Metacognitive Training and Cooperative Learning: A WINNING COMBO!

I am currently enrolled in two online courses that I am quite excited about: Active and Engaged Learning, and Metacognition.  As I work through the materials in each course I have been thinking about many of the workshops I have provided over the past few years and particularly, what some of the successes were.  It has occurred to me that my best instructional workshops included cooperative learning activities that had a metacognitive training aspect to them.

Metacognition really is “thinking about your thinking”.  I first became interested in the subject many years ago when teaching secondary mathematics and then made it the subject of my master’s thesis. This was over 10 years ago now, but the lessons are still relevant today.  My research, a case study entitled,  ‘Thinking about Thinking in mathematics classes’, explored opportunities for students to examine their thinking while learning mathematics.  So it isn’t surprising that metacognition creeped into my cooperative learning structures during teacher training workshops.

Here is an example of what I mean.

During a training session for new teachers I asked them to think about their schooling experience and how they were taught.  I also asked that they consider what they will need to do differently in their own practice so that they can meet the needs of 21st century learners. They were told to write down their reflections in their journal and then we had a Stand Up/Pair Up cooperative learning activity where they exchanged their reflections with several other new teachers.  So far, you can see a bit of metacognitive training involved in this exercise–asking participants to reflect, jot down, then share, is somewhat metacognitive.  However, I ramped it up a bit by then asking them to complete the following self-assessment:

self assessment

The teachers told me they had never been asked to evaluate their own thinking before.  It was the first of many self assessments and I believe it helped teachers monitor their thinking and their learning much more effectively. But I also believe that the fact that this self assessment was couched in a cooperative learning activity not only made it more engaging but it also gave them the benefit of examining their thoughts even further as they explained them to others and gathered feedback.

It is indeed a challenge to regularly provide metacognitive training to students.  Good formative assessment practices will go a long way here.  However, when we can combine these with cooperative learning structures we enhance the learning experience.

How might you use this WINNING COMBO in your classes? Would love to hear your ideas.  I will include a few more examples in future posts.

Research notes:

I decided to research this combo (metacognitive training and cooperative learning) and discovered that there is very little available. It seems that the research looks at the two entities independently as well. However, there are pockets of research being done to suggest that this is a winning combination.

There is a plethora of research available on metacognition and learning, beginning with a formal definition from Flavell (1976).  Similarly, cooperative learning (COOP) has been a research topic explored by gurus such as Kagan (1994), and Johnson & Johnson (1999). (You have seen me reference these in past posts).  The research  on COOP seems to emphasize social and  team-work skills that are achieved in a COOP environment.  The research on metacognition rarely mentions COOP.  However I did find one study by Kramarski & Mevarech (2003)  that involved four groups of students, one of which included instructional methods that combined cooperative learning with metacognitive training (META). (The other three groups were: individualized learning (IND) with META; COOP; and IND.)   The study determined that the COOP + META group outperformed the other groups significantly.

Kramarski, B., & Mevarech, Z. R. (2003). Enhancing Mathematical Reasoning in the Classroom: The Effects of Cooperative Learning and Metacognitive Training. American Educational Research Journal, 40, 281-310.

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