Thinking about metacognition in your school library Print E-mail
By Dr Robin S. Spruce & Dr Kasey Garrison   
It is difficult to determine what combination of factors lead to student academic achievement. However, in recent years research has taught us that one important factor is a student’s ability to monitor his or her own learning. This requires more action than simply thinking about thinking. The ability to plan, monitor, and reflect upon a learning event is called metacognition and/or self-regulated learning (SRL) (Zimmerman, 2008). Furthermore, researchers have also found that metacognition and SRL skills can be taught, across disciplines and grade levels, for example, comprehension monitoring (Best, Rowe, Ozuru, & McNamara, 2005; Schorzman & Cheek, 2004), mathematical problem solving, physics, foreign language, writing, lecture comprehension (Zohar, 2006), and even human anatomy (Azevedo, Moos, Greene, Winters, & Cromley, 2006).
 
Metacognition and SRL are of particular application in the school library. These skills are directly related to many information literacy strategies central to the library curriculum, specifically the self-assessment strategies in the Standards for the 21st-Century Learner (AASL, 2007). In fact, the Standards in Action (AASL, 2009) states that self-assessment ‘involves a reflective process of monitoring according to internal standards (How am I doing?) and metacognition (How am I thinking?)’ (p. 57). The strategies in the Standards emphasise learner-centred activities that encourage a deliberate consciousness of learning. For example, helping students to recognise their strengths and weaknesses and determining useful strategies to help overcome these weaknesses and build on strengths.
 
The model in Figure 1 brings together SRL as defined by Barry J. Zimmerman (2008) and the self-assessment strategies in the Standards (AASL, 2007).
 
 
 
Figure 1 SRL and the Self-Assessment Strategies
 
The cycle of learning and self-assessment begins with preparing for a learning task. Actions taken here might include developing an understanding of the type of task at hand and then determining what steps need to be taken to complete the learning event. The next step is task action and takes place as a student is engaged in the learning task. Students working at this phase might check with a learning goal that was established at the preparation phase. This is also where a student may pause to consider the strategies they are using, are these working? Do they need to be modified? Finally, after a student completes a learning task, it is time to reflect. Often, reflection is prompted by questioning such as, did the process I follow work? Would I use the same strategies again, why or why not? Was I happy with the outcome of this task? At this point, the cycle begins again with the student returning to the task to improve learning and/or performance or with the student beginning a whole new task, using the knowledge and feedback gained through the three phases from the last task attempted.
 

. . . it is often through coaching others that students learn the most about their own processes.

General strategies directly from the Standards in Action (AASL, 2009) include use of journals and learning logs for reflection as well as ‘process’ folios to track strategies employed during learning. The important piece of these strategies is their focus on process, not content. They enlist students to monitor how they are going while engaged in the task or project at hand. Also, suggested are the use of rubrics and checklists to track strategy use and content acquisition. If we are using rubrics and checklists to evaluate our students, why not include students in the creation and use of such strategies as well? This is good practice for them as learners in school, but also more practical lifelong tasks to aid with organisation. The Standards also recommend students develop self-questioning skills as included in the description of the Figure 1 model. Finally, of great importance to teacher-librarians and their students is the use of peer questioning and collaboration; it is often through coaching others that students learn the most about their own processes. This is also a great opportunity for students to share strategies and techniques they use to help others improve their own learning.
 
To give a better perspective on these lofty learning goals, we offer examples of how to incorporate SRL and metacognition in collaborative library lessons with classroom teachers using content based on the Virginia Standards of Learning and Teaching developed by the Virginia Department of Education (VDoE) in the United States. We begin with the planning stage of a learning event and a third grade science class studying simple machines (VDoE, 2010). Remember, during the planning stage of a learning event, actions taken include setting task goals, determining information and strategies needed, setting time and resource allotment, and determining how information will be tracked or recorded. For this science lesson, the steps include:
 
1. Establish lesson purpose (goal): Provide in visual and auditory formats.
a. As a whole class, identify six simple machines.
b. Students identify something they want to know about simple machines. 
 
2. Ask students: What will we need in order to investigate simple machines?
a. As a whole class, teacher/teacher-librarian redirect/supplement ideas as needed.
b. Establish time and resource allotment.
3. Students begin a learning log to record learning progress and their process.
 
In this elementary example, students hold substantial responsibility in determining the outcome and process of the lesson. In the second part of step 1, they are tasked with identifying their own goal as a subset of the lesson purpose. They are also collaborators with the teacher-librarian and classroom teacher in determining how they will go about achieving their goals and what they will need to do it. Their learning log in step 3 serves as an organisational tool to monitor their progress and process.
 
Next, we come to the monitoring phase of the SRL learning cycle. Actions relevant to the monitoring phase of a learning event include clarifying understanding of the learning task and the content studied, evaluation of learning goals, self-maintenance of learning (e.g. notes, learning log, and journal), implementation of task specific strategies, and ongoing assessment of task understanding. A seventh grade mathematics lesson focusing on measurement, volume and surface area provides a lens to view the monitoring phase of the SRL learning cycle (VDoE, 2009). In the preparation stage of the learning event, the students and teachers have identified cylinders and prisms from everyday life, and the teacher-librarians pulled resources from books, the Internet, and others sources to find these real-world examples. In collaboration, the teacher-librarian and classroom teacher:
 
1. Divide students in pairs. Students determine how to measure the volume and surface area of real cylinders and prisms using media center resources.
 
2. Teacher provides checklist to assure students meet lesson goals.
 
3. Students maintain checklist, along with learning log of observations and conclusions.
a. Hand in to teacher or teacher-librarian at end of task.
 
4. Teacher/teacher-librarian circulates to evaluate and note student attention and progress towards goals.
 
The checklist allows students to be independent in their learning with their peer. It helps them stay on task and monitor their process and progress while moving towards the lesson goal.
 
Finally we come to the evaluation stage of a learning event. Key aspects of this stage include reflection upon progress towards learning goals, evaluation of strategy use - those that succeeded or failed, and consideration of how these strategies might be modified for future learning events. Students might also discuss or reflect upon their satisfaction with the learning outcome and work toward determining causal attribution - for example, did internal or external factors contribute to learning success or failure? A secondary social studies lesson addressing local, state, and national elections serves to contextualise this learning stage (VDoE, 2008). Leading up to this portion of the lesson in the planning and monitoring phases, students, with teacher/teacher-librarian scaffolding, have generated a checklist to use in determining bias and/or inaccuracies in campaign ads. Then, they identified sources where unbiased information is found. Next, students view election campaign advertising from print and other media sources. Using their checklists, students evaluate the sources independently. To evaluate the content, as well as their learning processes students:
 
1. Review their findings with a partner. 
 
2. Participate in a teacher-led whole group discussion about the content of the ads. 
 
3. Participate in a teacher-librarian-led whole group discussion about process of finding the unbiased information including: 
a. Use of the checklist and its effectiveness.
b. Search for resources including strategies that worked and did not work and why.
 
4. Independently reflect on writing in steps 1-3 above as well as their personal satisfaction with learning process and outcome including questions like:
a. Was learning event successful?
b. What was the cause of success or failure? Effort? Organisation? Technology? Teacher/teacher-librarian support?
 
While these examples may not apply to you or your school situation specifically, they demonstrate how SRL can be implemented in varied school settings. In addition, the Metacognitive Planning Checklist in Table 1 gives a basic framework to help you incorporate metacognitive and SRL strategies into your library lessons. This checklist is broken down into the three stages of a learning event as presented in the SRL Model in Figure 1. It mirrors an observation form used in classroom observations of teachers using such strategies in their instruction with students. Tasks and strategies included at each stage are based on a review of the professional research and literature about metacognition and SRL (Spruce, 2012). A true metacognitive scaffold in itself, this checklist offers a deliberate way for you to consider how to apply SRL and metacognition in your library lessons.  
 
Teacher-librarians are in a unique position in K-12 environments as we have the opportunity to work with many different teachers and subject matters to facilitate content learning and encourage understanding of learning processes. In fact, teacher-librarians are school leaders who can promote metacognition in supporting students to ‘develop their own voices and become empowered to be independent and socially responsive learners’ (AASL, 2009, p. 58) .
 
