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Metacognitive wrappers, revised (#1257)

Topics/tags: Teaching

Back before she left us for Whitman [1], Janet Davis introduced me to the idea of metacognitive wrappers for major assignments in a class (e.g., homework and examinations). The wrappers encourage students to engage in metacognitive activities, thinking about their own thinking (or studying). For example, before an examination, a student might reflect on appropriate ways to study and after that examination, they can reflect on how well those techniques worked [2]. I’ve been using them, in some form, ever since [3].

I think Janet learned about metacognitive wrappers in one of Grinnell’s many summer workshops. This summer, I had the opportunity to revisit ideas of metacognition in the abbreviated Scholars’ Seminar workshop. Since I’m back to teaching after leave [4], I thought I’d revisit those. If I were sensible, I would have gone back and found the questions Janet originally proposed and the ones I used in 2022–23 and then used those as a starting point. But I’m lazy. I decided to start from scratch [5].

Here’s what I came up with along with some narrative text.

I ask you to fill out a short survey (assessment) before and after each major assignment (mini project) and exam (SoLA). These surveys suggest the kinds of questions that I think you should be asking yourself before and after each major assignment and exam in any class you take. They also help inform me of potential issues that I might address (e.g., if everyone takes too long on an assignment, or everyone indicates potential confusion about a topic). They may evolve a bit as the semester progresses.

You can find the pre- and post-assessments on Gradescope. Note that filling them out is required.

Pre-MP assessment

Q1. Key concepts
What do you see as the key concepts that this assignment is asking you to learn or develop?
Q2 Challenges
What part of the assignment is likely to be the most difficult for you? Why?
Q3 Brain dump
Without looking at any resources (e.g., readings, labs, your notes), write down everything you know that might be useful for this assignment. (It’s fine if you stop after three minutes; you might find it useful to spend more.)
Q4 Resources
What resources (e.g., individual procedures you’ve written, readings, labs) will be helpful as you work on this assignment?
Q5 Missing pieces
What open questions do you have? What would you like to know in order to make this assignment easier to complete? (Please don’t answer a solution.)
Q6 Time
How long do you expect this assignment to take?

Post-MP assessment

Q1: Successes
What went well on this assignment?
Q2: Challenges
What parts of the assignment were most difficult for you? What made them difficult?
Q3: Addressing challenges
How can you address those kinds of challenges in the next assignment? For example, would it help to start earlier? To ask questions in advance? To plan to space out the work over several days? To gather different resources?
Q4: Time
How long did the assignment take? Was that longer or shorter than you predicted? What made the difference?
Q5: Pleasures
Which parts of the assignment, if any, did you find most enjoyable?

Pre-SoLA assessment

Q1: Topic check
What are the topics (LAs) for this SoLA?
Q2: Accomplishments
Which of those have you already mastered (received credit for)?
Q3: Challenges
Which of these topics do you expect to find the most difficult? Why?
Q4: Brain dump
Without looking at any resources (e.g., readings, labs, your notes), write down everything you know about each of the remaining topics. (Please spend at least a minute or two on each topic, but feel free to spend more.)
Q5: Preparation
How will you prepare for the SoLA? Some good strategies include doing sample problems, writing sample problems, attending mentor sessions, writing cheat sheets (that you don’t actually cheat with), and spaced retrieval (spending a little bit of time each day preparing, rather than doing it all at once).

Post-SoLA assessment

Q1: Attempts
How many LAs did you attempt on the SoLA?
Q2: Time
About how long did each take you?
Q3: Challenges
Which topics did you find the most difficult? Why?
Q4: Successes
What preparation strategies seemed to have the greatest effect? (I realize that this can be hard to tell.)
Q5: Changes
What will you do differently next time? For example, will you prepare differently? Will you try the LAs at a different time of day? Spread them out throughout the day?

That’s it. We’ll see how they go. If you have suggestions on how to improve them, let me know. If you want to adopt or adapt them, feel free to do so, with or without attribution.

[1] I’d say greener pastures, but I don’t think it’s always all that green in Walla Walla.

[2] It can be hard to tell. But it’s worth thinking about.

[3] I primarily use them in CSC-151, our introductory course. But I’ve been known to use them in other classes.

[4] Not sabbatical.

[5] Not quite from scratch. I could rely on vague memories of those prior wrappers, as well as things I’d been thinking about in the workshop.

Version 1.0 of 2023-09-04.