As many students come to find out, simply paying attention and doing the classwork will not always produce successful results in particularly difficult high school subjects. Even for those students who excel using that basic framework in high school, the breadth and difficulty of college-level content often presents them with a rude awakening. Students at all levels can benefit from a simple practice with an intimidating name: metacognitive questioning.
Put simply, the approach asks us to think more deeply about the way we think. It encourages us to be more aware and present, enabling students to make more informed decisions about what they study, what parts of homework they focus on most, what information to take notes on, and what to try next time after failure. Metacognition is important in all aspects of our lives, but can be especially useful for students unsure of how to improve their learning experience. Best of all, here is a way to pitch the approach to your student during your next family dinner—it will reduce frustration and they get to do less work.
Metacognitive thinking aims to make academic efforts more efficient, so that students are not wasting time studying unnecessary information and losing comprehension of content as they attempt to take notes on their teacher’s every word. We can break down this approach into three categories of questioning: before class, during class, and after class (class can be substituted for quiz or test).
- Look at your course syllabus and always know what’s coming up next! Consider what you might already know about the upcoming topics from prior class sessions and take some quick notes.
- If you have internet access, then unlimited academic resources are at your fingertips. Take a couple minutes and look up the next topic in your course online for a quick summary. Depending on the course, you may try a couple practice problems or read a bit of content. If you don’t have access to the internet, join the WELL and utilize our computer lab!
- Write down any questions that arose during your quick self-introduction to topics. You won’t waste time thinking of them and writing them down in class.
- Before entering, consider how the classroom environment affects you. This isn’t just a suggestion to sit in the front or to stay away from someone you’ll be tempted to talk to, but also to build an awareness about external distractions. Is there an AC blowing right next to you impacting your hearing? Is your chair wobbly? Does the student in front of you constantly tap his or her foot? These small distractions add up, and while many classrooms have assigned seating, your teacher wants you to be in the best position to succeed. Ask him or her about moving if you are distracted.
- During homework, consider why you are succeeding on an assignment and why not—what specific stuff was confusing to you? Again, the internet is your friend here!
- Before a quiz or test, ask yourself:
- What studying strategy works for me in this context? Study groups? Flashcards? Practice problems? Tutoring? Different approaches work for different subjects, so be critical about what you choose.
- How long should I study? Consider your habits and attention span. Studying for longer than you can handle will be detrimental rather than helpful. Take breaks!
- If you are someone who can only study in short spans, make sure you’ve started early enough that you can fit in multiple sessions.
- Most importantly, what should I study? Consider what your teacher spent the most class time covering, what was included on prior quizzes/tests, and what you’ve personally had trouble understanding. Any other information should only be included in a quick review.
- Don’t just take mindless notes. Being able to actively listen will free your mind to engage in reflection and enable awareness.
- Consider what “aha” moments you have in class—what caused you to have them? What seems confusing and why do you think it’s confusing? Over time, this reflection will equip you to predict what will be confusing in future classes.
- If you’ve done the above questioning before class, smart note taking will be a lot easier here—be critical about what information is important.
- During quizzes or tests:
- Try to remember what questions or concepts were most challenging. This applies to question formats as much as it does content. Remembering what gave you trouble will be integral to studying later.
- Again, the absolute most important thing during class is to stay aware and present. Anything that takes your mind away from the lesson, even if it is note taking, will ultimately hurt your learning. Still take notes, but be intentional and smart about it!
- Before homework, take a second to reflect on your class today. How did today’s lesson connect to previous lessons? Staying aware of how information builds during a course will increase your ability to grasp difficult concepts when they come up.
- What do you need to do to get confusing information clarified? Though it’s highly encouraged, the reality is that asking frequent questions during class isn’t realistic for every type of person. Consider how to reach your teacher outside of class or utilize a tutor if that is the case.
- What did you find interesting about today’s class?
- What resources or approaches did you use to clarify information? Write them down! The same approach will likely help you again.
- If a friend was joining the class tomorrow, what advice would you give them to succeed? Does the teacher spend the first 20 minutes of every class introducing a topic with information that never appears on quizzes and tests? Are the assignments almost entirely word problems? Does the teacher offer time outside of class to review content?
- After quizzes or tests:
- What worked and what didn’t in your preparation?
- Did you primarily study what showed up on the test?
- What questions did I answer right and which confused me?
- If you studied all the correct content, but still felt confused, how can you study differently next time to change the outcome?
Full disclosure, at first, this may be more work than your student is used to doing, but eventually, engaging in metacognitive reflection can vastly reduce the amount of unnecessary work students engage in. Naturally, it will also increase their chances at succeeding, especially in courses that make them feel lost. Help your student build these habits now, as they will be a prerequisite to success with more difficult, college-level materials.