Scaffolding Student Learning: Tips for Getting Started

Caruana, Vicki (October 15, 2012). Scaffolding Student Learning: Tips for Getting Started via Faculty Focus. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/instructional-design/scaffolding-student-learning-tips-for-getting-started/

“Many of us who teach in higher education do not have a teaching background, nor do we have experience in curriculum development. We know our content areas and are experts in our fields, but structuring learning experiences for students may or may not be our strong suit. We’ve written a syllabus (or were handed one to use) and have developed some pretty impressive assessments, projects, and papers in order to evaluate our students’ progress through the content. Sometimes we discover that students either don’t perform well on the learning experiences we’ve designed or they experience a great deal of frustration with what they consider high stakes assignments. Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development(Vygotsky, 1978) proposes that it’s important to determine the area (zone) between what a student can accomplish unaided and what that same student can accomplish with assistance. This provides for consistent structural support, when required (Hogan & Pressley, 1997).

If there is one major paper in the course and 80% of their final grade depends on their ability to meet the high expectations of that paper, they better be able to produce a quality piece right out of the gate. However, often they’ve not had any preparation to meet these high expectations and no opportunity to revise and resubmit their work. Whether your students are “grade-focused” or “learning-focused,” they will benefit from the energy you put providing scaffolding opportunities for each major or key assignment in a course. A good rule of thumb is the higher the stakes, the more scaffolding you need to include. In other words, the heavier the weight, the stronger the support.

Getting Started with Scaffolding
Take some time to evaluate how you’ve designed the learning experiences in your courses. Identify what your major assignments/assessments are and then create a scaffold for each. One unintended outcome of this exercise is that you may discover that either you have an assignment that is no longer relevant or you are missing something that might even be a more meaningful gauge of student learning. Consider these tips to scaffolding a major assignment or assessment.

  • Write a brief description of each major assignment/assessment which should include the necessary skills you intend to evaluate using the assignment/assessment.
  • Ponder what prerequisite skills are necessary for students to have in order to be successful on this assignment/assessment and list them.
  • Determine whether these prerequisite skills are reasonable for students to have already mastered prior to beginning your course.
    • If not, these are the skills you will want to scaffold into your current course in order to better prepare learners to be successful on the major assignments/assessments.
  • Look at the scope of the course and come up with mini assignments or learning experiences that can be purposefully introduced throughout the schedule of sessions in a way that offers learners time to learn and practice these prerequisite skills.
  • Create a curriculum map or outline of how each major assignment/assessment is scaffolded.
  • Learners should be made aware of this scaffolding; be transparent about how you designed their learning experiences to work together in a relevant and logical way.
  • If you are the lead on this course, make sure that anyone else who teaches it understands the rationale behind the design of each major assignment/assessment and includes the scaffolded experiences. Avoid using scholarly jargon in your rationale so that the purpose of your design is clear for everyone who encounters these learning experiences.”

For examples of scaffolding assignments, go here »

References
Hogan, K., & Pressley, M. (Eds.). (1997). Scaffolding student learning: Instructional approaches and issues. Louiseville, Quebec: Brookline Books.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes (J. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman, Eds. & Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Dr. Vicki Caruana is an assistant professor at Regis University, College for Professional Studies, School of Education & Counseling.

Scaffolding Student Learning: Tips for Getting Started

Why Organizations Need to Make Learning Hard

Leonard, Dorothy (November 4, 2015). Why Organizations Need to Make Learning Hard  via Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/11/why-organizations-need-to-make-learning-hard

“In these days of fast everything (food, internet connections, dating), you can understand why people think lessons should also be easily accessible. Give solutions in bullet points. Let people check their responses to problems immediately. Encourage them to memorize the answers and move on.

Unfortunately, real learning — that is, the kind which embeds knowledge and skills in long-term memory — is never simple.  In fact, easy in (little effort to temporarily retain the lesson) typically results in hard out (difficulty in retrieving it when you need it.) Decades of research, most notably by UCLA’s Robert Bjork and his colleagues, have shown several reasons for this apparent paradox.

Both learners and teachers confuse performance during training (termed “retrieval strength”) with long-term retention and the ability to apply the lessons (“storage strength”).  Researchers have shown that, in laboratory tests, people quite consistently have “illusions of competence.” That is, they over-estimate their ability to solve future problems when they’ve been given a lot of help during lessons. When shown answers to questions, experiment subjects are likely to think they could have produced them (“Oh, sure, I knew that!”) And the more familiar the material seems to them, the worse the students do in actually using it. Familiarity breeds complacency.

