Friday, February 8, 2013


Teach Philosophy 101 links to a "great article" about metacognition.
Metacognition has to do with the process of reflecting on learning. Often, however, as we try to fit our material into the semester, we don't leave time for students to reflect on what they have learned.  But the studies show that metacognition is an important part of learning.  This suggests that we should leave more time for students to reflect on what and how they have learned.
Any time I read that "studies show" or "research shows" I get suspicious. What research? What studies? Of course, some research does show things, but in this case it does not seem to me that it shows that metacognition is important.

Here is a kind of summary of the article (which is indeed pretty good):
Throughout the process, as reported in San Francisco, the group found that metacognition was by no means a "silver bullet" for improving student learning, but nonetheless was an effective tool for focusing students' attention more consciously on their learning and, ultimately, providing a means to encourage students to think about the larger purpose of their education. Perhaps as important, the collegium group found that by asking metacognitive questions of students, they became both more aware of their students' learning and increasingly self-reflective about their own teaching practices and effectiveness.
In other words, reflection or metacognition (getting students to think about what they have learned and how they learned it) does not significantly improve students’ learning. It does make them more conscious of what they learn and how they learn it (surprise surprise!), and can help teachers become more aware of what their students are learning (or not) and how, so that problems can be addressed.

Two things that seem to help, especially for students who are doing poorly, are finding out from them before a test what they think they know and what they think they don’t know (and then, presumably, spending time in class going over the stuff they don’t feel confident about), and having them do brief writing exercises about assigned readings before class. This increases the amount they read (again: surprise!). Both of these exercises are considered to be forms of reflective learning. But they seem more like surveying students and making them read, respectively. Each of which is no doubt potentially beneficial, albeit there will be opportunity costs that ought to be taken into account.

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