EFL Writers’ Metacognitive Experiences At The Macro Level of The MASRL Model

Updated: May 26, 2021

This article was kindly submitted by Elaheh Suleimani of The Department of Foreign Languages and Linguistics, Shiraz University, Shiraz, Iran. The author can be contacted via email: elahehsuleimani@gmail.com Full Title: EFL Writers’ Metacognitive Experiences at the Macrolevel of MASRL Model and Metacognition at Social Level



Metacognition with its various manifestations is crucial in discovering new paths of awareness and self-regulation. Metacognitive experiences are the pivotal points for awareness, activation, and self-regulation of the task processing as well as the person characteristics. Moreover, metacognitive judgment at social level of metacognition indirectly contributes to the greater awareness of one’s as well as others’ metacognitive experiences. Drawing on the analysis of the data collected from a group of EFL writers at a state Iranian University, we explored the metacognitive experiences and how these metacognitive experiences contributed to general person characteristics. In addition, representations of metacognition in students’ group work were investigated. It was found that the participants passed through three stages and it was only in the third stage that they managed to explicitly understand their general person characteristics through ME and successfully regulate themselves. Metacognitive judgment in group work helped the participants to be self-aware in the writing tasks. Also, they learned how to uncover the rationale beyond their points of view. Therefore, it may be concluded that metacognitive experiences created a balance and revealed the actual circumstance and all the associated features when the students initiated writing and functioned as a channel for short-term and long-term self-regulation.

Keywords: General Person Characteristics, Metacognitive Experiences, Self-Awareness,

Social Level of Metacognition


1. Introduction

Metacognition as a “model of cognition” (Efklides, 2006a, p.4) is considered to be the core to become aware of the monitoring processes of thought and learning and how an individual can apply the acquired knowledge to control his/her actions. Since learners are not always conscious of the processes of their cognition (Efklides, 2008), they are constantly involved in applying monitoring and control functions of metacognition to regulate their thoughts, actions, and behaviors. These facts emphasize the importance of metacognition, both for learners and educators, as an ever burgeoning field in which self-awareness; including estimations, feelings, and knowledge, are the outcomes.

Shedding light on different aspects of metacognition empowers the students to go one step beyond regularities of their thought processes in action, notice new paths of awareness, and decrease their limitations through the endless process of interaction and feedback between the task the student are engaged in and the characteristics like motivation, self-concept, and affect. This fact reinforces the essentiality of research on different levels of metacognition (Efklides, 2008, 2011). Moreover, in social relationships, metacognition improves “conflict resolution, error correction, and emotional regulation” (Frith, 2012, p.221). “Explicit metacognitive awareness” (Efklides, 2008, p.281; Frith, 2012, p.2220) of different facets of metacognition leads to improvement in reasoning, discussion, judgment, decision making, and collaboration (Briñol & DeMarree, 2012; Frith, 2012).

The literature shows that different models and categorizations of metacognition have been proposed (e.g., Brown, 1980; Flavell, 1979; Nelson and Narens, 1994; Schraw & Dennison, 1994; Efklides, 2006a, 2008). Generally, metacognition is crucial for monitoring and regulating learning (e.g., Zimmerman & Schunk, 2001; Veenman, Van Hout-Wolters, & Afflerbach, 2006; Hacker, Dunlosky, & Graesser, 2009).

Additionally, Flavell (1979) notes that metacognition has a distinctive role in reading comprehension, writing, language acquisition, social cognition, and problem solving. On the other hand, for those who pursue effective communication and academic achievement, competence in writing is important (Devine, 1993). For English as a foreign Language (EFL) learner, writing is not only the end, but the means to achieve proficiency in English language. In fact, in this respect, what students need is the ability “to understand and regulate their own thinking and learning” (Chamot, 2005, p.124).

Metacognitive experiences (ME) as an “interface between the person and the task” (Efklides, 2009, p.78) bring to light not only the feelings and judgments of writers but also their “online task specific knowledge” (Efklides, 2006a, p.4) which comprises the metacognitive knowledge (MK) of the task for processing. In addition, ME through intrinsic feedback (Efklides & Dina, 2004) are sources for choosing appropriate metacognitive strategies (Efklides, 2006a). The ME that a learner is engaged in while doing the writing task lead to awareness of one’s self-concept, motivation, and affect as personal characteristics that could be regulated separately and again influence the online task processing through ME and their interactions with metacognitive knowledge and metacognitive skills (MS) (Efklides, 2011). Besides that, metacognition at the social level is associated with online ME when the students in group work deal with judgment, communication of thoughts, and expression of feelings with one another (Efklides, 2008).

