Metacognition the key to knowledge transfer in writing
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Metacognition:  The Key to Knowledge Transfer in Writing. Saundra Yancy McGuire, Ph.D. Asst. Vice Chancellor & Professor of Chemistr y Past Director, Center for Academic Success. Writing Instructor Seminar February 1, 2013.

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Metacognition:  The Key to Knowledge Transfer in Writing

Saundra Yancy McGuire, Ph.D.

Asst. Vice Chancellor & Professor of Chemistry

Past Director, Center for Academic Success

Writing Instructor Seminar

February 1, 2013

2004-2005 National College Learning Center AssociationFrank L. Christ Outstanding Learning Center Award

Reflection Questions

  • What skills do you want students to transfer?

  • How do you teach students these skills?

  • How do you teach students to transfer these skills?

Desired outcomes

  • We will understand why many students have difficulty with writing

  • We will have concrete strategies that faculty can teach students to improve knowledge transfer in writing, and we will be committed to trying them

  • We will have more resources for our students

  • We will view our students differently

  • We will see positive changes in our students’ self-perception and performance

The Story of Two Students

  • Travis, a psychology student

    47, 52, 82, 86B in course

  • Robert, a chemistry student

    42, 100, 100, 100A in course

Travis, psychology student47, 52, 82, 86

Problem: Reading Comprehension

Solution: Preview text before reading

Develop questions

Read one paragraph at a time

and paraphrase information

Robert, chemistry student 42, 100, 100, 100

Problem: Using examples to do homework problems

Solution: Study information before trying

homework problem

Use example to test skill

Do homework problems as if doing a test or quiz (no looking at solution manual or examples!)

Two quick stories

  • Paradigm shift in speaking skills

  • Paradigm shift in writing skills

What facilitated the paradigm shift?

  • Foundational Knowledge

  • Metacognition

Why don’t many students know how to write?

Several reasons are suggested by Brain Track*


  • Colleges don’t demand high-quality writing

  • High schools aren’t preparing students with writing skills

  • College professors don’t want to spend time playing catch-up

  • Students don’t get enough feedback

  • Graduation doesn’t depend on demonstrating writing skills

  • Grading isn’t harsh enough

  • Web and text habits seep into academic writing

  • Required writing courses often aren’t writing-focused.

  • Students aren’t taught the fundamentals

    - rules of good writing

    - how to think critically and creatively

Reasons suggested by others…

  • Writing instructors and students don’t speak the same language

  • Students are “programmed” NOT to think or trust their judgment; writing is emotional

  • Students don’t know how to respond to feedback

Instructors Must Help Students

Make the Transition to College Writing

Help students identify and close“the gap”

Past strategiesunsatisfactory writing

Effective strategiesgood


To Close the Gap

  • Teach students how to learn, think, and write!

  • Metacognition is the key!


The ability to:

  • think about one’s own thinking

  • be consciously aware of oneself as a problem solver

  • monitor and control one’s mental processing (e.g. “Am I understanding this assignment?”)

  • accurately judge one’s level of learning

    *term coined by Flavell in 1976

Reflection Questions to Help Students Develop a New Paradigm

  • What’s the difference, if any, between studying and learning?

  • For which task would you work harder?

    A. Do well on a on a test

    B. Teach the material to the class

What are the parallel questions for shifting the paradigm in writing?

To Perform Well in Classes Students Must…

  • Stay in learn mode, not study mode

  • Study as if they have to teach the material, not just make an A on the test

To Write WellStudents Must…

  • Stay in knowledge transformation mode, not knowledge telling mode

  • Engage in a conversation with the readers, whose characteristics they’ve carefully considered

  • Others?

Counting Vowels in 45 seconds

How accurate are you?

Dollar Bill



Four-leaf Clover





Cat Lives

Bowling Pins

Football Team

Dozen Eggs

Unlucky Friday

Valentine’s Day

Quarter Hour

How many words or phrases do you remember?

Let’s look at the words again…

What are they arranged according to?

