Metacognition During Discourse

Merry Wilson, Scottsdale Community College

In my classroom, I often marvel at how much I learn while teaching, but I get frustrated when I realize my students are not having a similar experience. The reality is that I am not learning because I'm listening, I'm learning because I'm talking and explaining. I'm learning because I'm engaged in higher order thinking skills and processing information, and this is metacognition. Benjamin Bloom identified three types of learning: the cognitive (knowledge-based), affective (emotional), and the psychomotor (physical skills). Most academic teaching focuses on the cognitive domain, especially in the sciences, as this is the where most formative assessment occurs. Within the cognitive domain, more value is placed on higher order thinking skills (evaluation and synthesis), but the reality is that most teaching and evaluation occurs at the lower order (knowledge and comprehension). How do we get students to ascend this ladder of cognitive development without completely abandoning traditional teaching techniques and assessments? Cognitive learning is inextricably linked with the affective domain, and metacognition is the tool that transcends these domains. The goal, therefore, as an instructor, is to become effective in the affective, and to facilitate and model metacognition for students so that they may utilize this skill to attain higher order thinking skills.

Most academic instruction is done verbally, with a focus on teacher initiated lecture. However, going back to Socrates, it has been shown that students negotiate meaning and process information during discourse. In order to achieve cognitive conceptual change, student-student and teacher-student discussion is a necessary component to the classroom (Mercer, 2008). Weber, Maher, Powell, & Lee (2008) observe that when given a problem to discuss in a mathematics classroom, students often challenge the ideas and arguments of their peers in a way they may not do with an instructor. This discourse facilitates their own understanding of the concept and identifies misconceptions (Huang, Normandia, & Greer, 2005). Discussion between peers allows metacognition that develops critical thinking skills and allows students to deepen their own understanding (Shamir, Zion, & Spector Levi, 2008).

Traditionally, many conceptual models have been employed to aid in the understanding of science, but discourse needs to be implemented as a learning tool as well. Bricker and Bell (2008) state that the role of discussion in a science classroom is essential, because argumentation epitomizes the nature of science and is intimately linked with directed science outcomes. However, it is also essential for the understanding of course material. When I teach about the nature of science and argumentation in my classroom, I use a "gallery walk" to help with the concept. Students come up with a claim and post it for their peers to comment upon. They defend and modify their ideas during discussions with peers and come up with a new, arguably better, claim. The result of this experience not only deepens their understanding of the material, but it also illustrates what "peer reviewed" means and why this process is so important in science.

A modified Socratic Method has been employed successfully in classrooms to facilitate classroom discourse communities. Li-hsuan Yang (2007) published a study illustrating an environment where the instructor posed questions and students not only suggested potential answers, but they introduced other questions, potential sources of information, and refuted and supported each other's ideas. By setting the framework and driving the discussion, the instuctor set her students up for success. She sucessfully modelled how the conversation would progress by asking levelled questions, but did not limit results by sticking to a script. Furtak and Ruiz-Primo (2008) suggest that by supplying formative prompts, an instructor can direct the students to think more explicitly, and in this way we can scaffold the discussion for students. By conducting a whole room question and answer session, Yang modified a potentially stressful single discussion into a whole group discourse. Students also use vernacular to explain their own understanding, which show synthesis, a higher level of thinking (Brown & Spang, 2008). In this modified Socratic environment, an instructor can validate student interpretations, which further contributes to confidence in the subject material. In my own classroom, students are much more likely to engage in a conversation when they are allowed to respond to the questions and answers of other students, as well as tailor the direction of the discourse. By creating a community of discourse, I can model metacognition by verbalizing my own thought processes through asking questions and seeking answers. I also help to restate student observations and questions, which facilitates academic language acquisition. These are just some ways in which discourse can be used to facilitate metacognition in the classroom, which will ultimately lead to better cognitive development.

I am interested in incorporating metacognition into my classroom in other ways, and this is why I am very excited to be attending this workshop. I look forward to meeting everyone in a few weeks!


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