Having manifold functions, ME and its interaction with person level _ that is general characteristics such as “motivation, self-concept, affect, ability, control beliefs, MK, and MS” (Efklides, 2011, p.7)_ as well as social level of metacognition or “meta-metalevel” (Efklides, 2008, p.283) in writing tasks, especially the ones done by second language (L2) learners, are areas demanding research. The role of metacognition in writing along with theories of self-regulation in writing are whether limited to investigate the metacognitive processes in general (Hacker, Keener, & Kircher, 2009; Liu, 2014; Negretti & Kuteeva, 2011; Ruan, 2005; Zimmerman & Reisemberg, 1997) or metacognitive knowledge (Magogwe, 2013; Raphael, Kirschner, & Englert, 1986; Surat, Rahman, Mahamod, & Kummin, 2014; Victori, 1999), and self-regulation of writing tasks (Hammann, 2005; Jiangkui & Yuanxing , 2011; Kaplan, Lichtinger, & Gorodetsky, 2009). Accordingly, in this study, ME and their various interactions with person level and the social metacognition of EFL writers have been investigated. To make the analysis clear, the related theoretical metacognitive frameworks (Efklides, 2008, 2011) are briefly explained in the following section.


2. Metacognitive frameworks

This part provides a brief review of the concepts that form the background for the present study. Given the central role of monitoring and control functions of metacognition, in the first section the metacognitive facets are clarified. In the second part, the enriched model of metacognition is introduced. Finally, the metacognitive and affective model of self-regulated learning (MASRL) is explained.

2.1. Facets of metacognition

Based on the models of metacognition proposed by various scholars in this field, Efklides (2006a) specified two functions of metacognition as monitoring and control. Following Flavell (1979), she divided monitoring function into metacognitive knowledge (MK) and metacognitive experiences (ME). Another facet of metacognition is metacognitive skills, which are manifested as control function (Brown, 1987; Efklides, 2006a).

MK is the “offline monitoring of cognition” (Efklies, 2009, p.78) that consists of beliefs about ourselves and others, theory of mind, validity of knowledge, and goals. It also incorporates ME and MS. Being self-aware of MK, the learner can apply the constantly updated MK and make use of ME and MS to regulate himself/herself.

“Concurrent metacognition” (Efklides, 2006a, p.5) or metacognitive experiences are characterized as metacognitive awareness (Lories, Dardenne, & Yzerbyt, 1998; Efklides, 2011) of the task at hand since they have cognitive, affective, inferential, and analytic characteristics. Metacognitive feelings include “feeling of knowing, feeling of familiarity, feeling of difficulty, feeling of confidence, and feeling of satisfaction" (Efklides, 2009, p.78). Another category of ME is judgments or estimates such as “judgment of learning, source memory information, estimate of effort and time, estimate of solution correctness” (Efklides, 2009, p.78). In addition to the above mentioned categories, online task specific knowledge is another ME. This feature helps the learner analytically, inferentially, or attributively (Efklides, 2008) to engage with task features and the associated MK and MS.

Finally, metacognitive skills are demonstrated as control function of metacognition. According to Efklides (2009), metacognive skills consist of the following strategies: 1) Orientation strategies 2) Planning strategies 3) Strategies for regulating cognitive processing 4) Strategies for checking (monitoring) the implementation of the planned action 5) Strategies for evaluation of the outcome of task processing 6) Strategies for recapitulation and self-regulation. MS gets feedback from MK and ME and provide feedback for these two facets of metacognition (Efklides, 2008).

Overall, MK, ME, and MS are three facets of metacognition which are considered as “multifaceted phenomenon” (Efklides, 2008, p.280) due to the multiple relations and interactions with each other.


2.2. The enriched model of metacognition

The multifaceted and multilevel model of metacognition posited by Efklides (2008) is based on Nelson and Narens’ model (1994). It consists of three levels: object level, metalevel, and meta-metalevel. The object level or the nonconscious level includes regulatory monitoring and control processes of emotion and cognition.

