Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

Teaching Tip: Giving Students Metacognitive Help

For many of us, our aim as teachers is to make ourselves obsolete. We want each of our students to arrive at the point where they no longer need us, where they are self-directed learners.

Self-directed learners need to be able to assess tasks, to appraise their own strengths and weaknesses, to develop and apply a plan, and to monitor their own performance in order to adjust where necessary. These skills might be as difficult to develop as they are essential.

Evaluating oneself is particularly tricky. The research we’ve seen (Douglas J. Hacker, et al., 2000) suggests the ability to self-evaluate correlates with performance. Students who do well on exams are better able to predict their performance on those exams than are the students who do poorly. The poorest students in a subject also seem to be the poorest self-evaluators.

Providing opportunities to practice self-evaluation can help. When we assign a task within the subject area, such as a research assignment, we might also assign a second task, a process log, that will detail the steps taken, including mis-steps or blind alleys, with the thinking behind those actions. No need to grade them. We can instead use them to help students diagnose problems. In advance of scoring an assignment using a rubric, we might require students to work in groups to help to construct that rubric. Students will often have little experience with such assignments. They’ll want to talk about what constitutes good and poor work in order to evaluate their own work against the rubric.

How do you help students learn to evaluate their own work? As always we’d love to hear your thoughts, your own tips, your requests, your suggestions, your complaints! Send them to us at

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