Saturday, March 12, 2016

It’s a Wrap

If your students are like mine, they tend to look at exams and papers for one main thing:  the grade. And that’s where the contemplation either stops or focuses in general terms on how the grade doesn’t really reflect how hard the student worked.
As I was reading Using Reflection and Metacognition to Improve Student Learning: Across the Disciplines, Across the Academy, one of the new books on the pedagogy shelf in the library, I found the chapter on “exam wrappers” insightful on this problem.* In that chapter, Lovett defines exam wrappers as “structured reflection activities that prompt students to practice key metacognitive skills after they get back their graded exams (p. 18).”  These reflection activities require students to respond to three kinds of questions:
  1. How they prepared for the exam
  2. What kinds of errors they made on the exam
  3. What they might do differently to prepare for the next exam
As Lovett explains, “Currently, most students seem to think of exams as the 'end' of learning.  Instead they could be opportunities to reflect, compare and adjust their strategies” (p 19).  Her point is that students, at most, look to see what facts they got wrong, when it is much more important to reflect on why they missed those particular facts and what they might do differently the next time so as not to miss them.  Requiring them to think about the study process helps build the students’ sense of metacognition, over time developing them into more self-directed learners.
Teachers benefit as well, since they get a much clearer picture of how students are performing with respect to the course learning objectives, and thus are able to make changes in their instructional plans as needed.

The article reminds us that metacognitive skills
  • are developed through practice and feedback,
  • are not automatically transferred across contexts, and
  • while extremely important for students just beginning their college experience, are NOT best learned as generic “study skills” but instead must be grounded in the course content.  
Lovett also points out that teachers can use other “wrappers”—homework wrappers, lecture wrappers, small group discussion wrappers, etc., and provides examples from a variety of disciplines in the appendix.

What do you think?  Have any of you had success with this sort of reflective assignment?  
*Note:  Other chapters were equally interesting, giving case studies of how teachers can enhance student metacognition and reflection in different disciplines, e.g., Chapter 3:  Improving Critical-Thinking Skills in Introductory Biology Through Quality Practice and Metacognition or Chapter 4:  Reflection and Metacognition in Engineering Practice.

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