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Metacognition: The key to success?

Anxiety reduction tips and techniques

Assessing preferences

The research basis for the strategies, tips, and techniques presented

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Research Basis for the Meta-cognitive Approach to Study Strategies
Constructivism & Metacognition

Excerpt adapted from:
Sheets, R. A., (1994). The effects of training and experience on adult peer tutors in community colleges. Doctoral Dissertation, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, 13-15. http://www.pvc.maricopa.edu/~sheets/dissertation/index.html

As identified by Glasersfeld (1989b), the term constructivism is a recent term used to describe concepts that can be traced back more than a quarter of a millennium. Giambattista Vico is often credited with the earliest recorded idea of constructivism. In 1710, Vico had a treatise published in which he referred to knowledge as being constructed. Others noted as following constructivist views include Immanuel Kant, David Hume, Silvio Ceccato, John Dewey, and Jean Piaget. Piaget's writings spanned more than 50 years. In his early writings, he is credited with providing foundations for cognitive psychology; in his later works, he is viewed as a constructivist.

In constructivism, experience provides the basis for gaining new knowledge. New experiences are interpreted through a filter consisting of what the learners believe to be real and true. If the new information is inconsistent with existing experience and beliefs, the learners may reject it, explore it, distort it so that it "fits" their views, or ignore it (R. J. Stahl, 1990a). New ideas, information, or concepts cannot simply be transferred from one person to another as is often assumed. However, without an adequate schema for the new information (R. J. Stahl, 1992a), the learner may construct completely or partially inaccurate knowledge or may construct something accurately, but not what was intended. Learning is described as a dynamic, active, problem-solving process in which existing knowledge is modified, added to, or reconstructed. Constructivists see the learners' reality as changing to reflect an expansion of knowledge (R. J. Stahl, 1989, 1992a).

Kamii (1982b) likens the traditional perception of education to empty vessels run along an assembly line waiting to be filled with the same pre-measured amounts of the same information thus producing identical products. According to constructivist theory, learning cannot be assumed to have occurred simply because information was presented and individuals listened and said they understood. They may have understood part of it, none of it, or may have totally misunderstood what was intended. Then, as new information is presented, individuals will try to make it "fit" within their view of reality. Thus, receivers (learners) need to have or be provided with appropriate background information to accurately understand and construct what the sender (instructor or tutor) intends (Kamii, 1982b).

An analogy by Flavell (1985) regarding the construction and reconstruction of new information into memory is to that of an archeological reconstruction of an ancient civilization. The archeologists begin with the individual fragments and artifacts that have been found and are believed to be connected. The archeologists then fill in gaps in knowledge with logical inferences based on their knowledge of the civilization. What individuals learn and remember is constructed based on how well it "fits" with previous experience and understanding. "We most emphatically do not simply take mental photographs of inputs at storage and then simply develop them at retrieval" (Flavell, 1985, p. 215). He also states that constructivists believe that spontaneous inferences and interpretations are constantly occurring in the processing, storing, and retrieving of information.

In discussing comprehension and recall from prose, Spiro (1980, p. 246) states "Constructed meaning is the interactive product of text and context of various kinds including linguistic, prior knowledge, situational, attitudinal, and task context, among others." Meaning does not reside in individual words, sentences, or passages; instead language provides us with a skeleton from which to build. Thus the same word or set of words can have different meanings to different learners. Meanings are constructed based on learners' experiences and prior knowledge, attitudes, interests, as well as the context of the task, which includes learners' perceptions of the task and of the reason for or importance of the task. The learners become active rather than passive participants in their learning even while reading to learn new information (Spiro, 1980).

According to Narode (1989), metacognition is grounded in constructivist theory, and it provides the foundation upon which students can construct new information. Metacognition, a term credited to John Flavell, is defined by Flavell as "the active monitoring and consequent regulation and orchestration of [thinking and learning activities]" (cited in Krueger, 1986, pp. 16-17). Narode (1989) applies metacognition to a college setting in which students in lower-level algebra classes need to be provided with problem solving opportunities to help them develop critical thinking skills in applying mathematics, as opposed to the traditional focus on computational skills in "remedial" mathematics courses.

Hartman (1990) identifies two dimensions of metacognition in relation to helping students become self-directed learners: 1) Learning metacognitively involves executive management of learning through planning, monitoring, and evaluating; and 2) metacognition involves strategic knowledge of the repertoire of knowledge and skills the student has, when and why these skills are appropriate to use, and how to apply the selected knowledge and skills. "The final aspect of a self-directed learner concerns transfer. It emphasizes application of knowledge and skills across a range of contexts: within the same subject, across subjects, to everyday life experience, and to students' future goals." (Hartman, 1990, p.3). She also states that the goal of tutor training grounded in metacognition is to "prepare tutors to tutor themselves out of a job" (Hartman, 1990, p.2), which she describes as empowering students to become their own tutors.

One aspect of metacognition, termed comprehension monitoring, is defined by Weinstein & Rogers (1985, p.7) as "an active learning strategy necessary for success in any learning situation, but especially in cases where the learner is primarily responsible for his or her mastery of a task." Students can learn and master strategies and skills for dealing with content. Metacognitive strategies can help students monitor their own understanding and select an appropriate course of action to construct and reconstruct new information appropriately.


REFERENCES

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