Dollar Bill



Four-leaf Clover





Cat Lives

Bowling Pins

Football Team

Dozen Eggs

Unlucky Friday

Valentine’s Day

Quarter Hour

NOW, how many words or phrases do you remember?

What were two major differences between the first attempt and the second attempt?

1. We knew what the task was2. We knew how the information was organized

What we know about learning

  • Active learning is more lasting than passive learning

  • Thinking about thinking is important

    • Metacognition

  • The level at which learning occurs is important

    • Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001's_Taxonomy

This pyramid depicts the different levels of thinking we use when learning. Notice how each level builds on the foundation that precedes it. It is required that we learn the lower levels before we can effectively use the skills above.

Bloom’s Taxonomy


Graduate School

Making decisions and supporting views; requires understanding of values.

Combining information to form a unique product; requires creativity and originality.


Identifying components; determining arrangement, logic, and semantics.



Using information to solve problems; transferring abstract or theoretical ideas to practical situations. Identifying connections and relationships and how they apply.


Restating in your own words; paraphrasing, summarizing, translating.


High School

Memorizing verbatim information. Being able to remember, but not necessarily fully understanding the material.


Louisiana State University  Center for Academic Success  B-31 Coates Hall  225-578-2872 

When we teach students about Bloom’s Taxonomy…They GET it!

At what level of Bloom’s did you have to operate to make A’s or B’s in high school?

  • Knowledge

  • Comprehension

  • Application

  • Analysis

  • Synthesis

  • Evaluation

At what level of Bloom’s do you think you’ll need to be to make an A in college?

  • Knowledge

  • Comprehension

  • Application

  • Analysis

  • Synthesis

  • Evaluation

How do we teach students to move higher on Bloom’s Taxonomy?Teach them the Study Cycle*

*adapted from Frank Christ’s PLRS system

The Study Cycle

  • 4Reflect

  • Preview beforeclass– Skim the chapter, note headings and boldface words, review summaries and chapter objectives, and come up with questions you’d like the lecture to answer for you.


Attendclass – GO TO CLASS! Answer and ask questions and take meaningful notes.


Review after class– As soon after class as possible, read notes, fill in gaps and note any questions.


  • Study – Repetition is the key. Ask questions such as ‘why’, ‘how’, and ‘what if’.

  • Intense Study Sessions* - 3-5 short study sessions per day

  • Weekend Review – Read notes and material from the week to make connections


  • Assess your Learning– Periodically perform reality checks

  • Am I using study methods that are effective?

  • Do I understand the material enough to teach it to others?


*Intense Study Sessions

Center for Academic Success

B-31 Coates Hall ▪ 225.578.2872 ▪

Stages in the Writing Cycle?

  • 4Reflect


  • Brainstorm ideas…

Get started!– Use a strategy! Freewriting, focused freewriting, looping, brainstorming, clustering, mapping, others?


Develop a thesis statement, .


Revise for: focus, development, organization, style, convention; use a reverse outline


Come back after letting it “Sit” for 24 hours. Have others look at it…

Don’t be afraid to change things around

Assess/ Reflect

*Intense WritingSessions

Center for Academic Success

B-31 Coates Hall ▪ 225.578.2872 ▪

  • A visual manipulative approach to learning

  • Excellent tool for content/concept analysis

  • Organize and manipulate concepts, ideas, theories and other material in a visual format.

  • Can be used for learning, teaching, organizing, problem-solving, decision-making and brainstorming.

  • Offers simplicity and clarity to complex, multifaceted material.

Concept Mapping

Create a Chapter/Research Paper Map

Chapter/Title of Paper

Primary Headings


Secondary Subheadings

Compare and Contrast


Concept #2

How are they similar?

How are they different?

Persuasive Writing or Critical Analysis






Reasons, Facts, Examples

Reasons, Facts, Examples


Gabriel, Kathleen F. (2008) Teaching Unprepared Students. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing

Establish High Expectations

Emphasize Consistent Contact

Determine Students’ Learning Styles

Define Student Success

Clarify Student Responsibility

Establish a Learning Community of Scholars

Meet Students Where They Are

Interweave Assessment and Teaching

Effective Strategies for Teaching Unprepared Students*

*Gabriel, Kathleen F. (2008) Teaching Unprepared Students.

Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing

Mindset* is Important!

  • Fixed Intelligence Mindset

  • Intelligence is static

  • You have a certain amount of it

  • Growth Intelligence Mindset

  • Intelligence can be developed

  • You can grow it with actions

Dweck, Carol (2006) Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

New York: Random House Publishing

Help Students Develop the Right Mindset

Shenk, David, 2010. The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong. New York: Doubleday

Dweck, Carol, 2006.

Mindset: The New Psychology

of Success. New York:

Random House Publishing

Mindset determines reactions to

  • Challenges – avoid vs. embrace

  • Obstacles – give up easily vs. persist

  • Tasks requiring effort – fruitless vs. path to mastery

  • Criticism – ignore vs. learn from

  • Success of Others – feel threatened by vs. find lessons and inspiration in

Learning Strategies Should be Based on Learning Style

Learning Styles

  • Influence how we take in information from the outside world

  • Influence how we process information

  • Influence how we interact with others

  • Influence our motivation for learning different subjects

  • Influence our frustration level with learning tasks

Learning Style Diagnostics

  • Brain Dominance

  • Personality

  • Sensory Preference

Sensory Preference

  • Visual: prefers pictures, symbols, charts, graphs, concept maps, etc.

  • Aural or auditory: prefers hearing lectures, reading notes out loud, etc.

  • Read/write: prefers flashcards, notes, lists, outlines, etc.

  • Kinesthetic: prefers direct experience, mapping, charting, experiments, visualizing action, etc.

Feedback from aSpring 2011 student

“…Personally, I am not so good at chemistry and unfortunately, at this point my grade for that class is reflecting exactly that. I am emailing you inquiring about a possibility of you tutoring me.”

April 6, 2011

“I made a 68, 50, 50, 87, 87, and a 97 on my final. I ended up earning a 90 in the course, but I started with a 60. I think what I did different was make sidenotes in each chapter and as I progressed onto the next chapter I was able to refer to these notes. I would say that in chemistry everything builds from the previous topic”

May 13, 2011

Semester GPA: 3.8

How might yousignificantly improve student writing?

  • Teach students the writingprocess and specific strategies

  • Don’t judge student potential on initial performance, and don’t them do it!

  • Encourage students to persist in the face of initial failure

  • We must encourage the use of metacognitive tools in student and instructor learning communities

Five Strategies for Instructors to Promote Metacognitive Learning Skills

1. Present Bloom’s Taxonomy

2. Encourage Use of the WritingCycle with Intense WritingSessions

3. Teach Students to Judge Their Learning by getting the most out of assignments and “teaching” the material

4. Promote Active Reading Techniques (SQ5R – survey, question, read, recite, review, wRite, reflect)

5. Strongly promote CAS on-line workshops

Final Reflection Questions

  • What are three strategies that you feel might help your students become better writers?

  • How do you plan to implement these strategies?

Special Note

Please visit the CAS website at

We have on-line workshops that will introduce you and your students to effective metacognitive strategies. Please feel free to contact me at [email protected]

Have fun teaching your students powerful metacognitive strategies!

Saundra McGuire

Useful Websites






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Additional References

  • Bruer, John T. , 2000. Schools For Thought: A Science of Learning in the Classroom. MIT Press.

  • Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., Cocking, R.R. (Eds.), 2000. How people learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

  • Cromley, Jennifer, 2000. Learning to Think, Learning to Learn: What the Science of Thinking and Learning Has to Offer Adult Education. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.

  • Ellis, David, 2006. Becoming a Master Student*. New York: Houghton-Mifflin.

  • Hoffman, Roald and Saundra Y. McGuire. (2010).  Learning and Teaching Strategies.  American Scientist , vol. 98, pp. 378-382.

  • Nilson, Linda, 2004. Teaching at It’s Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company.

  • Pierce, William, 2004. Metacognition: Study Strategies, Monitoring, and Motivation.

    *Excellent student reference

Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., Cocking, R.R. (Eds.), 2000. How people learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

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