Learning About Thinking and Thinking About Learning

Karl Wirth
Macalester College
Author Profile


A document about learning provides background information for classroom activities to help students be more intentional about their thinking and learning

Affective Domain Components

What type of affective domain challenges does this activity seek to address?

The purpose of learning document is to help students develop into intentional learners who are purposeful and self-directing. Specifically, the learning document, and the associated activities based on it are used to help students be more intentional about their learning, to derive greater meaning from their learning, and to be more motivated to learn.

Please describe the strategies used in your activity that address the challenges listed above.

Short classroom activities can be used to reinforce the material in the learning document. For example, students can work in small groups to write statements or questions that illustrate the different Bloom levels of thinking. Frequent reflective journal assignments can be used to help students reflect on their learning (metacognitive skills), and on the broader meaning (affective domain) of their learning.

Do you have results or evidence that the strategies used in this activity have been successful in addressing the affective challenges listed above? If so, please describe them here.

Students generally respond well to the learning document in discussions and journal reflections.



The learning document and associated activities are used in classes at all levels, both introductory general education and upper level required courses for the major.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered:

No previous knowledge or skills required.

How the activity is situated in the course:

Typically, students read the learning document at the beginning of the course. The following meeting we do a few short activities to reinforce the reading. Reflective journaling is conducted throughout the remainder of the course.


Content/concepts goals for this activity:

The content goals are to provide students with a vocabulary and basic understanding of thinking, learning and development.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity:

The higher order thinking skill emphasized by the activity is metacognition, or thinking about one's own thinking and learning.

Other skills goals for this activity:

Description of the activity/assignment

A recent report by the AAC&U (2002) advocates greater emphasis on educating students to be "intentional learners" who are purposeful and self-directing, empowered through intellectual and practical skills, informed by knowledge and ways of knowing, and responsible for personal actions and civic values. Self-directing learners also take initiative to diagnose their learning needs, they formulate learning goals, they select and implement learning strategies, and they evaluate their learning outcomes. It is commonly assumed that students will develop these sorts of skills, motivations, and attitudes in the course of mastering content, but this is not necessarily the case.

In an effort to help students develop these skills, Dexter Perkins and I began introducing a learning co-curriculum into our courses. This curriculum includes readings, classroom activities, discussions, and reflective journaling about learning. These activities not only provide a foundation for developing skills for life-long learning, they also provide scaffolding as students undertake greater responsibility for their own learning. Additionally, students now have a shared vocabulary about thinking and learning, they have a clearer understanding of our expectations for their learning (i.e., that student learning goals should go far beyond memorizing content), and they are more intentional about their own learning. Student motivations and attitudes have changed remarkably with the greater focus on thinking and learning. Furthermore, students more fully understand the value of their learning and their own development.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Student progress on learning goals is formatively assessed in group discussions and individual journal entries.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs