Tuesday, May 26, 2015

How to Teach Law Students Metacognitive Skills

Yesterday, I featured an empirical study by Cheryl B. Preston, Penee W. Stewart, and Louise R. Moulding on incoming law students metacognitive skills.  (Teaching 'Thinking Like a Lawyer': Metacognition and Law Students)  Today, I will discussion how to develop metacognitive skills in law students.

1. Developing Metacognitive Awareness.  The first way to help students adopt metacognitive skills is to make them aware of the importance of metacognition.  One way to help students develop their metacognitive awareness is to give them questions that will cause them to focus on their thinking processes.  (see 2 below)  Another method for students to develop metacognition is for them to put themselves in others’ shoes.  They should ask questions like: how would my research professor critique my research strategy?  In addition, law students need to understand the true nature of learning.  Finally, law professors need to be explicit about developing their students’ learning self-identities.

2. Asking Metacognitive Questions.  Professors should ask students metacognitive questions in class.  Metacognitive questions help students think about their thinking process.  Examples: Do I have control over my learning process?/ Do I set learning goals?  Overall?  For the semester?  For each class?  For each study session?/ Am I an engaged learner?  Do I understand what being an engaged learner requires?  Am I an effortful or lazy learner?  Which type of learner usually gets higher grades?/ Do I employ deliberate practice strategies?/ Am I an active or passive learner?/ Do I participate frequently in class?/ Do I reflect on what I have learned?/ What are the strengths and weaknesses of my study techniques?  Do I use a variety of study techniques?/ Do I always have clear goals when I tackle a problem?/ Am I aware of the learning techniques I use while studying?/ Do I read my notes the evening after class, or do I wait for right before the exam?  Which approach is best for long-term learning?  Do I review material every week, or do I wait for right before the exam?  Which approach is best for long-term learning?  Do I do my outlines gradually over the semester, or do I do them right before the exam?  Which approach is better for long-term learning?  Do I use graphic organizers (visual aids, such as charts, learning trees, outlines) to organize the materials I have learned in class?  Why is it important to use graphic organizers?/ Do I have an effective reading strategy?/ Do I reflect on what I have read?/ Do I test myself (retrieval of knowledge) when I study?/ Do I have a specific reason for using the learning techniques I use while studying?/ Do I know what learning techniques are most effective for a particular task?/ Do I set learning goals for tasks?/ How do I track the progress of my learning?/ Do I make sure I am learning when I am in class?  Am I giving the professor my full attention?/ Do I ask myself whether I have accomplished my goals when I finish studying or finish a task?/ How do I deal with failure?

3. Teaching Metacognition in the Classroom.  Teachers need to teach metacognitive skills explicitly.  When teaching a class, the professor should ask the students probing questions to determine whether they understand the material and to develop their metacognitive and cognitive skills. Law professors should also help their students create connections to ideas because the more connections (pathways) to an idea, the easier it is to recall.  Professors should also engender metacognitive cognitive flexibility–the willingness to try different strategies–in their students.  Furthermore, using concrete examples in class (elaboration) helps the learning of abstract concepts.  In addition, teachers should help students learn domain transfer–employing knowledge or a skill from one domain in another domain (psychology in law, torts in property).  Finally, professors should state out loud their thinking process when working sample problems (“modeling of strategies”).

4. Teaching Students How to Use Metacognition While Studying.  Law school professors should help students with study strategies.  During the semester, law students should spend 1/3rd of their time preparing for class, 1/3rd  of their time reflecting on what they learned in class (usually the same day as the class), and 1/3 of their time organizing and synthesizing the materials (say every weekend)  Professors should help their students develop reading strategies.  Law teachers should also help their students develop “deliberate practice” strategies.  Studying for long hours by itself does not create expertise; rather, deliberate practice is required.  Teachers should advise their students to self-test while studying because retrieval helps individuals retain ideas in long-term memory better than just studying or rereading.  Finally, professors should help students understand the importance of relating new material to material that has already been learned.

5. Teaching Students Metacognition in One-on-One Meetings.  One-on-one meetings are an important way to help students improve their metacognitive skills because teachers can better view the student’s metacognitive problems.  In conferences, teachers should do many of the things they do in the classroom, such as asking probing questions, modeling of strategies, and scaffolding.  Moreover, meetings with students are opportunities to  make sure the students truly understand the material and to work on detailed problems.  Teachers should also make the students explain the steps in their reasoning process.

6. Using Formative Assessment to Develop Metacognition.  Well-designed formative assessments–assessments within the learning (during the semester)–that are related to course goals also aid in learning metacognition.  This is because formative assessments force students to think about their thinking.

For more on teaching metacognition, see Teaching Law Students How to Become Metacognitive Thinkers.

(Scott Fruehwald)


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