Thinking about thinking

Metacognition saw a boost of interest in public education with the ongoing hullabaloo around growth mindset. Some good points around “thinking about thinking” were introduced, but some of the nuances were lost and some rightly criticized what was being practiced was more akin to Harold Hill’s “Think method.” Even Carol Dweck, the researcher who set the recent growth mindset movement in motion, had to clarify how the work was misinterpreted.

Hopefully this positive “thinking about thinking” will lead us to continue to coach metacognition to our students. A recent article, ” A Stanford researcher’s 15-minute study hack lifts B+ students in the As,” gives some evidence that strategizing about how you will study and why, provides an increase in performance.

In the study Chen led, researchers conducted two field experiments in which some university students were offered a variety of prompts to help them think carefully about how they studied, and how they might study more effectively for an introductory statistics class exam. The other students—the control group—simply received a reminder that their exam was coming up and that they should prepare.

Those who reflected on how they wanted to perform and what they needed to do to perform better outperformed those who did not, by an average of one-third of a letter grade. Those who received the intervention prompts twice did better than those who received it once.

“Our key insight in this research is the importance of being goal-directed and thoughtful about how one chooses and uses resources for learning—or to achieve any other goal for that matter,” Chen said.

The article states that much of this seems intuitive, that identifying resources and putting together a strategy for success is well known. The idea is to coach this as much or more than the content.

The survey then asked the students to reflect on what kinds of questions the exam might include, and to identify which of 15 available class resources they would use to study, including lecture notes, practice exam questions, textbook readings, instructor office hours, peer discussions, and private tutoring. They were asked to write down why each resource would be useful and how they would use it, effectively mapping out a study plan.

Getting students to become aware of their own awareness and thinking about thinking is better than any grade you can give them.

Side note: This article also reminded me of Daniel Pink’s reference to Dr. Mike Pantalon’s two irrational questions for influencing/motivating others.

How ready are you to take your math exam, on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 means not ready at all and 10 means totally ready? 

If they pick a number higher than 2, ask, “Why didn’t you pick a lower number?”

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Using what I know about learning to help others.

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