Guide To Teaching and Learning


The research that underlies the book How People Learn demonstrates the effectiveness of metacognitive strategies for improving student learning. It was one of three key findings when it was first published. 

Metacognitive practices promote attention to learning. Metacognition means:

  • Awareness of oneself as a thinker and learning
  • Awareness and analysis of one’s own thinking and learning processes
  • Becoming conscious

Metacognition means making the unconscious conscious, and once it’s conscious, you can change it.  The value of metacognition:

  • Increases students’ abilities to transfer or adapt learning to new contexts
  • Helps them become aware of their strengths and weaknesses as learners
  • Helps them understand their learning strategies and how they can expand effective ones or replace ineffective strategies with more effective ones

Metacognitive practices are particularly important for Gen Z and their short attention spans. Metacognition can help students become conscious of their many unconscious behaviors while also strengthening their learning. As they plan their approach to an activity or assignment, ask students to monitor what they’re learning in the process, and to evaluate how the process went within the learning contexts of lecture, discussion, different kinds of assignments like reading, research, making, group work, different types of assessment activities like quizzes, papers and crits, and the course as a whole.

Ask students to ask themselves questions like:

How did I go about approaching the assignment, and not just ‘I read the text online with a note-taking app open so I could jot down reflections and questions’, but ask questions like:

  • What room was I in, was it hot or cold? 
  • What chair was I in and did it help or hinder–so comfortable I feel asleep? 
  • What was difficult for me in this lecture and why might that be? 
  • How was I holding my body during the discussion? 
  • What would have helped me understand more effectively? 
  • What did I do when I noticed my mind had wandered during the discussion? 
  • How many times did I check my phone when I was reading that paragraph?

Then ask them to reflect on how the answers to those questions may have affected how they approached the assignment or activity and what, if anything, they might have learned from it.

Then ask them to think about what they might have changed that could have positively affected their learning.

The goal is to make them self-reflective about themselves as learners and how they think and learn and to help them become conscious of unconscious habits and practices in order to effect positive change. 

Vanderbilt University has a good resource to help deploy these strategies in your courses. 

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