Fortunately, there are a number of proven ways to strengthen mental storage. The best learning and teaching strategies incorporate various forms of what Bjork terms “desirable difficulty.” Some examples: interleaving different tasks and materials instead of focusing on just one for a big block of time; allowing students to make mistakes and learn from them; requiring students to interpret new material in light of what they already know; and using testing as a mode of instruction rather than evaluation.

This research suggests why teaching by the case method is favored at many institutions, including Harvard Business School.  A well-run case-based discussion constantly challenges students. As they are asked to diagnose and debate solutions to a given situation, there is rarely an easy or obvious answer. They must derive their own, which enhances their learning. Teaching also becomes harder, of course. These methods demand creativity and continuous updating to ensure they’re grounded in real, current organizational issues, and they take more time. But the experience becomes more fun and fruitful for everyone.

The same strategies can be applied outside of the classroom, in the workplace, where there are even more benefits. When done right, lessons with desirable difficulty convey more than knowledge; they also educate people about organizational culture and provide practice in critical thinking and skills application.  Such active learning is important in on-boarding programs, during mergers and acquisitions, and for transferring expertise. For example, my colleagues and I recently used these ideas to help GE’s famous Research Centers transfer undocumented knowledge from their retiring top talent to less experienced personnel. Experts have learned their complex, problem-solving, decision-making skills through experience.  People who want to learn from them should be made to work just as hard.”

Why Organizations Need to Make Learning Hard

Tips From a Self-Taught Teacher

Lehmiller, Justin J (September, 2014). Tips From a Self-Taught Teacher via the Observer, Volume 7, No. 7 (Association of Psychological Science). Retrieved from http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2014/september-14/tips-from-a-self-taught-teacher.html

“If you are anything like me, your graduate program gave you the right training to become a researcher but did little to prepare you for teaching. Yet every college and university expects (if not demands) excellent teachers. Even at large research universities, a record of quality teaching is usually required for tenure and promotion. I am a self-taught teacher, meaning that virtually everything I know about teaching has come from my own experiences in the classroom. Looking back, this was a tough and quite painful way to become a teacher, but I am proud to have reached a point where I have received teaching awards and consistently achieve high evaluations. I would like to share some of the most valuable lessons I have learned — things I would have appreciated knowing sooner rather than later in my teaching career.

Start the Semester Off Right: “Sell” the Course to Students

When I was an undergraduate student, almost every instructor I had (good and bad) spent the first day reading us the syllabus. I didn’t question this when I first became a teacher; however, all of that changed when I had the opportunity to teach at Harvard for a few years, where, in comparison to other universities, students have few required courses. Harvard students largely get to choose their own curriculum. During each semester’s “Shopping Week,” students attend as many classes as they can in search of the most appealing ones. Instead of carefully reading and reviewing each section of the syllabus, successful instructors typically spend the first week introducing students to actual content, making the case for how and why this course will change students’ lives, and drawing students in with engaging demonstrations and activities.

Adapting to this was not easy for me, but the challenge truly made me a better teacher because I had to learn how to captivate students from the moment they set foot in my classroom and really think about how to communicate the practical value of the course material. This approach is supported by research, too: A novel and engaging exercise on the first day can dramatically increase how many students look forward to taking your course (Bennett, 2004). I encourage you to give this a try next semester and see if you agree.

You may wonder how I communicate things like cell phone/laptop policies and the grading breakdown to students without using classroom time to exhaustively review the syllabus. The answer: I treat them like adults. We simply make an agreement on the first day that if they decide to take my course, they will bear the responsibility of familiarizing themselves with the syllabus, just like they will be responsible for learning the rules and regulations at their future places of employment. That said, I do reserve a small amount of time for addressing key aspects of the syllabus during the first class, such as requirements that might be unique to my class, or common misunderstandings and misconceptions about the course. You should not completely ignore your syllabus; there is demonstrable value in clearly communicating important expectations to students at the first meeting (Iannarelli, Bardsley, & Foote, 2010). Also, I should caution that entrusting students with the responsibility of learning the syllabus on their own is a strategy that may not be equally effective for students of all levels or across all university settings.

Master the Material

Telling you to know the material you will be teaching might sound obvious, but many instructors do not truly know their stuff. I learned this lesson the hard way: The very first class I taught was Health Psychology. At that time, I had never actually taken a course on this topic, and my knowledge was strictly limited to the textbook I adopted. I read the book as I was teaching the course and tried to stay a couple of chapters ahead of the students. Needless to say, the class was a disaster on multiple levels.

