Metacognitive Essay Thinking

Example Essays

We ask each participant in this workshop to write a short essay on metacognition. The purpose of this essay is to provide an introduction to the other workshop participants to your work and thinking on the topic of metacognition. The essays will be posted on the workshop website and become part of the On the Cutting Edge resource collections. We hope that your essay will be a strong piece of writing sharing a few important ideas, points, or results that you think will be of high interest to the other participants, rather than a comprehensive list of all of your work. Your essay might address:

  • how you define metacognition
  • how you teach metacognition
  • results from your study of metacognition
  • why you think metacognition is important in teaching
  • how you assess gains in metacognition
  • one or more aspects of metacognition that you think are important for us to consider at the workshop

Essays should be no longer than two pages. If there are references (either your own or the work of others) that are important to your thinking, please list them at the end of the essay. Please save your essay as a Microsoft Word or PDF file to upload with your workshop registration. See example essays from two of the workshop conveners below.

In addition, we invite participants to submit teaching activities that are designed to improve students' metacognition. These activities will be part of the On the Cutting Edge activity collection which receives very high use by faculty in the geosciences and beyond. Because of its high use, the activity collection is a more effective vehicle for disseminating the "how to" of a specific teaching activity than your essay. See example activities from two of the workshop conveners.

Presentations at the workshop will be selected on the basis of the essay and activity submissions received by November 1.

Example Essay #1:

Learning About Thinking and Thinking About Learning:
Metacognitive Knowledge and Skills for Intentional Learners

by Karl Wirth, Department of Geology & Center for Scholarship and Teaching, Macalester College

In an increasingly complex and interconnected world it is ever more important that students develop intellectual and practical skills for lifelong learning. Panel reports by the AAC&U (2002, 2007) call for "higher education to help college students become intentional learners who can adapt to new environments, integrate knowledge from different sources, and continue learning throughout their lives." Becoming an intentional learner includes "developing self-awareness about the reason for study, the learning process itself, and how education is used." Intentional, or "expert," learners are more purposeful, they are more aware of themselves as learners, and they "take the initiative to diagnose their learning needs, formulate learning goals, identify resources for learning, select an implement learning strategies, and evaluate learning outcomes" (Savin-Baden and Major 2004). Research on cognition and learning (e.g., see review in Bransford et al., 2000) indicates that expert learners are characterized by having better-developed metacognitive knowledge (about the learner, learning tasks, learning strategies, and content), metacognitive control (planning, monitoring, and self-evaluation), and reflection (a critical link between knowledge and control of the learning process) (Ertmer and Newby, 1996). If an important goal of higher education is to help students become intentional learners, then our curricula should reflect those aims. Most post-secondary instruction, however, remains focused on disciplinary content. Instruction about metacognitive knowledge and skills need not "displace" disciplinary content, but can instead be used to support ("wrap") learning of that content (Lovett, 2008).

The transition from being a dependent to independent learner involves major changes involving not only how students think, but also who they are. Fink's (2003) taxonomy of significant learning promotes lasting change in the learner through integration of foundational knowledge with learning how to learn and the affective domain (feelings, values, motivations, and attitudes of the learner). To help students develop into self-directing learners I include explicit instruction about learning in all of my courses. This "co-curriculum" on learning is interwoven with geoscience content in each course. The goals of the learning co-curriculum are: (1) to encourage students to be more intentional about their learning; (2) to help students develop their metacognitive knowledge and skills; and (3) to help students construct greater personal meaning with their new knowledge and understanding. This co-curriculum helps provide structure, or scaffolding, in a learning environment that may not always be familiar to all students. Together with Dexter Perkins, I developed a summary article entitled "Learning to Learn" (Wirth and Perkins, 2008) on the essential elements of learning. This document, which is the first reading assignment in all of my courses, explores various meanings of learning, understanding, and thinking. It also highlights research on the brain, learning styles, intellectual development, metacognition, collaborative learning, and the behavioral dimensions of grades. The learning document not only serves to help students develop their metacognitive knowledge and skills, it also helps establish that my expectations for student learning in the course go far beyond memorizing content.

Figure 1.

After introducing students to some of the elements of learning, I use a variety of activities to help them develop their metacognitive knowledge and skills. At the beginning of the semester students write a letter to the instructor, in the past tense and dated to the end of the semester, that describes what they did and how they changed to earn an "A" in the course. The purpose of this journal activity is to help students set goals and plan their learning. In other journal assignments, students reflect on the learning strategies they are employing, the success of these strategies, and modifications that they might undertake for improving their learning. Knowledge surveys, which have been described elsewhere (e.g., Nuhfer, 1996; Nuhfer and Knipp, 2003; on the SERC website), guide student learning, facilitate student mastery of course content and skills, and help students develop their monitoring and self-assessment skills. Reading reflections, which can be readily implemented in any class or discipline, are completed by students after each reading assignment and before coming to class (see example). These short reflections encourage students to deepen their understanding of the readings by summarizing the important concepts and by describing what was surprising or confusing to them. This activity not only promotes student reading before class and deepens their content knowledge, it also provides opportunities for students to develop their skills for monitoring and evaluating their learning. Although reading reflections constitute only a small fraction (5-10%) of total points in each course, student performance on these activities is a good predictor of their final course grade (Figure 1) suggesting that monitoring and evaluation skills are closely associated with deeper learning. An important goal is that these reflective activities will also help students develop as intentional learners.

References Cited

AAC&U, 2002, Greater Expectations: A New Vision for Learning as a Nation Goes to College: American Association of Colleges and Universities, Washington, DC, 62 p.

AAC&U, 2007, College Learning for the New Global Century: American Association of Colleges and Universities, Washington, DC, 76 p.

Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., and Cocking, A.R. (editors), 2000, How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: National Research Council, National Academy Press, Washington D.C., 346 p.

Ertmer, P.A. and Newby, T.J., 1996, The Expert Learner: Strategic, Self-Regulated, and Reflective: Instructional Science, v. 24, p. 1-24.

Fink, L.D., 2003, Creating Significant learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses: Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, CA, 295 p.

Lovett, M.C., 2008, Teaching Metacognition: Presentation to the Educause Learning Initiative Annual Meeting, 29 January 2008.

Nuhfer, E.B., 1996, The place of formative evaluations in assessment and ways to reap their benefits: Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 44, p. 385-394.

Nuhfer, E.B., and Knipp, D., 2003, The knowledge survey: A tool for all reasons: To Improve the Academy, v. 21, p. 59-78.

Savin-Baden M., and Major C.H., 2004, Foundations of Problem-Based Learning: Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press, Berkshire, England, 197 p.

Wirth, K.R., and Perkins, D., 2008, Learning to Learn: online document available from: https://www.macalester.edu/academics/geology/wirth/learning.pdf , 29 p.

Example Essay #2:

Teaching Metacognition: Preparing Students to Be Successful

by Kaatje Kraft, Physical Science Department, Mesa Community College

As a faculty member at a community college I encounter a wide diversity of students' life experiences, academic expectations, and personal goals of the students enrolled in my geoscience courses. I have had students in a single class who range in age from 17 to 65, and in academic preparation may be extremely competent and motivated to very underprepared and lacking an understanding as to how to be an effective learner. Over the last 10 years, I see more and more students arrive underprepared to be successful in post-secondary academics, a trend that is supported by recent studies (Kozeracki & Brooks, 2006; U.S. Department of Education, 2003). Knowing that fewer than 1% of these students will go on to become geology majors, it is important for me to help my students be successful, no matter their major or academic goals. Educational research supports that in order for students to learn most effectively, students must be able to compare their understanding to what they already know, fit the concepts they learn to a big picture and reflect on their learning (NRC (National Resource Council), 2005; Weinstein, Meyer, Husman, Van Mater, & McKeachie, 2006). Recent research indicates that many students lack the skills needed to be successful in the workforce, including critical thinking and self-monitoring skills (Partnership for the 21st Century Skills, 2006).

