Journal Club #1: Metacognitive Learning Strategies in Science

The aim of the “Journal Club” is to present a summary of a journal article and discuss it in the comments below or on social meeja. The emphasis is not on discussing the paper itself (e.g. methodology etc) but more what the observations or outcomes reported can tell us about our own practice. Get involved! It’s friendly. Be nice. And if you wish to submit your own summary of an article you like, please do. If you can’t access the paper in question, emailing the corresponding author usually works (email details given on journal page linked below).

#1: E Cook, E Kennedy and S McGuire, Effect of Teaching Metacognitive Learning Strategies on Performance in General Chemistry Courses, Journal of Chemical Education, 2013, 90, 961-7.

I am a little biased in choosing this paper as I heard Saundra McGuire speak at Gordon CERP conference two years ago on this topic. This is one inspirational lady! This paper opens by saying that there are many teacher-focussed interventions that work on increasing retention and success. However, this article describes the concept of teaching students how to help themselves in learning and applying new information. The intervention is simple: a single 50 minute lecture on developing metacognitive learning strategies was provided to freshman chemists. Analysis of results shows that there was a significant improvement in their grades relative to those who hadn’t sat in on this lecture.

The timing of the intervention lecture was just after an early semester test. The authors argue that giving students who have done well in school tests information on study skills before they have completed any college tests is a folly, as the students are of the (correct) opinion that their study methods to date have been effective. However, after their first college test, students may be more receptive to thinking about how to study, especially if they haven’t performed as well as they usually had in school tests.

The lecture itself (available in supplementary information) uses the Bloom’s Taxonomy structure to show students the levels of learning, and what different study approaches apply to each level. This keeps it simple and logical, which I think is an attractive element of the work. Armed with an understanding of the different levels of learning, a study cycle is proposed. Students reported in response to questions that they understood the differences between school and college learning requirements having been shown the Bloom framework. The (revised) levels of Bloom’s taxonomy are outlined below:

Bloom’s Level (Revised) Typical Activity Level Typical Study Strategy Rationale
Creating Generating, producing information into new patterns Postgrad
Evaluation Making judgments based on criteria
Analysis Breaking components apart and relating them to each other Undergrad Working through problems without examples; working in groups Working through problems and hearing how others think a problem aids understanding
Application Using knowledge to solve problems, carry out procedures
Comprehension Restating in your own words, paraphrasing or summarising School Previewing lecture material; Paraphrasing/ rewriting lecture notes Helps students organise new information and connect to what they know
Knowledge Memorizing information, recalling but perhaps not understanding

Based on this, a “Preview, Attend, Review” study cycle is proposed, so that students are exposed to the class material three times within a short period (24 h). This is followed by a study session, consisting of four steps:

  1. Set a goal (1 – 2 mins) – what is aim of study session?
  2. Study with focus (40 – 50 mins) – interact with material: mind maps, summarize, process, etc
  3. Reward (10 – 15 min break)
  4. Review (5 min) – go over what was just studied.

The paper has detailed statistical analysis on how this intervention improved student grades. I like it because it is realistic – it can be delivered in a busy semester relatively easily, as it only takes one lecture slot; and it is student friendly – a welcome addition to the plethora of study skills books and strategies that are vague and generic. This to me seems quite focussed in explaining to students why thinking about how they study is important and how they might go about improving their study skills and learning. In the mix, metacognitive skills are being incorporated into the curriculum by stealth.

What do you think?