True mastery, allows you to fully and accurately answer student questions, start insightful and meaningful in-class discussions, and deliver coherent and organized lectures. Mastery usually requires you to do some independent reading and learning, and that means a lot more than just reviewing the books and articles you ask students to read: It means consulting the original journal articles of the studies you will be describing, keeping abreast of current research in that area, thinking about how material is connected across the course, and explicitly making those connections for your students. Mastery takes a lot of time, especially when you teach a brand new course. However, this investment will pay off immensely every time you teach the same class in the future. With this commitment to knowing the material, I have seen my evaluations improve considerably.

Of course, complete mastery is not always feasible, especially in cases where you may only teach a given course once or at very unpredictable intervals — or where you teach courses in multiple areas of psychology. However, if you will be teaching the same course regularly throughout your career, mastery is well worth the extra effort.

Draw Students in With Novel Examples

In my undergraduate psychology training, the same examples — Little Albert, Pavlov’s dogs, Skinner’s pigeons, Milgram’s obedience studies — were repeated time and again. As a teacher, I have moved away from a focus on the classics to covering other interesting but lesser known studies. I still mention classic studies when they are relevant; I just do not address them in great detail in more advanced courses. My incorporation of “hidden gem” studies is one of the most frequent things students praise in my evaluations: Students want to get a broad sense of research in this field, not just learn a narrow subset of studies conducted several decades ago.

Beyond picking innovative research examples, choose novel and relatable real-world examples that help students apply the concepts they have learned. Tailor these to each cohort of students, reflecting the technologies they use, the types of media they consume, and contemporary world events. Updating and changing your examples can help you appear more relatable to students and demonstrate your enthusiasm for teaching. In addition, research suggests that popular-culture-enhanced instruction increases student engagement with the material and may assist in retention (Springer & Yelinek, 2011). You must work to understand your audience and figure out what will resonate with them if you want your students to succeed. If that means forcing yourself to watch some fad TV and following some controversial celebrities on Twitter and Instagram, so be it.

Collect Early Feedback and Periodically Assess Comprehension

Sometimes, it is difficult to gauge how a class is going and whether your students are keeping up. Like me, perhaps you once thought a class you were teaching was going well only to be disappointed by poor course evaluations. Working hard at teaching the material in the classroom but ending up with high failure rates on an exam can be equally distressing. To combat these problems, I now collect early feedback from students a few weeks into the semester. I give them an opportunity to provide numeric ratings as well as answer several open-ended questions about what they like/dislike about the course and suggest changes. I compile all of this information, present it to the students, and then make concrete changes on appropriate issues where there appears to be student consensus. If students suggest changes that cannot be made, providing a rational explanation shows them that you took their concerns seriously. Along with this early feedback, I periodically conduct informal comprehension assessments such as in-class discussions, online quizzes, or sets of questions answered with clickers at the end of lectures. Assessing comprehension before you give an exam can clue you in as to what might be worth reviewing and in how much detail.

Finish on the Right Note

Making sure each semester has an appropriate finish is just as important as getting off to a strong start. Many “last classes” consist of a fairly routine lecture that probably could have appeared at any other point during the semester — the only difference being that the instructor says “have a nice break” as students walk out the door. When I was an undergraduate, that kind of finish left me wondering why I had spent the last 15 weeks taking the class. But even as a teacher, I failed to address this habit until a student noted it on one of my end-of-semester evaluations. I then realized I owe it to my students to sum up the course and show them what they can do with the knowledge they have gained, beyond just fulfilling some class requirement or prerequisite for graduate school. What practical skills have they learned? How can they apply this knowledge in employment settings? In my view, the most powerful sign of teaching success is when students tell you that your course changed their lives in some way or when a former student contacts you to thank you for the class or for the information you taught them. These things will not happen unless you actively demonstrate the value of the course material.

Conclusions

Teaching is an incredibly difficult job for which most psychological scientists receive far too little training. Many of us are blindsided when we discover just what a monumental task it is to teach — and to teach well. I sincerely hope my observations are helpful to those of you who are just beginning your teaching careers and that they make things just a little easier for you.”

References

Bennett, K. L. (2004). How to start teaching a tough course: Dry organization versus excitement on the first day of class. College Teaching, 52, 106

Iannarelli, B. A., Bardsley, M. E., & Foote, C. J. (2010). Here’s your syllabus, see you next week: A review of the first day practices of outstanding professors. The Journal of Effective Teaching, 10, 29–41.

Springer, A., & Yelinek, K. (2011). Teaching with The Situation: Jersey Shore as a popular culture example in information literacy classes. College & Research Libraries News, 72, 78–118.