At the metalevel, which is the personal-awareness level, the person is consciously aware of the products of object level. The components of self-awareness are emotions, ideas, thoughts, desires, and perceptions as well as ME, MK, and MS. At this level, the person is aware of the online task processing or the representation of the situation and its demands along with the actions or behaviors that end the accomplished tasks. At this level metacognition is not “cold or purely cognitive” (p. 282); it is rather “hot” (p. 282), because in the case of metacognitive feelings (ME), monitoring includes both affect and cognition. MS can be triggered by MK and ME. Monitoring at this level, by providing input for regulation makes use of “cognitive and metacognitive strategies for the control of emotions, motivation, and the environment” (Efklides, 2014, p.4). This kind of input takes the form of conscious and deliberate control for using cognitive strategies and metacognitive skills such as orientation strategies.

Meta-metalevel is the social level of metacognition. This is consistent with Nelson’s (1996) conceptualization that more than one metalevel may exist (Efklides, 2014). The personal awareness level interacts with the meta-metalevel. At this level metacognitive judgment (MJ) means estimating one’s or other’s metacognitive facets (i.e., MK, ME, MS). MJ is shaped by self-awareness as well as reflection and observation of thoughts or action of others. Control strategies at this level include analytic instructions, group work, and search for an appropriate strategy. Two implications are derived from the enriched model of metacognition (Efklides, 2014): first, at the various levels of metacognition, different processes in monitoring and control are involved. Second, monitoring and control are influenced by cognitive and affective aspects of the task.


2.3. The MASRL model

The metacognitive and affective model of self-regulated learning (MASRL) put forward by Efklides (2011) consists of two levels: person level and task×person level. The person level or “macrolevel” (Efklides, 2011, p.6) contains person characteristics (i.e., self-concept, ability, motivation, affect, control beliefs, MK, MS) and the various interactions among them. In this general level, the task is viewed in general not specifically according to its details, whether operating before or after the task processing (e.g., self-concept in writing or mathematics).

The task×person level or “microlevel” (Efklides, 2011, p.6) is an online task processing that involves three phases equal to beginning (task representation phase), during (cognitive processing phase), and after performance (performance phase). In each phase, monitoring and control functions of metacognition are present. Also, metacognition, motivation, and affect are present in this level in the form of ME that the learners encounter in all phases of processing. What connects the two levels of the MASRL model are top-down _“person’s goal or the self” (Efklides, 2011, p.15) _ and bottom-up _“awareness of ME and affect” (Efklides, 2011, p.15) _ processes of self-regulation through metacognitive and affective feedback the learner get from both levels of the MASRL model.

Accordingly, metacognitive experiences are the pivotal points both for self-regulation and enrichment of macrolevel of person characteristics. Furthermore, ME by providing explicit metacognitive awareness of different aspects of the task support the metacognitive awareness at social level. However as the above literature review shows no study has been conducted to explore the role of metacognitive experiences and social level of metacognition in Iranian EFL writers. Most of the studies were limited to investigation of the general metacognitive processes, metacognitive knowledge, and self regulation. Exploring ME Iranian L2 writers use and how they contribute to person characteristics and metacognition at social level of awareness are the aim of this study.

Consequently, the following research questions direct the investigation:

  1. How do students’ metacognitive experiences in writing contribute to the awareness of macrolevel of self-regulated learning model?

  2. How does students’ awareness of macrolevel of self-regulated learning model contribute to metacognitive experiences?

  3. What are the representations of metacognition in students’ group work?


3. Method

3.1. Research context, participants, and data sources

Essay Writing course is one of the writing courses senior students of English Language and Literature attend. Instruction in this course focuses on teaching students how to write argumentative essays, i.e. how to write an effective argumentative paper and also language and mechanics of writing. The Essay Writing course in the department of foreign language and linguistics at Shiraz University, Iran, was taught over a period of one semester that is for sixteen sessions.

The six study participants (n=6: 3 male and 3 female) were representatives of seventh semester Iranian university students taking part in an Essay Writing course. Study participants had Persian as their first language (L1) and the same cultural background. All the students had already passed two courses in writing at the university: Paragraph Writing and Essay Writing. In the former, they had practiced writing paragraphs using a variety of techniques of support and methods of development and in the latter; they had learned how to write expository essays.

