What Do You Know Now?

Developed by Perry J. Samson
Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences, University of Michigan


An opportunity to offer metacognitive teaching arises from the simple question "what do you know now that you didn't before (whatever)"? This simple question can be asked after a reading, a lecture, a lab or other unit of student activity. The thrust is to force the student to consider what they've been exposed to and reflect on what they've learned. Did the activity change their opinion? Did this activity help them identify an analogy?

Of course, having asked these questions it behooves us to challenge their self-assessment through a quiz or second activity. Having had their knowledge tested we can ask a second string of questions to see if they want to change their answer to "what do you know now." This approach can be illustrated by assigning the class to read a short section of their textbook or and article. The instructor would ask "what do you know now that you didn't before you read the section?" followed by a set of questions challenging the student to extend what they read to another situation. Reviewing the answer to that challenge the instructor would then ask the students to reflect on what they thought they knew and whether that helped them answer the second question. This presents a situation in which the instructor can then explicitly discuss strategies for adapting their learning to new situations.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications

Learning Goals

The goal in this activity is to challenge students' overconfidence in their learning to motivate their reflection on their learning strategies.

OverconfidenceFigure 1. Perceived ability to recognize ability as a function of actual test performance. [Copyright 1999 by the American Psychological Association. Reproduced with permission.
Figure 1 (from Kruger and Dunning, 1999) illutrates a typical response to the question "What grade do you think you're going to get on _____ (exam, quiz, homework, etc.)?" when compared against actual scores. The variation in perceived ability is far smaller than the actual variability in ability. The students who scored in the bottom quartile had assessed themselves at a much higher level. Our goal as instructors should be to point this out as early and often as possible.

Context for Use

This activity can be used as a "wrapper" with whatever granularity you choose. For example, you may use this activity around a content quiz asking the class to assess their perceived level of confidence prior to being tested on that content.

Description and Teaching Materials

The steps for using this approach are:
  1. Select a concept with well-defined learning objectives.
  2. Conduct a 'mini-lecture'/lecture/activity on the concept.
  3. Pose a question like "How well do you think you could solve this problem on a quiz?" and record their pre-quiz responses.
  4. Present a content quiz/activity that requires them to understand the concept.
  5. Record how well they do on the quiz/actvity
  6. Plot pre-quiz estimates of understanding versus actual.
  7. Ask those who didn't do as well as the hoped to reflect and write down what they based their original answer on and how they need to adapt their knowledge.

Teaching Notes and Tips

This exercise is a bit tricky. On one hand you do want them to more critically assess what they do know versus what they do not know. On the other hand you do not want to reinforce their pre-conceived belief that knowing science is an innate skill that they can't hope to master. Couple this activity with an affirmation that science can be learned incrementally through careful planning and practice to try to break their preconceived lack of confidence.


Success can be measured by the degree to which the students' assessment of their pre-quiz perceived understanding more closely matches their actual level of understanding.