Tips From a Self-Taught Teacher

Reflecting Forward on Your Semester

Michigan State University (December, 2014). Reflecting Forward on Your Semester via Inside Teaching MSU. Retrieved from http://commons.grd.msu.edu/index.php/2014/12/reflectforwardfall/

“Assessing Your Teaching

In the push to end the semester, it’s tempting to completely disconnect from all that happened in your classes as soon as you submit grades. Now, we certainly hope everyone has a restful break, but also hope you’ll set aside some time to assess your teaching before next semester begins. This assessment is a crucial piece of your overall development as a teacher and can greatly impact your work with students next semester. In our closing blog post for the semester, we want to provide you with some suggestions for reflecting on fall semester: taking stock of where you’ve been with students this semester and using that information to guide your decisions next semester.

Learning From Your Final Assessment

In our opening blog series this semester, we reminded you how important assessment is in teaching. It’s the means with which you gather the necessary info you need on student learning and make evidence-based decisions on where to go next. Now, in ending the semester, you have the focal point of your final assessment to provide evidence out of which to base future teaching decisions. And whether you’re teaching the same course or a completely different one, there’s still much to be gained from this kind of reflection. To help your reflection in connection to your final assessment, we offer the following questions:

Three Questions for Reflecting Forward

1) Did You Meet Your Learning Outcomes?: You hopefully set out work in your course with some specific overall learning outcomes for students. Did students meet them? What evidence do you have in your final assessment? In what areas were they strongest? In what areas did they struggle? In meeting or not meeting your learning outcomes, you have some clear areas of focus and further development. And by connecting back across your outcomes and final assessment, you can take stock of what you believe worked well for teaching and learning and what did not.

2) What Instructional Practices Worked Best?: Think back to the instructional practices and activities connected to the strongest and weakest areas of your final assessment.  Perhaps students struggled most with synthesizing certain elements of your course or analyzing a key text. Or maybe you realized students just weren’t able to adequately back up the claims they made in the final paper as you hoped. What instructional activities did you design in order to support them? By identifying these specific practices and activities, you can begin to address any common patterns or clear areas for future focus.

3) Where Do You Need to Grow Next Semester?: Answering this final question (in light of the previous two above) can send you into next semester with clear teaching goals and areas for your own development. If you’re teaching the same course again, then we’d suggest you start proactively identifying and adjusting areas of your course you know need to work better. If you’re teaching a completely different course, you can still make sure you’re focusing in on similar learning outcomes and/or areas of instructional practice even if the content isn’t the same. For help, in addition to seeking out the assistance of other instructors in your college, we’d encourage you to take advantage of the resources Inside Teaching and the Graduate School provide. We regularly offer resources and opportunities on our blog, as well as via social media and through in-person workshops. If you aren’t already engaged with us across those spaces, perhaps make that part of your development goals for next semester.

We’d like to know: What process do you use to reflect and build on your teaching between semesters? Where do you find the best support for areas you want to improve?:

Reflecting Forward on Your Semester

What to do with your hands during a presentation

Education Advisory Board (November 23, 2015). What to do with your hands during a presentation via http://www.eab.com. Retrieved from https://www.eab.com/daily-briefing/2015/11/23/what-to-do-with-your-hands-during-a-presentation?elq_cid=1837116&x_id=003C000001sTgVMIA0

‘When really charismatic leaders use hand gestures, the brain is super happy’

“Preparing to speak in front of an audience involves enough hand wringing without having to think about what to actually do with said hands.

Most people have been taught to avoid moving their hands too much while presenting, but research shows that using your hands can actually better engage the crowd.

11 things not to say in a presentation

The most-watched TED talks, with an average of 7.4 million views, include an average of 465 hand gestures. In contrast, the least-watched videos (with just 124,000 average views) averaged only 272 hand gestures.

“When really charismatic leaders use hand gestures, the brain is super happy,” says Vanessa Van Edwards, a consultant who studied the TED talks. “Because it’s getting two explanations in one, and the brain loves that.”

The Washington Post’s On Leadership team spoke with body language experts and speech coaches to determine the best ways to use your hands during a presentation.

Use the hand movements descriptively. If you’re discussing something small, pinch your fingers. If you’re talking about a number below five, hold up the correct number of fingers.

“It helps people remember the number; it helps us believe the word. It’s a way we underline, like a nonverbal highlighter, the word people should remember,” says Van Edwards.

Open your palms to build trust.  Making outstretched gestures has an evolutionary underpinning.