Table 1. Metacognitive Planning Checklist
 
Planning Applied? How?
1. setting task goals    
2. seeking information and strategies needed    
3. setting time and resource allotment    
4. self-instruction    
5. attention focusing    
6. self-recording (e.g. maintenance of a record of progress    
Monitoring    
7. clarifying understanding of task/content    
8. evaluation of progress towards goals    
9. attention focusing    
10. self-recording    
11. use of specific task strategies    
12. assessment of task-understanding    
Evaluating    
13. progress towards task goals    
14. strategy use - those that succeeded and failed     
15. actions to be repeated or modified for subsequent related tasks (adaption based on performance)    
16. determining self-satisfaction (based on performance)    
17. causal attribution    
 

References

American Association of School Librarians (2007) Standards for the 21st-Century Learner, Chicago, American Library Association, Accessed June 3, 2013 at: http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/aasl/guidelinesandstandards/learningstandards/AASL_LearningStandards.pdf
 
American Association of School Librarians (2009) Standards for the 21st-Century Learner in Action, Chicago, American Library Association.
 
Azevedo, Roger (et. al.) (2008) ‘Why is Externally-Facilitated Learning More Effective than Self-Regulated Learning with Hypermedia?’ in Education Tech Research Development, (56), pp.  45-72.
 
Best, Rachel M. (et. al.) (2005) ‘Deep-level Comprehension of Science Texts: The Role of the Reader and the Text’ in Topics in Language Disorders, 25 (1), pp. 65-83. 
 
Schorzman, Emma M. & Cheek, Earl H. (2004) ‘Structured Strategy Instruction: Investigating an Intervention for Improving Sixth-Graders’ Reading Comprehension’ in Reading Psychology, 25 (1), pp. 37-60.
 
Spruce, Robin S. (2012) Teacher Beliefs, Knowledge and Practice of Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning, PhD dissertation, Old Dominion University.
 
Virginia Department of Education (2008) History and Social Science Standards of Learning for Virginia in Public Schools: Virginia and United States Government. Accessed on June 3, 2013 at: http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/sol/standards_docs/history_socialscience/ next_version/stds_va_usgov.pdf
 
Virginia Department of Education (2009) ‘Mathematics Standards of Learning for Virginia Public Schools: Grade Seven’. Accessed on June 3, 2013 at: http://www.doe.virginia.gov/ testing/sol/standards_docs/mathematics/2009/stds_math7.pdf.
 
Virginia Department of Education (2010) ‘Science Standards of Learning for Virginia Public Schools: Grade Three’. Accessed on June 3, 2013 at: http://www.doe.virginia.gov/ testing/sol/standards_docs/science/2010/k-6/stds_science3.pdf. 
 
Zimmerman Barry J. (2008) ‘Investigating Self-Regulation and Motivation: Historical Background, Methodological Developments, and Future Prospects’ in American Educational Research Journal, 45 (1), pp. 166-183.
 
Zohar, Anat (2006) ‘The Nature and Development of Teachers' Metastrategic Knowledge in the Context of Teaching Higher Order Thinking’ in The Journal of Learning Science, 15 (3), pp. 331-377.
 
A native of San Diego, California, Robin S. Spruce is currently a lecturer at the University of San Diego. Robin's research interests include classroom community in online and traditional environments, metacognition, and self-regulated learning. Her dissertation, titled, ‘Teacher Knowledge and Practice of Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning’, was a mixed methods study in which data culled from questionnaires, interviews, and classroom observations explored teachers declared knowledge of metacognition and self-regulated learning in light of their classroom practice.  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
Kasey Garrison is a lecturer with the Teacher Librarianship Team in the School of Information Studies at Charles Sturt University’s Wagga Wagga campus in New South Wales, Australia. Kasey earned her PhD in Education from Old Dominion University in August 2012. Her research interests are focused on diversity within children’s and young adult literature and reader responses to such titles. With a Master’s in Education and a Bachelor’s of Arts in Spanish, Kasey has experience at the preschool through secondary levels in the library and also teaching Spanish and students with special needs. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .