How do we teach metacognition?

scott's thoughts Jul 26, 2022

We have discussed previously the usefulness of metacognition in graduate-level teaching and learning. By practicing metacognition, we become aware of the amazing amount of work our minds do. We then use our particular skills to successfully employ high-level learning when we can and seek assistance or innovation when we cannot.

To introduce metacognition to students we employ three critical steps:

  • We show students that their ability to learn is mutable;
  • We teach planning and goal-setting; and
  • We give students ample opportunities to practice monitoring their own learning and adapting that practice as necessary.

We introduce these three steps, then reinforce them to students repeatedly over the course of their Pharmacy education through the Student Success Coaching Model through:

The Student Success Model incorporates three basic methods of facilitating metacognition:

  1. Robust study skills taught at the beginning of the program and sprinkled throughout. One of the first things we do is introduce students to learning styles, to understand the ones that work best for them individually.
  2. A Success Coaching Model that requires a high-touch interaction with students on a regular basis to review key principles learned in the study skill seminars. The model revisits metacognitive techniques as often as is necessary and helpful.
  3. Incorporation of early alert procedures that allow for students to receive feedback about study strategies that resulted in low academic performance. This is an opportunity to introduce more effective learning methods to the struggling student through metacognitive examination. 

When introducing metacognition, we present it as a two-part system.

Knowledge of Cognition. We must become aware of our cognitive processes before we can use them. Therefore, we demonstrate and assist students with these first steps:

  • Factors that influence their own learning
  • A collection of strategies to use for learning
  • A method for choosing the appropriate strategy in specific learning situations

Regulation of Cognition. In this phase, we teach students how to take charge of their own cognitive skills, through:

  • Setting goals and planning
  • Monitoring and controlling learning
  • Evaluating one’s own regulation (assessing if the strategy is working or not, then adjusting, or trying something new)

Once we establish the concepts of knowledge and regulation, application is the next important phase. Here are two sample methods of approaching the metacognitive process, both of which require us to ask ourselves questions about our learning. 

Monitor-and-Adjust: use while learning is happening

Am I…

…making progress on this task?
…thinking about the learning to identify the problem?
…comprehending what I read, or what is said, and identifying the problem?
…making adjustments to help myself?

Self-Reflect and Evaluate: use following a test of our learning

How well did I…

…accomplish my task?
…manage my time?
…stay on task?
…use strategies to help me?

We encourage students to practice the skills of metacognition until doing so occurs as naturally as thinking itself, and without reminders from an instructor or coach. Our goal is that students need no guidance from us to successfully regulate their own learning.

Teaching our students metacognition affords them more than just a chance to succeed at the graduate level. By doing so, we hand them the keys to a vehicle that will serve them for their educational careers and beyond. No health care career (and few other careers) is without a need for constant learning, processing, and adaptability. The better we know our own minds, the better equipped we are for every opportunity that comes our way.


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