During the past 5 years, I have worked to integrate these components with the geoscience content I teach. Most recently, I have worked to integrate situated metacognition into my course content. Situated metacognition (integrated metacognition in the context of the content area) is a way to combine key learning skills within a specific course. This integration provided students with the opportunity for changes in their thinking that can lead to conceptual changes over time (Blank, 2000; Georghiades, 2004; White & Gunstone, 1989). Specifically, I have looked to see if I can increase student understanding of the nature of science, especially as it pertains to the process of geosciences, with the integration of situated metacognitive prompts throughout the course content. In order to do this effectively, I teach my class as a scientific classroom discourse community (Yerrick & Roth, 2005). This means that I teach my class from an inquiry approach and students are actively engaged in talking and writing in small and large group settings. Students are also asked periodically to reflect on their learning process both to help them gauge what they know, what they don't know, and what they can do to better understand the content they don't know. This also allows me to receive valuable formative feedback as I teach content and can better address my students' learning needs as I modify my instruction.

To help my students organize their ideas, writing, and course content, I have integrated student notebooks into my classroom. This allows students to learn to regulate their learning through an organizational system, in which support strategies are integrated into the process. Using notebooks as a learning tool provides opportunities for self- assessment, self-organization, and general self-monitoring; all of which are important for developing metacognitive skills (Klentschy & Molina-De La Torre, 2004; Moon, 2006). In the end, I hope to produce students who are more capable at being successful in any classroom and more confident that they can be successful. I'm not sure my class alone will do that (Weinstein, Husman, & Dierking, 2000), however, it's an important start.

References Cited

Blank. (2000). A metacognitive learning cycle: a better warranty for student understandings? Science Education, 48(4), 486-506.

Georghiades, P. (2004). From the general to the situated: 3 decades of metacognition. International Journal of Science Education, 26(3), 365-383.

Klentschy, M. P., & Molina-De La Torre, E. (2004). Sudents' Science Notebooks and the Inquiry Process. In E. W. Saul (Ed.), Crossing Borders in Literacy and Science Instruction: Perspectives on Theory and Practice (pp. 340-354). Arlington, VA: International Reading Association & National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Press.

Kozeracki, C. A., & Brooks, J. B. (2006). Emerging Institutional Support for Developmental Education. New Directions for Community Colleges, 136(Winter), 63-73.

Moon, J. A. (2006). Learning Journals (2nd ed.). London & New York: Routledge.

NRC (National Resource Council). (2005). How Students Learn, Science in the classroom. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.

Partnership for the 21st Century Skills. (2006). Most Young People Entering U.S. Workforce Lack Critical Skills Essential for Success. Retrieved 28 February, 2008, from http://www.21stcenturyskills.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id =250&Itemid=64

U.S. Department of Education. (2003). Community College Students: Goals, Academic Preparation, and Outcomes.

Weinstein, C. E., Husman, J., & Dierking, D. R. (2000). Self-Regulation Interventions with a focus on Learning Strategies. In M. Boekaerts, P. R. Pintrich & M. Zeidner (Eds.), Handbook of Self Regulation (pp. 727-747): Academic Press.

Weinstein, C. E., Meyer, D. K., Husman, J., Van Mater, G., & McKeachie, W. J. (2006). Teaching Students how to Learn. In Teaching Tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers (pp. 270-283): Houghton Mifflin.

White, R. T., & Gunstone, R. F. (1989). Metalearning and conceptual change. International Journal of Science Education, 11(Special Issue), 577-586.

Yerrick, R. K., & Roth, W.-M. (Eds.). (2005). Establishing Scientific Classroom Discourse Communities: Multiple Voices of Teaching and Learning Research. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

“Metacognitive thinking teaches us about ourselves,” says Tamara Rosier, a learning coach who specializes in metacognitive techniques. “Thinking about our thinking creates perspective — perspective that leaves room for change.”

She gives an example: “Instead of saying, ‘Math tests make me anxious,’ we’re asking ourselves, ‘What is it about math tests that makes me feel anxious and what can I do to change that?’ ”

Kids who are taught to think of themselves as being “good” or “bad” at a particular task can have a fixed mindset that makes them passive in approaching a challenge: either they can do it or they can’t, but they aren’t likely to think they can change that outcome.

Teaching kids to become more metacognitive helps them move from a mindset that leaves little room for change to a mindset which promotes self-awareness and resilience.

