Universities are mandated to be the ultimate “learning culture,” powered by faculty who embody lifelong learning. We know that reflection is essential to learning; it’s
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
developing metacognitive skills
No one can deny that the world in which we live and work is changing at a tumultuous pace. We live in a knowledge economy,
Assessment for Learning (AfL), sometimes referred to as “formative assessment” has become part of the educational landscape in the U.S. and is heralded to significantly raise student achievement, yet we are often uncertain what it is and what it looks like in practice in higher education. To clarify, AfL includes the formal and informal processes that faculty and students use during instruction to gather evidence for the purpose of improving learning. The aim of AfL is to improve students’ mastery of the content and to equip and empower them as self-regulated, life-long learners.
The Winter/Spring 2016 issue of Peer Review 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.
Educators have long recognized the importance and applicability of critical reflection across a wide range of educational settings, yet in practice it remains a challenging and nebulous concept for many to firmly grasp. In education, the concept of reflection dates back to the work of John Dewey (1933), who defined it as “active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusion to which it tends” (p. 9). Dewey was the first to point out that experience alone does not constitute learning; instead, a conscious realization must occur for the experience to become a source of learning.
Mention “teaching to the test” among educators and you will certainly hear a lot about what is wrong with education today and probably more about the importance of teaching critical thinking (and how this cannot be done when you are teaching to the test). Let me suggest a slightly different take on working with tests and the development of, if not critical thinking, greater self-awareness among students as learners—teaching with the test as a form of Socratic mentoring.
References to learning styles have become commonplace when faculty and students discuss learning experiences. Although learning styles seem to provide a useful explanation of why students perform differently on different tasks, there is a lack of methodologically sound research confirming their existence in the way they are most often described (Reiner & Willingham, 2010). In fact, most research suggests that people do not use one discrete style to learn new information but vary considerably in the methods they use to learn (Paschler, et al., 2009). Rather than relying on learning styles, focusing instead on metacognition can provide students with strategies that can be adapted and applied based on the learning environment and task. In this article, we briefly address the research on learning styles and metacognition and provide examples of activities to help students develop key metacognitive behaviors.
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.
How much do you know about how your students study? I’ve been asking the question a lot lately and I’d have to say most of the answers I’ve heard aren’t all that impressive. They’re more about how the faculty member thinks students study, how they should study, or how they aren’t studying.