Mastery: Metacognition

Metacognition and Mastery

Metacognition is simply thinking about thinking, or in the context of teaching and learning, reflection on the learning process. Research on metacognitive techniques has shown several key benefits of these practices for mastery learning. 

  • Metacognitive practices improve students' ability to transfer their knowledge and skills to new contexts, a key component of mastery. 
  • Reflection on practice, feedback, and learning goals can inform the next round of targeted practice as students move toward mastery. 
  • Metacognition also helps students become more aware of the limits of their own knowledge, moving away from the unconcious incompetence of the true novice and towards expert thinking.

Strategies to promote metacognitionGraphic describing how targeted practice, reflection, observed performance and feedback can help one achieve goals

Here are some examples of metacognitive practice: 

The "Muddiest Point": Students write beriefly about what was most confusing to them in material from today's class.

Reflective journals: Students keep an ongoing journal of their learning. They might write about what they found challenging or how their thinking about course topics has changed over time.

Instructor Metacognitive Modeling: a.k.a. thinking out loud! Instructors can reveal disciplinary thinking habits by talking through how they think about or apporach problems. It's important to be mindful of the expert blind spot, but if you can verbalize your thinking process for students, how you begin, what comes next, how you check your work, what you do if something seems can help them learn the habits of mind of experts in your field.

Metacognition in the Margins: When they turn in a writing assignment, students include marginal comments on their thought process during the writing, including questions that they have for the instructor. They could use the commneting feature of a word processor to write these reflections, and the instructor can resppond in the same way. Other places with margins for reflection include mathematical proofs, computer programs (comments in code), PowerPoint presentations (the notes section), and annotated bibliographies.

Exam wrappers: As noted in the section on motivation, exam wrappers can help foster student success by providing an opportunity to reflect on study techniques and plan for future success. Here's an example of an exam wrapper in Physics: 


Physics Post-Exam Reflection   Name: ________________________________________

This activity is designed to give you a chance to reflect on your exam performance and, more important, on the effectiveness of your exam preparation. Please answer the questions sincerely. Your responses will be collected to inform the instructional team regarding students’ experiences surrounding this exam and how we can best support your learning. We will hand back your completed sheet in advance of the next exam to inform and guide your preparation for that exam.

Approximately how much time did you spend preparing for this exam?

What percentage of your test-preparation time was spent in each of these activities?

Reading textbook section(s) for the first time _____________

Rereading textbook section(s) _____________ 

Reviewing homework solutions _____________

Solving problems for practice _____________

Reviewing your own notes _____________

Reviewing materials from course website (what materials?)_____________
Other (please specify) _____________

Now that you have looked over your graded exam, estimate the percentage of points you lost due to each of the following (make sure the percentages add up to 100):

Trouble with vectors and vector notation _____________

Algebra or arithmetic errors _____________

Lack of understanding of the concept _____________

Not knowing how to approach the problem _____________

Careless mistakes _____________

Other (Please specify): __________________________

Based on your responses to the questions above, name at least three things you plan to do different in preparing for the next exam. For instance, will you just spend more time studying, change a specific study habit or try a new one (if so, name it), make math more automatic so it does not get in the way of physics, try to sharpen some other skill (if so, name it), solve more practice problems, or something else?




What can we do to help support your learning and your preparation for the next exam? 



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