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How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School
teacher, and students practice and discuss the strategies as they learn to use them. Ultimately, students are able to prompt themselves and monitor their own comprehension without teacher support.
The teaching of metacognitive activities must be incorporated into the subject matter that students are learning (White and Frederickson, 1998). These strategies are not generic across subjects, and attempts to teach them as generic can lead to failure to transfer. Teaching metacognitive strategies in context has been shown to improve understanding in physics (White and Frederickson, 1998), written composition (Scardamalia et al., 1984), and heuristic methods for mathematical problem solving (Schoenfeld, 1983, 1984, 1991). And metacognitive practices have been shown to increase the degree to which students transfer to new settings and events (Lin and Lehman, in press; Palincsar and Brown, 1984; Scardamalia et al., 1984; Schoenfeld, 1983, 1984, 1991).
Each of these techniques shares a strategy of teaching and modeling the process of generating alternative approaches (to developing an idea in writing or a strategy for problem solving in mathematics), evaluating their merits in helping to attain a goal, and monitoring progress toward that goal. Class discussions are used to support skill development, with a goal of independence and self-regulation.
Implications for Teaching
The three core learning principles described above, simple though they seem, have profound implications for the enterprise of teaching and teacher preparation.
Teachers must draw out and work with the preexisting understandings that their students bring with them. This requires that:
The model of the child as an empty vessel to be filled with knowledge provided by the teacher must be replaced. Instead, the teacher must actively inquire into students’ thinking, creating classroom tasks and conditions under which student thinking can be revealed. Students’ initial conceptions then provide the foundation on which the more formal understanding of the subject matter is built.
The roles for assessment must be expanded beyond the traditional concept of testing. The use of frequent formative assessment helps make students’ thinking visible to themselves, their peers, and their teacher. This provides feedback that can guide modification and refinement in thinking. Given the goal of learning with understanding, assessments must tap understanding rather than merely the ability to repeat facts or perform isolated skills.