Transfer and Metacognition

Transfer can be improved by helping students become more aware of themselves as learners who actively monitor their learning strategies and resources and assess their readiness for particular tests and performances. We briefly discussed the concept of metacognition in Chapters 1 and 3 (see Brown, 1975; Flavell, 1973). Metacognitive approaches to instruction have been shown to increase the degree to which students will transfer to new situations without the need for explicit prompting. The following examples illustrate research on teaching metacognitive skills across domains of reading, writing, and mathematics.

Reciprocal teaching to increase reading comprehension (Palincsar and Brown, 1984) is designed to help students acquire specific knowledge and also to learn a set of strategies for explicating, elaborating, and monitoring the understanding necessary for independent learning. The three major components of reciprocal teaching are instruction and practice with strategies that enable students to monitor their understanding; provision, initially by a teacher, of an expert model of metacognitive processes; and a social setting that enables joint negotiation for understanding. The knowledge-acquisition strategies the students learn in working on a specific text are not acquired as abstract memorized procedures, but as skills instrumental in achieving subject-area knowledge and understanding. The instructional procedure is reciprocal in the sense that a teacher and a group of students take turns in leading the group to discuss and use strategies for comprehending and remembering text content.

A program of procedural facilitation for teaching written composition (Scardamalia et al., 1984) shares many features with reciprocal teaching. The method prompts learners to adopt the metacognitive activities embedded in sophisticated writing strategies. The prompts help learners think about and reflect on the activities by getting them to identify goals, generate new ideas, improve and elaborate existing ideas, and strive for idea cohesion. Students in the procedural facilitation program take turns presenting their ideas to the group and detailing how they use prompts in planning to write. The teacher also models these procedures. Thus, the program involves modeling, scaffolding, and taking turns which are designed to help students externalize mental events in a collaborative context.

Alan Schoenfeld (1983, 1985, 1991) teaches heuristic methods for mathematical problem solving to college students. The methods are derived, to some extent, from the problem-solving heuristics of Polya (1957). Schoenfeld’s program adopts methods similar to reciprocal teaching and procedural facilitation. He teaches and demonstrates control or managerial strategies and makes explicit such processes as generating alternative courses of action, evaluating which course one will be able to carry out and whether it can be managed in the time available, and assessing one’s progress. Again,

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