through displaying different inquiry threads, the visualization tool make collective progress and problems visible to support ongoing reflection and co-planning. The ITM-aided reflection is used in a two hour long “metacognitive meeting” around the midpoint of the inquiry. With all the idea threads projected on a screen, the whole class reviews the collective work along different lines of inquiry. These conversations seem to increase student awareness of their collective knowledge.
3. Final remarks These new papers indicate that Zhang and his colleagues are trying to develop a more complex metadiscourse concept. They are working with new tools (Idea Thread mapper) and scripts that can support metadiscourse in Knowledge Building discourse in a positive way. For example, they have introduced the term “metacognitive meetings”. Such regular meetings seem to play an important role in the educational design. In addition they are also emphasizing the importance of having a discussion around the quality of different questions. Since verbal discussions still seem to be of crucial importance, it would be interesting if future research could describe the interplay between verbal and written metadiscourse.
Metadiscourse in a Knowledge Building discoruseEdit
- The metadiscourse is important to keep focus on the Knowledge Building discourse. You are prompting a specific way of interacting where the group is focusing on the further development of ideas. Here we present some possible examples of indicators that might be present in a discourse about the conversational content:
- “Explain”. (Can you explain more about this problem?).
- “Knowledge-telling”, “Knowledge Building” (Explicitly describing the discourse)
- What is this idea good for?
- Could you elaborate it?
- Could you talk more about it?
- “assess”, “evaluate”, “plan”
- Is creating a new scaffold ("my theory", "I need to understand") part of the metadiscourse concept because you are experiencing this as a helpful way of reflecting around your own idea (metacognitive awareness)?
- “Doing”. (“We`re doing”, “I am doing”, “I want to do”)
- “Talk about”. (“We`re talking about”, “Let`s talk about”, “I would like to talk about”)
- “Try to”. (I am trying to explain …….)
- “Say”. (“When you said”, “What you are saying, is”, “Why are you saying that”, I am saying that….)
- “Want to”. (“I want do to”, “we want to”)
- “Should”. (“How should we advance?” “We should use a color coding”)
- "Suggest" (Are you suggesting that...)
- "Interrupt" (“you sure interrupt me a lot”)
- “you always”
- “We” (e.g. “we are friends” ) (possible be attempts to explain further work or summarizing prior work)
- “I was” (e.g., “Sorry I was busy with the whiteboard”)
- “to be” (“I hope I haven’t been too obnoxious.”, “you’ve been a good group.”)
- “sorry” (“I´m sorry, I just am not clear”)
- “This is” (“this is an order”)
- “Go” “What’s going on in me
- “The reason” (The reason I am…, The reason we are doing this project ….)
- Verbs: "point out", describe, demonstrate, figure out
- Reciprocal verbs (single or plural verbs):
- "Each other", "together",
- Expression types: definition, description, explanation, exemplifications.
- Discuss (reciprocal verbs)
- “What’s going on in me as I hear you say that is …”).
- “The reason I’m saying this is …”).
- “It would help me understand what you’re doing/planning/saying if let me know what’s behind it”).
- “I wonder how you are responding inside to what I’m saying/doing”).
- “I sense some disagreement around . . .
- "(...) Let’s make sure that as we move forward, we both bring up any concerns that we have. Are you up for that? Did this discussion help you, or did I scare you or upset you by bringing it up?"
- “I’m feeling kind of confused right now, and it seems to me that it had something to do with the way you kind of shut down and crossed your arms when we started talking about
- you have interrupted people on six different occasions
- “What do you mean when you are saying that?”, “Can you repeat what you just said?”, “what I’m trying to say is”) (“Sally, so, what you’re saying is . . “). (Metacommunication)
- “What do you mean?”, “Why did you do that?”, What did you say?
- “Are we getting anywhere?” or “Is there an important idea we’re missing?” “Is the discourse (discussion) getting anywhere?”
- “It raises some interesting questions that can probably be analyzed further!”
According to Austin (2011), metacommunication guidelines today seem to encourage a sense of mutuality, a “we’re stuck in this together” sensibility. (psychotherapy)
Group work (Van Aalst 2009)
- “We could get a start on all the topics (...)”
- “(…) we´ve decided to go for two questions”,
- “I thought we were only supposed to research our own questions first. Are those the only questions that we are doing then?
- We weren’t aware that we needed to pick from your questions as well as ours”
- “I think your ideas for groups are good.”
- “Good job of actually getting things going!”
- “so that everybody will stay on task and finish the job more efficiently”
- “I’m sorry if this inconveniences you in anyway, but you’ve left us no choice. Hopefully this will work out alright with you.”
- “If the rest of our group wants to do it then I guess that’s what’s being done since “we have not been very active.”
- “We are sorry that you are not satisfied with the level of our commitment on KF.”
- “I really like [S’s] idea of setting ourselves little mini-deadlines so that everybody will stay on task and finish the job more efficiently.”
- “we have less than 1 week left”
Plenary discussion in classroom
- “So you’re saying everything is reflective then. (...)”
- “because we had a reading today” (summarizing)
- “Have we answered that?”
- “Anyone has a theory or evidence to support that?”
- “Oh, I hear some people disagree.”
- “Don’t throw it back to him. Give your theory.”
- “Hold on, let’s hear him talk.”
- Are we making progress in idea improvement? What are the weak areas that need more research? What experiments need to be conducted to test our theories?
The amount of actual “academic” interruptions in the verbal interaction in the classroom may also be an indication of metadiscourse. Overlapping talk may eventually create a bigger need to clarify what`s going on. Another fruitful strategy may be to look through transcriptions of "good" Knowledge Building discourse in order to locate popular metadiscourse “verbs”. It may also be important to find software programs that can automatically transcribe verbal speech (Is it enough with Knowledge Forum data?). Although not perfect, it seems as if the software development is improving.
Zhang, J., Chen, M.-H., Chen, J., & Mico, T. F. (2013). Computer-Supported Metadiscourse to Foster Collective Progress in Knowledge-Building Communities . Proceedings of the International Conference of Computer-supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL). Madison, Wisconsin.
Chen, M.-H., Zhang, J. & Lee, J. (2013). Making Collective Progress Visible for Sustained Knowledge Building. Proceedings of the International Conference of Computer-supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL). Madison, Wisconsin.
Zhang, J., Lee, J., & Wilde, J. (2012). Metadiscourse to foster collective responsibility for deepening inquiry. In Jan van Aalst, Kate Thompson, Michael J. Jacobson, and Peter Reimann (Eds.), Proceedings of the International Conference of the Learning Sciences (pp.395-402). International Society of the Learning Sciences (ISLS).