Meta is Beta© by Lisa M. Lee, MEd.

thinkingBill Cerbin, author of the website Exploring How Students Learn indicates, “By the time students reach college we expect them to be able to regulate their own learning. A basic aspect of self-regulated learning is being able to use specific learning techniques to acquire, understand and remember new material.” With andragogy, adult learners may or may not meet these expectations based on previous life and academic experiences. One way of assisting students with self-regulated learning is Metacognition. Metacognition is defined as “thinking about one’s thinking”.

Metacognition became a major talking point in my course work with the Neurodevelopmental Approach to Teaching, developed, synthesized and proclamated by the Center for School Success based on Dr. Mel Levine’s teachings. Metacognition is one way to scaffold learning as adult students respond to this generation’s multi-dimensional responsibilities for work, family and life; optimizing time, previous knowledge, and self-reflection. As Educators, we know adult learners face unique barriers to learning and achieve higher rates of degree completion when barriers are removed.

In exploring the use of metacognition at the post-secondary level, I’ve adapted the 5 steps to metacognition to include critical inquiry questions driving self-reflection and autonomy. My preference is to explore these questions from a “first person” perspective, an embedded approach which speaks to self-directed critical inquiry.

Metacognition involves five distinct skills:

  1. Assess the task—Get a handle on what is involved in completing a task (the steps or components required for success) and any constraints (time, resources). What do I know? What do I need to know? What is being asked of me?
  2. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses—Evaluate your own skills and knowledge in relation to a task. What strength can I use here? What learning gaps are present and what strategies do I know to use? E.g. This assignment requires a lot of reading which The-Thinkeris a learning gap, I may need help with comprehension so I’ll take notes or have a study partner.
  3. Plan an approach—Take into account your assessment of the task and your evaluation of your own strengths and weaknesses in order to devise an appropriate plan. How much time do I have? What days and times are best for my personal learning? What distractions do I need to take care of? When and Where will I work on this? What resources will I need?
  4. Apply strategies and monitor your performance—continually monitor your progress as you are working on a task, comparing where you are to the goal you want to achieve.  What strategies work for this particular assignment? I need a strategy, now what do I do? Am I making progress? What questions do I have? What else do I need to do? How long will it take me? How can I redirect if I’m losing focus? What do I need to be at my best e.g. food, water, snacks, music, comfy clothes
  5. Reflect and adjust if needed—Look back on what worked and what didn’t work so next time the approach can be adjusted and, if needed, start the cycle again. Did I achieve a personal best (in focus time, following metacognition steps, etc.) How would I do it differently next time? How will I remember that?

If stuck on time and attention: Ask yourself, what (purpose), so what (meaning), now what (action)?

In applying this approach to adult learning theory, the method includes explaining, modeling and hands-on experiential exercises in the classroom. The key component, however, exists in the transference to on-line use within the on-line tools so important to knowledge retention and personal application.

Here’s the rationale behind this concept; first students are exposed in a classroom setting (or if teaching on-line an exercise in metacognition can be added to the course materials), secondly, the concept is reinforced visually on-line in each module through the use of thechecklist.

“The checklist provides an additional element to motivation as the student “checks” off each item, a colored progress bar indicates the percent of progress achieved, hence, a visual and graphic stimulus giving students a competitive initiative, much like the “star on the forehead” from elementary school.”

Although a more mature approach to recognition and achievement, one produces the same student experience, albeit this one is self-conveyed. Anecdotally, students from the Critical Inquiry course responded positively to the “progress bar” and communicated their feelings of success each week. Further feedback indicates the actual tracking and anticipation of “finishing” the tasks motivated each student to cross the finish line each week.   As the instructor, I could easily monitor student progress throughout the week and use this tool to provide feedback.

Whether the course is a face to face or on-line course, the checklist can be used each week as a map to the week’s assignments. It’s quite simple to create and with the collaborative assistance of the Educational Technology Support team is easily accomplished for those wishing to add an innovative tool. The checklist is created from the “add an activity or resource” button located at the bottom of each module. The benefit of this tool allows the instructor to create a to-do list inclusive of the metacognition steps and the assignments listed in the module. The Ed Tech team can easily collaborate and support creation of this list even for those faint of heart with educational technology.

The enthusiasm of the students, the obvious boost to achievement value and automaticity in using this tool significantly improved the overall personal responsibility to learning. Informal measurement included weekly short student commentaries on their learnegy (learning energy) prior to and at the end of class. Students self-monitored their comments and the commentaries moved from confused, depressed, overwhelmed, too busy, distracted, and curious to excited, energized, organized, happy and prepared. From an educator’s perspective, both the student and the Instructor benefited personally and professionally. My story of this experience is unique and profound, especially as I watched each student blossom in confidence, production and understanding of collegiate level work. The development of metacognition skills allows a learner to shine their light on learning and rally their energy for successful strategies. The beauty is metacognition continues to develop throughout their academic and personal pursuits creating solid lifelong learning skills.


About the author:  This article was written by Lisa Lee, a Granite State College faculty who communicates expectations openly to her students, speaks often of “Educational Excellence,” and provides her students an opportunity to make connections between their learning and their life.  Her career started with a 25 year journey in Human Resources as a Recruiter/Trainer and independent Workshop Developer/Trainer when she switched gears to a Psychology Instructor with the Community College System of NH.  She attended the College for Lifelong Learning, now GSC, as an adult learner and attained a B.S. in Behavioral Sciences in 2006, completed her Master’s degree in 2008 in Education and most recently she completed a post-Master’s Certificate in the Neurodevelopmental Approach to Teaching from Plymouth State University.  Lisa has taught many courses since 2008 ranging from Psychology to English to GSC courses in Group Communications and now Critical Inquiry 501.  Throughout these courses, she has shared her philosophy of “THINK IT, FEEL IT, BE IT,” and connecting cognitive understanding to emotional experiences to create an action oriented application to one’s life, thereby, creating a cycle of learning, knowing and being.  If you would like to contact Lisa, you may send an email to: lisafree2bme@gmail.com.


Reference: Open Learning Initiative http://oli.cmu.edu

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