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.
There’s much to be learned from the study of brain function that can have a profound impact on pedagogy. Recent neuroscience findings shed new light on the external and internal factors that affect acquiring, processing, and learning new knowledge. In this online seminar, two leaders in the field of metacognition will review what science now tells us about the learning process and share concrete classroom strategies and methods that are informed by that science.
Online Seminar • Recorded on Tuesday, October 8th, 2013
For more than nine years, I have been deeply interested in metacognition as it applies to the art and science of teaching. I have also been involved in taking non-professional teachers and training them to be both content area experts and more than adequate teachers in the classroom. This can be a tough endeavor as people like to teach in non-traditional schools for a variety of reasons and some are not always interested in becoming teachers qua teachers. Worse are those who feel being a subject matter expert is enough because as long as they’re talking, the students must be learning, right?
Despite almost universal agreement that critical thinking needs to be taught in college, now perhaps more than ever before, there is much less agreement on definitions and dimensions. “Critical thinking can include the thinker’s dispositions and orientations; a range of specific analytical, evaluative, and problem-solving skills; contextual influences; use of multiple perspectives; awareness of one’s own assumptions; capacities for metacognition; or a specific set of thinking processes or tasks.” (p. 127)
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.
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.
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.
Principle: To become self-directed learners, students must learn to assess the demands of the task, evaluate their own knowledge and skills, plan their approach, monitor their progress, and adjust their strategies as needed. That’s one of seven research-based principles for smart teaching proposed by authors of the new book, How Learning Works. They make this