Using metacognitive activities to help students learn

1 May 2020

In the current term, with classes being online and grading being mandatory S/Cr/NC, some students are struggling to stay engaged and motivated. Under such circumstances, how do you help students move beyond doing the bare minimum of work to learning deeply? In particular, students in sequential courses (particularly in the languages, math, and some sciences) need to learn the material from spring term courses at a level that will prepare them to be successful in the next course in the sequence. Some students find that they simply aren’t able to give more time because of their circumstances, but for students who are adrift for other reasons, incorporating metacognitive activities into courses might be helpful. 

Chico Zimmerman (Classics) is one of the Carleton faculty members who most intentionally tries to foster metacognition in courses. I reached out to see what suggestions Chico had for faculty looking for small steps that could help students think about their learning. Here are some of Chico’s recommendations:

One of the simplest interventions is just REQUIRING students to post once per week about “one thing I think I understood well in this activity/lesson/module” and “one thing that is still unclear”… [It] would provide a LOT of information to instructors and give the students some practice in monitoring their own understanding. That would be easy to do with a “private” forum on Moodle.

Another useful type of posting prompt is “the most productive mistake I made this week” or something similar. Again, it gently introduces that idea of reflecting on what one is actually learning and “rewards” the recognition of mistakes as a productive part of the learning process. If that posting also includes a specific practical plan to address the mistake, then the learning loop has been “closed” to some extent. 

But do these postings create a lot of extra work for faculty? Chico notes that one doesn’t need to respond to each individual post. Instead, a faculty member can offer a 5-minute debrief (either synchronously or in a posted video) on the collective responses that highlights common (mis)understandings and provides some specific concepts to review for that particular week.

In addition to regular check-ins, Chico also suggests on way to support student metacognition on higher stakes assignments:

Students could… be asked (required is better) to submit some kind of “wrapper” for more high-stakes assessments or activities. You could do this with a Google form or a “quiz” on Moodle. Students need to describe what went right and wrong and how they might modify their study/work approaches to address what the assessment revealed. The idea is not to allow students simply to drop a subject or activity once the class has “finished” with it, but to revisit their understanding of ideas and concepts that will be important for learning new material later in the course or in the sequence. 

The LTC will be hosting a Q&A with Chico on Thursday, May 7th during Common Time. Look for more information in your email!