2 Insanely Easy Ways to Boost Metacognition in the Classroom

Semma, Monica (October 19, 2015). 2 Insanely Easy Ways to Boost Metacognition in the Classroom via Top Hat Blog. Retrieved from http://blog.tophat.com/metacognition-2/?mkt_tok=3RkMMJWWfF9wsRoksqrPZKXonjHpfsX87uwtUaSg38431UFwdcjKPmjr1YADTcB0aPyQAgobGp5I5FENTLbYVqdpt60PWg%3D%3D

“Have you ever thought about the way you think? Are you a conscious learner? Could metacognition be the key to more confident learning and better thinking?

Whether you’re aware of it or not, metacognition has likely already become a part of your teaching repertoire. Learning to weave metacognitive practices into your syllabus can really enhance the learning experience for your students.

Metacognition in Plain English

Metacognition refers to a form of higher-order thinking, in which the thinker has active control over and awareness of their cognitive processes—in essence, it is the process of “thinking about thinking”. This kind of cognitive activity usually occurs organically, though finding ways to help your students harness and develop their metacognitive skills can lead to those “Aha moments” –the stuff teachers dream about.

You see, metacognition not only encourages students to actively and critically engage with the subject matter in your particular classroom—it helps them to become better learners. Once familiar enough, thinking about thinking and being conscious of the way we learn become habits of mind, and for students, this is an important key to success. And Bonus—enhanced metacognitive skills can help your students facilitate deeper learning, as opposed to just merely scratching the surface. And really, isn’t that what teaching is all about?

For a thorough overview of metacognition, check out this article by Jennifer A. Livingston.

2 Easy Ways to Incorporate Metacognitive Learning into your Classroom

1. Providing Time for Reflection

One of the best ways to get your students to sharpen up their metacognition is to get them to reflect on the day/weeks course material and activities. A professor I was T.A-ing for once requested that we take 5-10 minutes at the end of each tutorial to allow students to write down a short reflective journal and hand them in for a small credit. I was annoyed because that was 5-10 minutes out of my syllabus that I had to give up twice a week….but through those journals, I was able to see what vibed with my students, what they struggled with and what they could champion, what learning styles they had mastered and what needed work. I was able to modify my teaching style to better suit the needs of my classroom and my students were beginning to recognize what was working and more importantly, what was not working for them.

Leave the journals relatively open-ended, but try to direct them toward metacognitive thought and critical thinking.

Some Questions to Ask

  • What was most challenging about today’s material?
  • What was most confusing about this topic and what was most clear?
  • What study techniques are you going to use to master this topic for the exam?
  • What part of the lecture worked well for you and what didn’t?

Not only is the information helpful to you as an instructor, but asking your students to actively make assessments of their learning and thinking will foster a further awareness of these cognitive processes.

2. Post-Assessments & Pre-Assessments

In my last article, I mentioned that having an opinion torn asunder can be an excellent way to reignite that fire for learning. Pre and Post assessments, when employed together, can give students the motivation to sharpen their skills and let’s face it, having your mind blown is usually a good way to start up the brain’s metacognitive processes. Whether you use interactive teaching technology or simply ask students to quickly jot down a scribble in their notebooks, asking students to actively recognize and assess what they already know about a particular subject will make them more aware of their thought processes.

This is especially effective when combined with a post-assessment. If there are many discrepancies between the pre and post assessments, there’s a good chance that they will actively re-learn ways to null those discrepancies so they retain the correct information. If there are few discrepancies between the pre and post assessments,  your students will get a welcomed confidence boost—as it would turn out, knowing your strengths as a learner is just as important as knowing your weaknesses.

Higher education not only challenges its patrons but it also dares students to admit to the things they lack. As teachers, part of our role is to help our students discover who they are as learners. Incorporating metacognitive habits of mind building activities into your lesson plan can help students to not only figure out their strengths and weaknesses, but also how to mitigate these weaknesses and become more confident learners and critical thinkers.

Awareness Breeds Confidence and Confidence Breeds Success

In an article posted on the Vanderbilt University’s Center for Learning, Nancy Chick highlights the benefits of metacognitive practices, at a glance, metacognition:

  • Increases Student’s abilities to adapt their learning to new ideas, strategies, and contexts.
  • Improves learning in general.
  • Brings awareness of one’s personal strengths and weaknesses in all areas of learning and academic performance.

You can find the detailed article here:

There was one benefit in particular that really struck me and got me thinking. In her article, she quotes a study from 2003, which explains that “People tend to be blissfully unaware of their incompetence”, lacking, “insight about the deficiencies in their intellectual and social skills””.  And isn’t it true?

I started thinking about my own awareness of my weaknesses and strengths as a learner, and you know what? Most of those eureka moments happened while I was sitting in exam rooms and lecture halls.  For example, in a statistics final I became (painfully) aware of the high probability that multiple-choice exams were designed specifically for my destruction (and maybe SPSS). And that I NEED to take notes the old-school on-pen-and-paper kind of way if I want to even begin retaining anything I’m researching/learning. But it was being aware of these habits of mind that got me through school and still gets me through everyday of my life.

Actually, as Chick points out, you’re much more likely to actively asses your readiness for tests and performances, and prepare accordingly if you’re already aware of your strengths and weaknesses. When your students have an arsenal full of strategies for different kinds of learning and problem solving, they are more likely to actually employ them when they are struggling or predicting a struggle. This not only makes students more effective learners, but more confident ones as well. And as Saga Briggs points out, self confidence in one’s learning capabilities has a big impact on learning and also on how we tackle daunting tasks.  And like many of you know, making your students feel comfortable with challenging tasks and actually feel good about their intellectual abilities is half the battle in itself.

In short

It doesn’t come as much of a surprise that recognizing our weaknesses and incompetence’s; as well as our strengths (we all have them!) is an awareness that helps us to engage in critical thinking, become better learners, better thinkers, and better teachers, too.

It may seem like I’m really tugging the obvious here, but—You can’t really know something until you know it.

Metacognition helps to cement an awareness of your awareness.  But thinking about how your thinking doesn’t always come easily — and what better place to encourage our students to engage in higher thinking than in higher education.”

2 Insanely Easy Ways to Boost Metacognition in the Classroom

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