“If I’m showing open palms, it signals to everybody that I’ve got nothing to harm you and I’m exposed,” says Mark Bowden, president of a communications training firm.

Limit your movements to the strike zone. Don’t get too wild with your gestures—try to keep them between your shoulders and hips.

Avoid pointing and the “Clinton Thumb.” Pointing and a fist with the thumb on top of it come off as aggressive.

If you don’t know what to do, let your hands fall to your sides. “It’s like home base for our arms” and serves as a reset button, says Jerry Weissman, a corporate presentations coach.

Don’t draw attention to your groin. Instead of clasping your hands in front of you, allow them to fall to your sides.

Mix up your hand movements. Just as you mix up the length of sentences in your speech, be sure to vary your gestures too. “When you do anything in a repetitive pattern, [the audience] is gone. It’s boring,” says Gina Barnett, an executive communications coach.

Don’t hold things. “People fidget, and they’re often clueless to what they’re doing,” says Barnett.

Show your hands. If you’re at a podium, either gesture with your hands or lightly rest them on the top. If you’re right in front of the audience, make sure not to hold your hands behind your back.

Don’t try to create a branded hand gesture. German Chancellor Angela Merkel often holds her hands in front of her, making an inverted triangle with her fingers. This may work for her, but such gestures can “feel sort of stagey” or tense to the audience, says Barnett (Tan/McGregor, “On Leadership,” Washington Post, 11/17).”

 

What to do with your hands during a presentation

Should You Be Using Rubrics?

Weimer, Marilyn (February 14, 2013). Should You Be Using Rubrics?  via Faculty Focus. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/should-you-be-using-rubrics/

“Use of rubrics in higher education is comparatively recent. These grading aids that communicate “expectations for an assignment by listing the criteria or what counts, and describing levels of quality from excellent to poor” (p. 435) are being used to assess a variety of assignments such as literature reviews, reflective writings, bibliographies, oral presentations, critical thinking, portfolios, and projects. They are also being used across a range of disciplines, but so far the number of faculty using them remains small.

This background is provided in an excellent article that examines the “type and extent of empirical research on rubrics at the post-secondary level” and seeks “to stimulate research on rubric use in post-secondary teaching.” (p. 437) A review of the literature on rubrics produced 20 articles, which are analyzed in this review.

So far, rubrics in higher education are being used almost exclusively as grading tools, even though some educators, like these authors, see them as having formative potential. When rubrics are given to students at the time an assignment is made, students can use them to better understand expectations for the assignment and then monitor and regulate their work. They also make the grading process more transparent. In fact, in one of the studies analyzed in the review, one group of students were given the rubric after their work had been graded and another group got the rubric at the time the assignment was made. Both groups wanted to use rubrics again, but the rubric was rated as useful by 88 percent of the students who got it when the assignment was made as compared with 10 percent who rated it useful when it was returned with their graded assignment.

“One striking difference between students’ and instructors’ perceptions of rubric use is related to their perceptions of the purposes of rubrics. Students frequently referred to them as serving the purposes of learning and achievement, while instructors focused almost exclusively on the role of a rubric in quickly, objectively, and accurately assigning grades.” (p. 439)

Do rubrics promote student learning?
For teachers who might be considering use of rubrics or using them as something more than a time-saving grading mechanism, the key question is whether rubrics promote learning and achievement. The authors of this review found the evidence inconclusive. One study did find that involving students in developing and using rubrics prior to submitting an assignment was associated with improved academic performance, but another study found no differences in the quality of work done by students with and without rubrics.

Also missing from the research so far are answers to questions related to validity and reliability. Do rubrics measure what they purport to measure—the validity question? “A large majority of the studies reviewed did not describe the process of development of rubrics to establish their quality.” (p. 445) A bit more work has been done on reliability and it shows that with training, separate raters consistently give similar ratings to a piece of work when using the same rubric. However, the authors note that more work on rubric validity and reliability is needed.

Are rubrics worth using?
Research answers to the question are still few and not always conclusive. Among practitioners, there is general agreement that rubrics do expedite the grading process and make it seem more objective and fair to students. Among students, there is agreement that rubrics clarify expectations and are especially useful as they prepare assignments. The researchers recommend “educating instructors on the formative use of rubrics to promote learning by sharing or co-creating them with students in order to make the goals and qualities of an assignment transparent, and to have students use rubrics to guide peer and self-assessment and subsequent revision.” (p. 444)

Reference: Reddy, Y. M., and Andrade, H. (2010). A review of rubric use in higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35 (4), 435-448.”

Should You Be Using Rubrics?

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