The data for this qualitative case study includes reflection on writing assignments, argumentative papers, and interviews. Of course, to make the students familiar with reflective writing a training session was held by the instructor and the general instructions and examples were provided which were all irrelevant to writing. To avoid giving any clear hints about their own reflective writing tasks, the instructor explained that the learners should express their thoughts, feelings, and ideas as well as the processes they go through during the whole process of writing and then provided them with examples of reflective writings done in the fields of nursing and mathematics. The students were asked to write the reflections on their writings exactly after they finish the assignments for both group work and individual activities. At the end of the course, sixty reflections (n=60) were collected from all the participants. Students’ argumentative papers were examined in different phases of data analysis in order to be compared with students’ assertion in their reflective assignments as a method of calibration (Efklides, 2006a). In addition, after the analysis of the reflections, interviews were conducted to make some vague statements in participants’ reflections clear.


3.2. Data analysis

MASRL model (Efklides, 2011) had been utilized for answering the first and second research questions with regard to ME contribution to the awareness of person-characteristics (macrolevel of MASRL model). The enriched model of metacognition (Efklides, 2008) guided the researcher to find the answer to the third research question. It should be acknowledged that insights were sometimes taken from both models and metacognitive frameworks due to some overlap among them. Actually, this fact could be regarded as evidence that added to the credibility of interpretations. To answer the first and second research questions, MK, ME, and MS of the participants were specified and separated from each other and the components of the macrolevel of the self-regulated learning model in each of the students’ reflections were recognized using specific codes (appendix A). After the categories had been identified, an observation was made to see how students’ metacognitive experiences in writing contribute to the awareness of person characteristics and vice versa. To answer the third research question, the researcher went through three phases. In the first phase, she familiarized herself with the students’ group work reflections. After that she coded the reflections (appendix A) and specified the emerging categories, themes and relationships among them. In the last phase, evidences were collected regarding how MK, MJ, and MS of students were illustrated at the metacognitive social-awareness level. Finally, interviews were conducted to confirm the assignment of participants’ unclear reflective statements to specified categories and themes. To protect the identities of individuals taking part in this study, pseudonyms were used to refer to them.


4. Findings

4.1. Contributions of ME to the awareness of person characteristics and vice versa

The results that were reported below were representations of students’ metacognitive experiences operating on task×person level and how awareness of ME contributed to the regulation of person characteristics. In this regard, data analysis indicated that participants went through three stages.

In the first stage, participants merely wrote about the various metacognitive experiences that they encountered when engaging with the task processing while they repeatedly mentioned the same experiences before they entered into the second stage. Mostly, they wrote about their feelings and judgments.

For instance, John, Nancy, and Jack expressed feelings of difficulty due to the “lack of idea or interest”(John and Joseph) and inability “to provide convincing reason” (Nancy and Joseph) whereas Martin, Ella, and Sara clearly mentioned feelings of confidence, satisfaction, and knowing since they could fluently and easily write about topics of assignments:

“I can imagine the situation of the topic that I want to write about and put myself in the shoes of someone who encountered with the situation in reality. I mean, I try to make the abstract topic, real. Putting other difficulties aside, it gives me an interest to write.” (Excerpt 1, Ella)

“I can reasonably support my ideas and reasons in a way that is justifiable for my readers. They flow easily once I start thinking; also it helps me to focus on how to write rather than what to write.” (Excerpt 2, Martin)

John and Sara frequently referred to estimation of time in the middle of the task or at the end and the associated feelings of dissatisfaction, stress, and confusion they had because of time limitation. For example Sara said:

“I got anxious and stressful when I see my friends write faster and easier and I see there is no time for brainstorming, for thinking. I just try to finish the writing.”(Excerpt 3)

In addition, participants stated their feelings of difficulty when talking about online task-specific knowledge such as writing introduction (Martin), conclusion (Ella), and using a variety of structures and vocabularies (Sara, Martin, Ella):

“I always have a problem in writing a conclusion, and in this essay I had problem in writing the conclusion, too. If you pay attention you can see that it is written just in four lines. Really, believe me I did not know what to write about.” (Excerpt 4, Ella)

In the second stage, awareness of metacognitive experiences led to regulation of one’s action and use of metacognitive skills at the same time when the students monitored their metacognitive experiences.

