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,
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Early in my career, I focused most of my efforts on teaching content. That is, after all, what most of us are hired to do, right? With experience and greater understanding of how learning works, my attention shifted toward metacognition. I began investing lots of time and energy reading and identifying ways to help students grow as learners while they learned the content.
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.
Do students ever ask you that question? As an assistant professor of mathematics at a community college, I regularly get the question. Most of my students are not mathematics majors, but are taking the class to fulfill a math requirement. I wonder if you find the question as frustrating as I do.
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.
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 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.