Metacognitive Awareness versus Linguistic Politeness: Expressions of Confusion in Tutorial Dialogues


Research suggests that students who are aware of their own confusions and take steps to resolve those confusions are most likely to benefit from a learning experience. At the same time, there are conversational maxims, such as Leech’s politeness maxims, that may inhibit a student from expressing and pursuing confusions within a tutorial dialogue. We investigated students’ expressions of confusion while working through a series of learning activities with a tutor. We found that, during the times when students were working independently on an activity, their expressions of confusion were reliable indicators of their (lack of) understanding; however, when they were conversing with their tutors, these same students did not express confusion and, in fact, the more often the expressed comprehension, the worse they performed on the post-test. This suggests that student metacognitive statements should not be interpreted without taking into consideration the context in which they were expressed. We briefly consider implications for human tutors and the development of computer tutoring systems.

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