Initial Publication Date: November 3, 2008

Some Slightly Random Thoughts on Metacognition

By Mimi Fuhrman, Rock Solid Testing Services, Carlsbad, CA

I am a geoscientist who has worked for most of the last 20 years in the development of standardized assessments. My formal educational background is in igneous petrology – my expertise in evaluation and assessment development comes not from involvement in educational research, per se, but rather from on-the-job experience. My interest in the role of metacognition in geoscience learning stems from my past work in assessments in geoscience and other disciplines, as well as my more recent interest in the modeling of both the cognitive and affective domains of "geoscience" as a discipline. I started thinking about my own answers to questions such as:

  • What makes someone (for example, me) self-identify as a geoscientist?,
  • In what ways do geoscientists habits of mind differ from other scientists?, and
  • What do I like about being a geoscientist?

As I discussed these questions with fellow geoscientists and others, I realized that many experts have never considered what their own answers would be. In fact, I discovered that there is a tendency for geoscientists to have trouble defining what exactly "geoscience" is, let alone think about their own personal relationship with the discipline.

In my work as a test developer, I have developed a habit of thinking about thinking. A necessary step to the development of a quality test item is to figure out how to write the question so the test-taker is directed to demonstrate the intended thinking process and/or skill. When possible, test developers run test items through cognitive labs in which students are trained to "think aloud" while they attempt to respond to the test items. Using these labs, test developers can revise and refine test items so that the students in the target audience are more likely to respond to the item in the way that is intended. In my current work helping high-school students prepare to take college admissions tests, I find that it helps students to think about what exactly is meant by the test question – what does the question intend to test? For that matter, what should the question intend to test?

Ah! But that is the most important question! I have found that asking high school or college faculty the question "What do you want to find out if your students know or can do?" is first answered with a blank stare...followed in most cases by a twinkle of understanding and then an "Aha!" and "That's it?" when I repeat their answer and say "That is what you should test."

So my interest in metacognition lies at several levels. First, I am very interested in discovering what expert geoscientists come up with when they turn their attention to their own metacognitive processes. I am especially interested in the results of these processes – the answer to the bulleted questions above. Then at the next level, I am interested in how expert views about geoscience as a discipline differ from novice views, and what strategies can we use to eliminate cognitive and affective barriers, especially those specific to the geosciences, so that our students (novices) can gain a more expert view. Cutting Edge workshops in 2005 and 2007 spawned the development of the Geoscience Concept Crystal (Fuhrman and others, 2005) and an initial model of motivating synergy between affect and cognition in geoscience (Fuhrman and others, 2007) --- my hope is that this workshop will result in the extension of these models to include metacognitive skills.


Fuhrman, M., Husman J., Kraft, K., Semken S., & Srogi L. (2007) Achievement motivation in the geosciences: Bringing our joy to our students. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, 39, 550.

Fuhrman, M., Srogi, L., Kraft, K., Linneman, S., & Yoshinobou, A. (2005). The geoscience concept crystal: A map to facilitate development of well-aligned undergraduate geoscience curricula and assessments. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, 33, 351.