Working with metacognitive questions after reading helps 4th graders access science text

mind map abstract on blackboardHands-on activities in science were once viewed as the most promising road to students developing scientific literacy. Today, researchers are emphasizing the importance of reading scientific texts to develop meaningful learning, even in elementary school.

But, because many students face considerable difficulty when reading scientific texts, teachers may need to provide students with metacognitive strategies so that they can discern what is important in the text, says a recent Israeli study in The Journal of Educational Research.

The controlled study of 108 Israeli 4th grade students in 4 science classrooms examined the use of a series of 4 metacognitive questions by students before, during and after reading a scientific text.

Students who worked with the questions after reading a text performed better in post-tests than students who used the method before reading the text and while reading the text, the researchers report. Students who used the method before reading the text outperformed those who used it while reading the text. All the students in the metacognition groups outperformed the controls.

“Perhaps the afMETA students (those who used the method after reading the text) went back to the text and reread it to answer the metacognitive questions, using a strategy that was found to be especially efficient in activating metacognitive processes,” the authors write. Students who had already read the text and experienced difficulties might have been better able to recognize the relevance of the metacognitive activities.

The researchers note that students who were provided the strategies after reading the text may have outperformed the other groups because “the cognitive load involved in reading the scientific texts was so high that students could not simultaneously use cognitive and metacognitive activities. This possibility may be particularly applicable for young learners, who are used to neither reading scientific texts nor activating metacognitive processes.”

Scientific inquiry text

The science learning unit that was used in the study was “The World of Organisms’ Lives: Animals and Plants,” part of a series called the Invitation to Scientific Inquiry (IME, 1999). Students studied the unit 3 times per week for 12 weeks or 4 months.

Each lesson comprised 3 parts:

  1. Describe a scientific phenomenon. Students were asked to read a scientific text, identify the scientific problem, analyze relevant data and formulate scientific hypotheses.
  2. Study the results of a related experiment. Students were asked to identify the experiment’s components, such as dependent and independent variables, measurement techniques, control, and repetition.
  3. Summarize and draw conclusions. Sudents were asked to describe the results of the experiment and to reach valid conclusions based on the data.

Students were given metacognitive guidance with the IMPROVE method. The 4 goals of IMPROVE are:

  • Comprehend the phenomenon of the problem described in the text (Questions: “What is the phenomenon about? What is the problem needing investigation?)
  • Construct connections between previous and new knowledge (Questions: “What do you already know about the phenomenon? What are the similarities/differences between the problem at hand and the problems you have encountered in the past?”)
  • Use appropriate inquiry strategies to solve the problem (“What are the inquiry strategies that are appropriate for solving the problem? What are the main components of the experiment designed to solve the problem? When/how should you implement a particular strategy?”
  • Reflect on the processes and the solution (Questions: “Does the solution make sense? Can you design the experiment in another way? How?”)

Measures used in the study were the Test of Science Knowledge, a test of 12 open-ended questions and 10 multiple-choice questions to examine students’ knowledge on the unit and text; the Test for Scientific Literacy, which was designed for this study to gauge students’ literacy in the 5 major components of scientific experiments (describing phenomena, formulating hypotheses, identifying dependent variables, identifying independent variables and reporting the results and drawing conclusions) and the Metacognition Awareness Questionnaire to assess students’ knowledge about cognition and regulation of cognition.

Students in the group who used the method after reading the scientific text outperformed the other groups on all 3 measures.

“Elementary School Children Reading Scientific Texts: Effects of Metacognitive Instruction,” by Tova Michalsky et al., The Journal of Educational Research, May-June 2009, Volume 102, Number 5, pp. 363-374.

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