Basis of Metacognition

Metacognitive Advantages of the MOO

The MOO-based Metacognitive Process

Examples of the Process

Discussion of the Annontated Logs


Works Cited

Editorial Board
Conference MOO Log

Basis of Metacognition

"Metacognition" refers to a writer's knowledge of the way she writes or how she learns. "Writing about writing" is a complex task for freshmen, but it may well be their key to understanding their writing processes. That is to say, if our writers do not write about how they are learning to develop their writing processes as they are developing them, they may never completely understand why they have improved in their writing in our classrooms, and they will lose what they have gained in our program soon after leaving it.

David Bartholomae explains that a successful pedagogy "directs students in a semantic investigation of how they as individuals write." Though composition courses are often structured around nominal subjects like "work and play" or "cultural literacy," "the real subject is writing, as writing is defined by students in their own terms through a systematic inquiry into their behavior as writers" (85). Ann Berthoff agrees that the "capacity for thinking about thinking, for interpreting interpretations, for knowing our knowledge, is . . . the chief resource for any teacher and the ground of hope in the enterprise of teaching reading and writing" (743).

In "Students' Metacognitive Knowledge about Writing," Taffy E. Raphael expands upon the definition of metacognition. She says that metacognition builds upon the two most fundamental issues in learning and teaching psychology: "First, metacognition describes the control process in which active learners engage as they perform various cognitive activities. Second, metacognitive or executive control processes may underlie the very important processes of generalization and transfer of strategies learned" (346). Metacognition therefore provides writing students with the ability to describe how and what they have learned about their writing processes, and it allows them to generalize and apply the process to their future writing situations. Metacognitive activity includes understanding concepts about the writing process, knowing how those concepts work in writing, and knowing which writing situations are appropriate to use them.

In Educating the Reflective Practitioner, Donald A. Schon argues that education has traditionally relied on "rigorous professional knowledge, based on technical rationality" rather than the "awareness of indeterminate, swampy zones of practice that lie beyond its canons" (3); instead of asking students to think about and write about specific situations, dealing with real situations and reflecting on how they solved them, traditional education has simply asked students to memorize cores of knowledge and theory. Schon argues that

rigorous professional practitioners solve well-formed instrumental problems by applying theory and technique derived from systematic, preferably scientific knowledge. . . . But, as we have come to see with increasing clarity over the last twenty or so years, the problems of real-world practice do not present themselves to practitioners as well-formed structures. Indeed, they tend not to present themselves as problems at all but as messy, indeterminate situations. (3-4)

Schon argues that real-life situations are never so neat as "textbook examples" but are richly problematic with "indeterminate zones of practice--uncertainty, uniqueness, and value conflict" (6). Therefore, students are better served with practice and reflection upon that practice than they are with learning information and even systematic rules.

Schon's argument directly applies to the composition classroom. Though we have nearly eliminated the conception of grammar and mechanics as the "body of technical knowledge" of writing instruction, it is still a common pedagogy to teach modes of discourse as a sort of content checklist for the composition curriculum: once we have taught narration, description, comparison-contrast, and the research paper, we have equipped students with what they need to write in any situation, or so the thinking seems to go. Such a pedagogy often lacks attention to why different rhetorical approaches work in specific situations; specifically, it lacks the student's reflection into why particular rhetorical situations can benefit from specific approaches in writing. Indeed, in order for students to really learn to become competent writing practitioners, they must be able to analyze specific writing situations and determine what needs to be done when. Reflection on their writing--metacognition--seems to be the key for students to learn as they practice writing.

Schon breaks reflection into two brands of action: reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action. Reflection-in-action refers to the immediately recursive thought a person puts toward the action at hand--"during which we can still make a difference to the situation at hand--our thinking serves to reshape what we are doing while we are doing it" (26). For example, while a student writes, her thinking about what she is writing, her concurrent revision, her stopping to think and re-read illustrate reflection-in-action. Schon names reflection-on-action "thinking back on what we have done in order to discover how our knowing-in-action may have contributed to an unexpected outcome" (26), or, post-activity reflection on the activity. When a student thinks or writes about the process of writing a project after she has finished, for example, she is taking part in reflection-on-action.

Teaching technical rationality ultimately "rests on an objectivist view of the relation of the knowing practitioner to the reality he knows" (36); such a pedagogy is based around the teaching of facts, and it insists that all problems can be confronted solved if the practitioner is familiar with a body of information (Friere's "banking model" of education). But a pedagogy that fosters reflective action espouses the constructionist view of language and reality, insofar as it allows the student to think about subjects, think about how she is thinking about it, and further analyze how an entire community of learners are coming to know the subjects. "In the constructionist view, our perceptions, appreciations, and beliefs are rooted in worlds of our own making that we come to accept as reality. . . . When practitioners respond to the indeterminate zones of practice by holding a reflective conversation with the materials of their situations, they remake a part of their practice world and thereby reveal the usually tacit processes of worldmaking that underlie all of their practice" (36).

This is to argue that by leading composition students in writing and conversation on their subjects, we nurture their concurrent reflection on their writing and speaking abilities (reflection-in-action). And by asking them to return to their discourses to re-think what happened there and why (reflection-on-action), we help them enter into meaning-making conversations, we allow them to understand their own writing and learning processes, and we prepare them for success in a multiplicity of real-life writing situations. Indeed, as Marjorie Montague concludes,

it appears that metacognitive ability is the determining factor that enables writers to adjust accordingly to varying task demands and contexts. Not only is metacognitive ability a requisite for upward movement into more abstract levels and modes, it also is a condition for operating at lower response levels. In other words, metacognition facilitates the selection and allocation of techniques and strategies for successful task completion. (29-30)

MOO-based Metacognition: Incorporating Online and Offline Reflection into the Writing Process
Joel A. English