Model for the Creation of
Meaningful Community College Learning Experiences
of individual meaning improves when students think about how they
What we know:
thinking about how we think, about how we know, and about how we learn.
Robin Fogarty (1994), in How to Teach for Metacognitive Reflection,
defines metacognition as "thinking about thinking." She adds
that "to have awareness and control over your own thinking one
may plan metacognitively, monitor progress metacognitively, or evaluate
metacognitively. Thus, the three areas, planning, monitoring, and evaluating
provide the appropriate framework for self-reflection." We
know that our teaching is improved by careful planning (future), by
monitoring our craft (present), and by evaluation (past). Developing
these self-reflective practices is at the heart of metacognition leading
to the construction of individual meaning. Our students also need to
develop metacognitive strategies to improve their learning, and we can
help them with this process by weaving metacognitive practices into
our classroom teaching.
The support for what we know:
Good teachers strive
to create learning experiences that help students develop critical thinking
skills. We know that part of critical thinking is the ability to recognize
when one has the necessary information to make an informed decision
-- or the evidence to support an argument appropriately. Instructors
assigning research papers run into this problem often. Students attempt
to take a position on a controversial issue, can't find evidence to
support their position, but insist on maintaining their position because
they just "know they're right." Why is it so difficult for
these students to see that they've built a house of cards (that they're
arguing a position without support)? It may be that they have not developed
the ability to examine their own assumptions. Occasionally, we will
see a major "mind shift" as students, during the course of
writing an argument, realize that their position is based on shifting
sand and actually change their "world view" based on evidence
they examine during the course of writing a paper. As we all know, it's
a wonderful thing when the "light bulb" comes on! Why is it
that students (and instructors) find it so difficult to recognize assumptions?
(1995), in Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, describes
critical reflection as a process of "hunting assumptions."
He defines assumptions as "the taken for granted beliefs about
the world, and our place within it, that seem so obvious to us as not
to need to be stated explicitly" and classifies assumptions into
three categories: paradigmatic, prescriptive, and causal. Paradigmatic
assumptions are what we use to structure the world around us. A paradigmatic
assumption that might be held by a teacher is that, unlike children,
adults are self-directed learners. Prescriptive assumptions, as defined
by Brookfield, are assumptions about what should happen in certain situations.
For example, if you hold the paradigmatic assumption that adults are
self-directed learners, you might also hold the prescriptive assumption
that good teachers should help students take responsibility for their
own learning by designing, completing, and evaluating their own work.
Causal assumptions, according to Brookfield, are assumptions "about
how different parts of the world work and about the conditions under
which these can be changed." Assuming that learning contracts will
help students take responsibility for their own learning is an example
of a causal assumption given by Brookfield. What so interesting about
Brookfield's ideas about how we can use critical reflection to help
us go "assumption hunting" is that many of the assumptions
he questions are the foundations of what we believe as good teachers.
As Brookfield says, "Unexamined common sense is a notoriously unreliable
guide to action."
One example Brookfield
gives of an assumption is that it makes sense to visit small groups
after they have been given a task, showing that you are engaged and
attentive. This practice, however, can seem insulting to students. Don't
you trust them? Also, when you join a group, there's a good chance that
certain students (maybe all of them) will perform, trying to impress
you. The total focus of the group can turn from the task at hand to
a haphazard attempt to show you what good students they can be. Another
assumption Brookfield brings up is the idea that cutting down on lecturing
is important because lecturing doesn't foster critical thinking. He
pops holes in this assumption by pointing out that before developing
critical thinking students might need a foundation in a subject area.
A lecturer who models her own critical thinking (assumptions she has
questioned, an openness to other views) can model this for students,
helping lay that foundation for their own critical thinking. The point
is not to tear down good teaching, but rather to help us make sure that
the work we are doing is based on reality and not on the assumptions
we hold which just might be flawed. The point is that a critically reflective
teacher will examine even his most cherished principles of teaching
with a critical eye. And isn't that what we are asking our students
to do each day when they walk into our classrooms? Modeling our own
critically reflective metacognitive strategies will help our students
construct individual meaning.
What we are getting
at here is twofold. First, we should develop our own critically reflective
practices. Second, by modeling our own critically reflective practices
for our students and by weaving metacognitive activities into our classroom
practice, we can help students with their own metacognition. Students
need to develop their ability to think about how they think. In my freshman
composition classes, on the first day of class, I ask students to write
about what they know about how they learn. Their insights are fascinating,
both for me and for them. In other words, they are surprised by what
they know about how they learn. In some cases, it's apparent
that no one has ever asked them what they know about how they learn.
They've been given tests for years, but no one has asked them how they
learn. Medical doctors know how important it is to talk to a patient
about how she feels because this information, combined with patient
history and the appropriate medical tests are all parts of the complete
picture. But teachers, while they do administer tests and sometimes
look at student records, don't often ask students what they know about
how they learn.
We contend that
teaching for metacognition means modeling critically reflective behavior
(including examining our own assumptions) and developing strategies
for the classroom that help students become critically reflective. We
should make thinking about thinking an integral part of our classroom
practice by embedding it into the complex learning experiences we create
for our students.
Much research has
been done on the concept of metacognition including Feuerstein's work
on the "mediated learning experience." This process guides
students through self-monitoring activities designed to help them develop
reflective behavior. (Click
here to read more about Feuerstein's work in our Valuing the Unique
How does this relate to teaching in the community college classroom?
should be practiced throughout the institution. Arthur L. Costa and
Bena Kallick (2000), in an article about institution-wide reflection,
offer these strategies: metacognitive reflections (activities that invite
thinking about thinking), collaborative dialogues (between teachers,
between teachers and students, among students), portfolios and journals,
and providing models of reflection (teachers and administrators reflecting
on their practice).
Above, we mentioned
that along with modeling critical reflection, teachers should embed
critical reflection pieces into the classroom learning experiences.
One way this can be done is by creating simple reflection pieces for
all classroom activities and projects. Make thinking about thinking/learning
an important part of each class. Discuss with students why you are using
the approaches in the classroom that you are using. Get their feedback
about what's working and not working. Encourage students to make critical
reflection a part of their day through journals, learning logs, learning
communities, study groups, and other activities.
In our classrooms,
we've adapted the following questions from Stephen Brookfield's "Classroom
Critical Incident Questionnaire" for use as a reflection component
for various activities. Brookfield uses the incident questionnaire as
a reflection at the end of each week of classes. He uses a two-part
form so that students leave one copy with him and take the other with
them. The responses are anonymous. He then shares responses with the
group the following week and uses the feedback to modify his approaches.
Here are the questions: 1. At what moment in class this week did you
feel the most engaged with what was happening? 2. At what moment in
class this week did you feel most distanced from what was happening?
3. What action that anyone (teacher or student) took in class this week
did you find most affirming or helpful? 4. What action that anyone (teacher
or student) took in class this week did you find most puzzling or confusing?
5. What about the class this week surprised you the most?