Fossils and Metacognition


Fossils = preserved ancient remains of animals or plants that are artifacts left for archeologists to dig up and study right?  What about Language Learning fossils?  The learners whose habitual errors, which do not interfere with communication, but do not get better despite experiences or corrective, constructive feedback with the target language.

How many times have I failed in trying to reach my ‘fossilized’ language learners?  I have taught prepositions over and over until the cows come home, yet my learners STILL make the SAME mistakes.  Is it me?  Is it them?  How do other EAL teachers help de-fossilize their students repetitive and reverberating mistakes?  Seriously–what is the magic formula?

Language fossils have habitual errors and their brains cannot recognize these mistakes (usually surrounding rules of grammar).  So what does an English as an Additional Language specialist do?

We de-struct in order to re-construct meaningful new habits.  We help students rewire their plastic brains and create new connections to help support new behaviors and routines to move their ‘fossilization’ forward into new learnings. This is very difficult and takes a lot of time and moreover it takes BEING AWARE–this is the metacognitive piece, which could be tricky for students.  Metacognition is the process of being aware of how one learns–“knowing about knowing”, and a metacognitive human being actually owns-his/her knowing through thinking and reflecting and reconstructing and making connections.

Learning about how our brains are plastic and we are able to rewire our neurons leads me to remember that “Practice does not make perfect, it make PERMANENT”. My challenge as a teacher is to first help students become aware of their errors, then to discuss how they are going to ‘fix’ the errors.  It is the students job to have to become aware independently, and then remember to practice their new re-constructed strategies to rewire their brains-sans errors.  It really is all about awareness. Here is my equation:

awareness + strategy + practice + feedback = permanent learning


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