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Helping students to become Self-Directed Learners

Faculty often assume that students have acquired the skills or abilities to reflect on and direct their thinking (metacognition) toward intellectual challenges. For instance, student should be able to successfully complete individual course projects as expected, be able to state an argument and support with evidence from other sources besides the course reading etc.

Research indicates that metacognition does not develop naturally. Consequently instructors could play important roles in helping students develop metacognitive skills to help them succeed in college and beyond.  Such skills could help students assess the demands of an assignment or project, be able to evaluate their own knowledge and skills to know their own strengths and weaknesses, systematically plan an approach to execute the task, monitor their performance during the period, determine when to adjust their strategies and finally reflect on the overall success on of the assignment or project (Ambrose et al., 2010).

In their book “How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smarter Teaching”, Ambrose, Bridges, Lovett and others (2010) discuss strategies that faculty could use to promote students’ metacognition.  These include;

Instructor should model metacognitive processes for students.  Students should be able to successfully complete a task if they are aware of what it takes. A way to help students become aware of the approaches involved in completing an assignment or project is by showing them how the experts, or the instructors does it. According to the authors, during the process the instructor should;

  1. “Talk out load” how he/she would assess the assignment or project to determine what his/her own strengths and weaknesses are.
  2. Explicitly lay out an intended plan of action for a successful outcome.
  3. Clearly communicate to students all the necessary steps involved in completing the assignment or project.
  4. Inform students of how he/she would evaluate and monitor progress. This could be in a form of questions that you could ask to ensure that you have not deviated from the required task.
  5. Demonstrate to student that you are continuously reassessing yourself and making adjustments where necessary.
  6. Demonstrate to students how you would evaluate the completed assignment or project. The evaluation may involve requesting a subject matter specialist to review your project, a colleague for a feedback.
  7. Finally provide opportunities for students to practice and provide them with questions that they ask themselves as they proceed.

Scaffold students in their metacognitive processes. Instructors should be able to provide students with cognitive supports early in their learning and then gradually remove those support structures as students develop greater mastery and sophistication. Such support may involve providing opportunities for students to work on separate components so that they could see the importance of each stage of the processes before integrating the whole components together. Students should also be given opportunities to progress from instructor guided activities to completely student autonomy.

I believe we will all benefit from each others’ experience regarding helping students to be self-directed learners. Please join the discussion.

Reference:

Ambrose, S. A.,  Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M.C., Norman. M.K. (2010). How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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