Help for kids with learning issues

Helping your child learn to work through difficult situations (or homework assignments, as the case may be) without becoming overwhelmed or giving up is especially valuable for kids with learning issues who may need to come up with different strategies than other students in the class.

For example:

  • A child with ADHD who struggles to stay on task is likely to feel frustrated and anxious when he’s assigned a long essay. If he’s unable to reflect on why the project upsets him he might think, “Everyone else is having an easy time. I’m just bad at writing.”
  • A kid who’s learned to reflect on his own learning process, on the other hand, could look at the situation and say, “I always feel like this when I have to work for a long time. Maybe if I take breaks every hour or so I’ll feel less stressed out.” By taking a metacognitive approach, he’s able to manage his frustration and find a better way to approach big assignments in the future.

Great for self-regulation

Metacognitive skills are not only excellent tools for kids who learn differently, and often find themselves struggling to keep up. They also enable kids to self-regulate when faced with challenges, especially unexpected ones.

“One of the most powerful byproducts of metacognitive thinking is increased self-regulation,” says Gladstone.

Being able to self-regulate helps kids manage experiences that might otherwise overwhelm them. For example, take two girls who have to audition for a school play, both of whom are struggling with unusually difficult material.

A girl who is regularly told how talented she is and is used to being praised for her performances is likely to get frustrated and overwhelmed at the sheer thought of preforming badly.

But a girl who is praised for her ability to work hard and persevere when she’s faced with a challenge can draw on her metacognitive skills to help her manage her nerves and help her figure out a way of rehearsing that works better for her.

Quieting negative self-talk

Fallout from a fixed mindset often takes the form of self-criticism. The negative feelings kids experience when they feel frustrated easily turn into negative self-talk. “If I’m so smart, why did I fail the test? I’m not smart. I’m useless.”

“When you place your value on being ‘smart,’ anything that makes you feel less than smart is devastating,” says Rosier. “A lot of kids develop a negative inner voice, and they develop it in place of metacognition.”

This negative voice is sneaky, she explains, often masquerading as a coach. “You can mistake self-criticism for motivation. What we want to do is get rid of the negative inner voice and replace it with metacognitive thinking that helps your child find new ways to manage her challenges instead of beating herself up about them.”

How to encourage metacognition

How do you help your child start becoming more meta?” Metacognitive questions, says Rosier, will help your child begin thinking in a more reflective way. Questions should be:

  • Open-ended. Give your child some space to reflect on his thinking: Can you tell me more about why you think that?
  • Non-blaming. It can be hard to stay open when kids are acting out, but asking them to think about their behavior can help them learn to manage difficult situations in a better way: Why do you think you got so upset when Dad changed the channel?
  • Solution-focused. Encourage him to think about how he can use his understanding to change things in the future: How could you handle that differently next time?
  • Process-oriented. Ask questions that help your child get a better idea of how his thought process works: How will you know when this drawing is finished?

Be patient

“When you teach kids to think about their behavior differently, they begin to behave differently,” says Rosier. But she warns that it’s important not to expect instant results. Learning to think metacognitively is a process, and parents may have to accept that a lot of the work is happening behind the scenes.

“Of course we want to see progress, but our children — especially teenagers — don’t always share their thinking with us and that’s okay.”

Just asking the questions gets the metacognitive work going internally, even if it’s not visible to the parental eye, Rosier explains. The benefits are the same, she says, even if all you get is a grunt in return.

Learning to learn

Asking questions at home will help kids begin to use metacognitive strategies in their schoolwork, too. For many kids — especially those with learning differences  — this can be harder than it sounds. It’s easy to get bogged down by poor study habits, procrastination, homework meltdowns, and test stress.

If your child is struggling to work through a long paper, ask questions that help him use his metacognitive skills to try a different approach.

  • What do you think is making it hard for you to work on this paper right now?
  • What are some strategies that have helped you do well on similar papers in the past?
  • Can you use those insights to help you with the work you’re doing now?

Asking metacognitive questions will help him clarify his process, manage his anxiety, and find a better way to approach his paper, but the benefits don’t end when the assignment is done.

The more your child is able to understand his learning process the easier it will be for him to figure out what strategies and supports work best for him — knowledge that will help him succeed — both now and as he grows up.

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