For example, those students who expressed feeling of difficulty due to the lack of ideas and interest in the topic, although they mentioned the same fact in the second phase, immediately after such an experience they used their awareness and tried to find the best possible solution. This quotation from Joseph best exemplifies the above statement:

“Another topic! As usual I have no idea but it is not impossible. Well, I use my imagination, real life experiences, what I heard and read in news and magazines to start and continue my writing. Let's start brainstorming.” (Excerpt 5, Joseph)

In fact Joseph used the same approach to regulate himself several times before entering into the third stage.

In stage one and two, Sara’s reflections proved that estimate of time was one of her frequent ME since she always struggled with time limitations. However, what distinguishes her reflection in second stage from the first one was her ability to partially overcome this shortcoming along with its associated affective experiences. These two quotations from Sara’s reflections in stage one and stage two obviously illustrated her accomplishment:

“I checked my mobile clock and I was shocked. I still didn't write anything....As I started to write different ideas came to my mind but I could not handle them in such a short time..... I wrote till the middle of the body paragraph and again looked at my watch, just 15 min. left! What should I do now?”(Excerpt 6, Sara, stage one)

“I was a bit lost and confused, fearing time limitations.....As I knew I may not have enough time, I started brainstorming, outlining, and writing the key words in the rough draft... All in all, I felt satisfied because I finish the task on time.” (Excerpt 7, Sara, stage two)

Finally, in the third stage the data analysis illuminated that students’ metacognitive experiences in writing contribute to the awareness of the person characteristics and in turn the awareness of the person characteristics helped the participants to regulate themselves and create an opportunity for them to initiate writing with a new perspective.

In the last phase, Joseph and John reported that they tend to “spend too much time day-dreaming” about different subjects in a daily life and consider this MK of the self as one of the reasons for time limitation and lack of interest in the topic. As a result, taking into consideration the “audience” (John) and “channelling one’s emotion and stream of thought” (John and Joseph) were the solutions they found to regulate their action not only for the writing tasks but also in everyday life.

Nancy, having the same feeling of difficulty and in a “foggy state of mind” because of disinterest and lack of ideas about the topic of assignments, in the final stage verbalized how she enabled herself to change the state of her writing:

“I decided to educate myself in different topics. In the past, there was no way I could encourage myself. But now, I look at the matter as a way to develop and even relaxing and easing my soul. Cause by writing about different subjects you get to know yourself more and more, discover things about yourself you’d never thought about before and challenge your mind. Now, I have more clear idea about how my mind works and I’ll be more in control.”(Excerpt 8, Nancy)

It seems that metacognitive experiences helped her like a catalyzer to be more motivated to monitor herself.

Instructor’s feedback on the students’ writings was a source of motivation for Ella and Martin. They had generally problems in writing introduction and conclusion as well as using a variety of vocabularies and structures.

Unanimously, they stated: “whenever I see the instructor’s feedback, feeling of improvement and accomplishment made me to ask myself why I had written in this way and why I had chosen these words and structures. Now, I think, I can write like a writer.”(Excerpt 9, Ella)

“Feedback from my own feelings and feedback from our professor helped me to be my own judge and change my viewpoint whenever I want to write the introduction.” (Excerpt 10, Martin)

Sara found out the source of time limitation was the stress she always faced. For the third stage, she put forward this fact as follows:

“To me atmosphere is important since most of the time I feel stressed. I try to be more relaxed and less pressured and be patient, in that way time limitation is no more my problem.” (Excerpt 11, Sara)


4.2. Representation of metacognition in students' group work

Analysis of participants’ reflections on group work revealed that metacognitive judgment about group members’ MK, ME, and MS led to delving more deeply into one’s self-awareness as well as the critical attitude toward one’s own writing which contributed to self-regulatory behaviors. Martin and Joseph’s reflections on one of the group work aptly illustrated the above statement:

“Whenever I tell my friends about my ideas or feelings, they try to find it out more clearly so they ask you to elaborate it, this is the time that I have to think more deeply about my ideas and look at it in another way.”(Excerpt 12, Martin)

“Group members find out what they like and what they don’t like regarding writing because of variety of perspectives and ideas that a group work can bring to the final job.”(Excerpt 13, Joseph)