I still have my Psychology 101 textbook sitting on my shelf. It's not because I particularly enjoyed the course and expected the material to someday become immediately relevant to my career as an educator though. I have to admit it's because the textbook publisher came out with a new edition and the bookstore wouldn't buy it back. Sound familiar? One of the ideas I actually remember from this undergraduate course was the concept of "metacognition." The definition is pretty easy to remember and maybe that's why it's stuck with me so long:

metacognition - thinking about thinking.
This absolutely makes my head spin around in circles:
Me: "If I'm thinking about my thinking...then am I not also thinking about my thoughts about my thinking? If that's true, and I'm thinking about what I'm thinking about when I'm really thinking about my thinking, then... "
You get the point. It's cyclical and only mathematicians and computer scientists get into that type of stuff. I digress...

John Bransford mentions metacognition in my favorite education-related book (yet another shameless plug!) How People Learn. I decided to keep this book from my graduate education due to its profound influence on my philsophy of education. If you haven't read the book, it is an outstanding synthesis of the science of learning. Bransford's writing centers around three key findings from research on teaching and learning. They aren't particularly earth shattering themselves to some, but I was particularly impressed by the way Bransford was able to piece together so much of what I've learned in other educational training in an often more disjointed way. His three key findings were:
  1. "Students come to the classroom with preconceptions about how the world works. If their initial understanding is not engaged, they may fail to grasp the new concepts and information that are taught, or they may learn them for purposes of a test, but revert to their preconceptions oustide the classroom

  2. To develop competence in an area of inquiry, students must:
    (a) have a deep foundation of factual knowledge,
    (b) understand facts and ideas in the context of a conceptual framework, and
    (c) organize knowledge in ways that facilitate retrieval and application.

  3. A 'metacognitive' approach to instruction can help students learn to take control of their own learning by defining learning goals and monitoring their progress in achieving them." (Bransford, 2000, pp. 14-18)
He then goes on to suggest an implication for each key idea as it relates to teaching. The third implication for teaching is the one I'm most interested in.
"The teaching of metacognitive skills should be integrated into the curriculum in a variety of subject areas." (Bransford, 2000, p. 21)
When is the last time you sat in on a metacognition across the curriculum professional development session? Granted I've only been in education for five years, but I'm still waiting for one.

Most educators I meet agree that they'd like students to assume more of the responsibility when it comes to their learning. This is an impossible task when students have never been formally taught how to assess their own learning and understanding. On p. 19, Bransford talks about a model in which, "...students are able to prompt themselves and monitor their own comprehension without teacher support." Wow, talk about working our way out of a job! Is this theory from an extreme point of view pretty idealistic? Without a doubt, yes. On the flipside, don't we, as working adults, continually prompt ourselves and monitor our own comprehension without others support the majority of the time? My car hasn't learned to fix itself yet, but I have learned the art of calling a knowledgeable friend and/or a mechanic to get it back in working condition. It's a soft skill that is directly related to assessment. Homework, tests, projects and quizzes are all ways students are "bringing their car in to the shop." The difference between my broken car and the student's assessments is that I know when to call the mechanic and many of my students do not.

With these thoughts in mind, I would like to kick-off a series entitled, "Towards better metacognition." In this series of posts, I will be addressing several assessment-related ideas and strategies I've read about (and implemented) that I believe are helping students begin this quest towards metacognition.

Before the series kicks off, I'm interested in doing a "virtual literature review" through you! What strategies have you found to be useful in helping students develop their metacognitive skills?