The SoTL Advocate

Supporting efforts to make public the reflection and study of teaching and learning at Illinois State University and beyond…

SoTL Applied: Taking a Metacognitive Approach to Teaching and Learning

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Written by Jen Friberg, SoTL Scholar-Mentor at Illinois State University

Recently, I came across a blog written by Ed Nuhfer titled Developing Metacogntive Literacy though Role Play: Edward DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats. I will admit to being intrigued, having not heard of this approach before. Nuhfer’s blog focused on DeBono’s “Six Thinking Hats” as a foundation for training students to learn via perspective taking. He suggests and describes six “hats” that students can wear, and suggests ways course instructors can implement the use of these “hats” to:

  • urge students to present factual evidence about a given course topic
  • advocate for the use/implementation/acceptance of the topic being discussed
  • challenge the use/implementation/acceptance of the topic being discussed
  • express emotion to share positive, negative and/or neutral feelings about a specific course topic
  • question assumptions and/or challenge peers to think differently about a given course topic
  • reflect and increase awareness on a given course topic

Each of these approaches asks students to demonstrate their understanding of course content in a different manner, channeling their metacognitive (aka: “thinking about thinking”) learning processes. Nuhfer argues that by engaging in this form of perspective taking, students become more self-aware as learners and can increase deep learning for specific course content. SoTL researchers have advocated for such metacognitive approaches to learning for decades, indicating that:

Integration of metacognitive instruction with discipline-based learning can enhance student achievement and develop in student the ability to learn independently (Donovan, Bransford, & Pelligrino, 1999, p. 17).

While the Six Hats method for teaching via metacognition is one approach course instructors can adopt for their use, many sources (e.g., Ambrose et al, 2010; Lovett, 2008) agree that when students engage in the following activities, metacognitive learning can be achieved in many different learning contexts:

  1. demonstrate the ability to assess the demands of a learning task
  2. evaluate their knowledge and skills for the task at hand
  3. plan an appropriate approach to undertake the learning task
  4. self-monitor their learning progress throughout the task
  5. make adjustments to their approach to learning as they work towards task completion

How are you emphasizing metacognitive learning in your classrooms? What processes are you using? How are you mediating these processes to allow students to understand your expectations and practice with the above mentioned metacognitive skills? We’d love to hear about your experiences — so please comment below!

Blog Resources:

Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., Lovett, M. C., DiPietro, M., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: 7 research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Donovan, M. S., Bransford, J. D., & Pellegrino, J. W. (Eds). (1999). How people learn: Bridging research and practice. Washington DC: National Academy Press.

Lovett, M. C. (2008, January). Teaching metacogntion [featured presentation at Educause conference]. Retrieved from: http://www.educause.edu/eli/events/eli-annual-meeting/2008/teaching-metacognition

Nufer, E. (2015). Developing Metacogntive Literacy though Role Play: Edward DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats [blog]. Retrieved from: http://www.improvewithmetacognition.com/developing-metacognitive-literacy-through-role-play-edward-de-bonos-six-thinking-hats/

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