Think About Thinking - It's Metacognition!

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Today we have Dr. Saundra McGuire. She's the assistant vice chancellor for learning, teaching, and retention at LSU and we're talking about metacognition today.

So first of all, what is metacognition?

Yes, great question. Metacognition is-the term, actually, was coined by a cognitive scientist back in 1979 (Flavol), and it really refers to the ability to think about your own

thinking. The way I like to explain it to students is: it's as if you have a big brain outside your brain looking at what your brain is doing; and it's analyzing the activities of

your brain, asking questions like: "Is she just memorizing this information, or does she know it well enough that she could teach it to someone else?"

So, why is it necessarily important, then?

Great question. Because, very often, the way that we learn information is determined by the processes that we put in place. And so, if you are analyzing how you are

learning the information or how you thinking about it-and it's not just thinking about your own thinking. It's being able to plan the strategies that you're going to use to

learn certain pieces of information. For example, if you know that in order to master something, you've got to go through the act of pretending that you're teaching it to

someone else, which is very different than just writing the information out or just reciting it looking at a book. So, it's really important because it allows us to move to

higher mastery levels of learning than if we didn't actually analyze how we were using our though process.

And how do you become aware, then, of how you learn?

Yes. I think first you have to recognize that your brain can analyze what it's doing. Very often we just kind of go through study techniques blindly. But, if you really

recognize that, "No, I need to step back and analyze exactly 'what am I doing?' Am I using memorization techniques? Am I using recitation techniques? Am I

using annotation techniques (writing about the information)?" And also looking at whether or not the strategy than I am using is congruent with my

learning style. If I'm a visual learner, that suggests that I should be using certain kinds of strategies. Ant it's the metacognition that allows us to really analyze

what we're doing and how were thinking about the task at hand.

Gotcha. And I know, for me personally, I actually changed the way I was learning a subject. It was biochemistry, and I started just writing, over and over

again, with the different pathways and everything. You Know, so it seems like it's never too late to try this.

Absolutely! And what you did actually was a metacognitive act, because you recognized that: "I need to do something a little bit different." Maybe you weren't

writing out the pathways initially. You just trying to look at it and memorize it. And then you realized that "No. To be more effective, I've got to write it out." And so the

metacognitive sophistication, I'll call it, really does increase as you go to higher levels in college, and you are required to do those higher level learning tasks.

And these different strategies. I mean, can you give some specific examples? I mean, that one was writing over and over again, I guess for me.

OK. Absolutely. Teaching the information to someone else. And that's why we highly recommend that students become involved in study groups where you're explaining

the information to each other. I've actually had some graduate students say that they bought a whiteboard and used it in their room. And they pretended that they were

the professor and they would go through teaching the lecture. So there are a number of different kinds of strategies. Sometimes people will do a comic book

illustration of a particular concept or they might do a concept map where they are looking at the differences and the similarities of two concepts that

might have given them difficulty in differentiating those two.

Ok. Well, thank you for this and thanks for coming in. For more information on metacognition or the strategies we've mentioned here, please visit our website.