students working on project November 7, 2016

The Power of Transparency in Your Teaching

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The most recent issue of Peer Review (Winter/Spring 2016; published by AACU) highlights the powerful impact ‘transparency’ can have on learning for all students. One aspect of transparency is making obvious the intellectual practices involved in completing and evaluating a learning task. But making these processes visible for students is more easily said than done; we are experts in our fields for the very reasons that our thinking and evaluating are automatic and subconscious. It’s hard to describe exactly what we do intellectually when we synthesize or integrate, critique, or create. Similarly, it’s difficult to articulate the differences between an assignment we score as an A and one to which we give a B. Thus, a challenge in achieving transparency is developing a deep awareness of our own processes. Only then can we explicitly teach those thinking processes. In my own case, thinking about thinking (aka metacognition) was a new pedagogical consideration and it took time to learn this new set of skills in the context of teaching biology. So I was tickled pink one day last September when, at my new institution, I was able to problem-solve on my feet. I was teaching a new-to-me set of skills (writing outside of science) in a new-to-me format (discussion) to a population of students with whom I had no prior experience and in a class I’d never taught before.


reflective learners October 31, 2016

Transforming Midterm Evaluations into a Metacognitive Pause

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Midterm evaluations often tip toward students’ (unexamined) likes and dislikes. By leveraging the weight of the midterm pause and inviting students to reflect on their development, midterm evaluations can become more learning-centered. Cued by our language, students can become aware of a distinction—that we’re not asking what they like, but what is helping them learn. This opportunity for students to learn about their learning yields valuable insights that not only inform instructors about the effects of our methods, but also ground students in their own learning processes, deepening their confidence in and commitment to their development in the second half of the course.



male college student with phone and laptop April 15, 2016

Audio Reflection Assignments Help Students Develop Metacognitive Skills

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From the bold honors student to the timid learner in the back row, reflection can help students become more aware of themselves as learners. But because we often rely on writing as the primary mode of metacognitive reflection, some students, especially those who struggle with college-level writing, may not experience the full cognitive benefits of reflection. For such students, the stress of writing can compromise their focus on reflection.


group work project October 23, 2015

Developing Students’ Learning Philosophies

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Last year the Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta ran a pilot study to consider the efficacy of using e-portfolios to deepen students’ learning. We were interested in developing a structure that would enable us to determine how well our students were learning Augustana’s core skill requirements (writing, speaking, critical thinking, and information literacy).


Student typing on laptop August 17, 2015

Personal Goals: An Exercise in Student Self-Assessment

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This summer I am reading Linda Nilson’s book Creating Self-Regulated Learners: Strategies to Strengthen Students’ Self-Awareness and Learning Skills, which offers instructors a wealth of assignments and activities to help students grow their self-regulation and metacognitive abilities. Teaching students how to learn well on their own and to evaluate that learning is a goal I have been pursuing for the past few years, and I am convinced that occasional, brief self-assessment exercises can help college students perform better as well as understand the learning process.


December 10, 2013

Three Ways to Help Students Become More Metacognitively Aware

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Metacognition is about being able to successfully plan, monitor, and evaluate your learning. It’s not a skill that can be listed as a strength by most of our students. Few have encountered themselves as learners. They don’t have an expansive repertoire of study strategies. They don’t often think about alternatives when the studying isn’t going all that well. And most don’t evaluate how well they learned beyond the grade they receive. It’s something else that concerned teachers need to worry about while teaching students.


November 27, 2012

Test Prep: Getting Your Students to Examine Their Approach

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I was inspired by Maryellen Weimer’s article on “Teaching Metacognition to Improve Student Learning” and the accompanying article by Kimberly Tanner on “Promoting Student Metacognition.”

Tanner reflected on a comment I have heard many times: “…it’s my job to teach [your discipline or learning outcome goes here], not study strategies.” How often have we heard that our students don’t know how to learn? Regardless of whose fault it is, Weimer’s article shows how relatively easy it is to incorporate practical “meta-learning” strategies into our lesson plans. It’s a no-brainer if a teacher conducts a structured pre-test review class, and a post-test follow-up activity, where many of the issues on clarity, confusion, and preparedness will be brought into the light.


October 31, 2012

Teaching Metacognition to Improve Student Learning

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Metacognition can be a word that gets in the way of students’ understanding that this “thinking about thinking” is really about their awareness of themselves as learners. Most students don’t spend much time thinking about learning generally or how they learn specifically. In order to become independent, self-directed learners, they need to be able to “orchestrate” their learning. That’s the metaphor the National Research Council uses to describe planning for learning, monitoring it as it occurs, and then evaluating both what has been learned and how it was learned.


January 21, 2011

Assessing and Developing Metacognitive Skills

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Metacognition is easily defined: “[It] refers to the ability to reflect upon, understand and control one’s learning,” (Schraw and Dennison, p. 460) or, even more simply, “thinking about one’s thinking.” Despite straightforward definitions, metacognition is a complicated construct that has been the object of research for more than 30 years.