Metacognitive Strategies


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“Students who reflect on their learning are better learners than those who do not. Being aware of oneself as a learner and constantly monitoring the effectiveness of one’s learning involves metacognition, a term used by cognitive psychologists to describe the “executive function” of the mind (Barkley, 2010, p 30).

The ability to evaluate and revise our cognitive strategies (how we learn) and our regulatory strategies (how we control our learning) is known as metacognition. Zimmerman (1990) noted several key characteristics of self-regulated learners in regards to their metacognitive skills.

  • Plan and set goals
  • Apply learning strategies
  • Utilize ongoing self-monitoring and identify problems
  • Evaluate and make revisions to the learning process as needed

Here is a video that does a great job of explaining metacognition its application in the classroom setting.

To further expand our understand of the interplay between the teacher and the student in achieving self-regulated and self-directed learning it is helpful to examine the work of Grow. Grow (1990) developed a model to help frame the stage of the student’s stage of self-direction with the style of teaching that would best match it.

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(Figure from Grow, G.,O., 1990, p 6).

Grow (1990) recognized that learning is dynamic and “(e)ven a single class meeting could be organized so that students move from dependency, through intermediate stages, to more self-directed learning (p 17). This was demonstrated in the video.

To engage the process of metacognition I propose having students :

  • Evaluate their abilities or understanding of the material at the start of the class: What do they know and what don’t they know. (SET 47, Barkley, 2010). Also, have them examine their preconceived beliefs or assumptions about the material or issues that will be discussed;
  • Outline a learning goal and plan for learning at the start of the class (SET 43, Barkley, 2010);
  • Keep track of their muddiest point. At the end of the class they can hand it in to the teacher who will it out loud for class discussion;
  • Evaluate learning strategies (SET 44, 49, Barkley, 2010);
  • Create a learning journal or learning log (SET 41, Barkley, 2010).


Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques – A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Grow, Gerald O. (1991/1996). “Teaching Learners to be Self-Directed.” Adult Education Quarterly, 41 (3), 125-149. Retrieved from

TEAL Centre Staff, 2012, Fact Sheet: Metacognitive Processes. Retrieved from

Zimmerman, B..J. (1990) Self-Regulated Learning and Academic Success: An Overview Educational Psychologist, 24(1), 3-17 Lawrence Erbaum Associates, Inc. Retrieved from 

Reflections: Metacognition

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Reflections Photo: L.. Schmidt

“Active learning means that the mind is actively engaged. Its defining characteristic is that students are dynamic participants in their learning and that they are reflecting on and monitoring both the process and results of their learning” (Barkley, 2010, p 17).

I love nothing more than the experience of having my mind engaged in learning. Those moments when you finally get ‘it’ feel amazing. Other times it feels like an exercise in frustration and I have to shut down and let things process. Then there are the times when I have so many ideas swirling around in my head that I have trouble connecting anything together. Sort of what is happening right now.

“Physician heal thyself.” Luke 4:23

I’ll try. Here we go.

The term metacognition involves the processes Barkley described above. Metacognitive knowledge involves examining and understanding how we learn and process information, what we know about the challenges of the task and ways we can approach the problem or learning (TEAL Centre Staff, 2012). Flavel, (as cited in TEAL Centre Staff, 2012) divided metacognition into 3 categories:

  • Person variables: recognizing personal strengths and weaknesses in learning and processing
  • Task variables: understanding the challenges of the task and the processing demands it requires
  • Strategy variables: the strategies the person has already developed that can be applied to the task.

Metacognition regulation encompasses the revisions we make to the processes that control our learning “ . . . such as planning, information management strategies  comprehension monitoring, de-bugging strategies, and evaluation of progress and goals” (TEAL Centre Staff, 2012 para. 3).

In other words, metacognition involves analyzing our cognitive strategies (how we learn) and our regulatory strategies (how we control our learning). Metacognition, “ . . . thinking about our thinking” (TEAL Centre Staff, 2012, para. 6), is what helps us be the dynamic participant of learning Barkley described.

Let’s take a look at my situation using the 3 variables of metacognitive knowledge. I know that I can get way too excited about learning (person variable) and will try to process too many concepts and assignments at once (task variable). I need to focus on one concept at a time so that I can process it and connect it to my existing knowledge (strategy variable). This strategy is something I have done before and is supported by Barkley (2010) “ (a)n engaged student actively examines, questions and relates new ideas to old, thereby achieving the kind of deep learning that lasts” (p17).

I also need to examine my metacognitive regulation. I can better manage how I take in information by sticking with one concept and its associated concepts for a period of time before flitting off to another unrelated idea. By assessing my understanding of a concept, I can determine if I have solidified enough of the learning before moving on. I need to make sure that I balance learning time with exercise time. I need to be clear about myself about what goals I will accomplish in a week instead of trying to see how much more I can get in.

Ok, I’ve got it!

Metacognitive strategies are a component of self-regulated learning (Zimmerman, 1990). Self-regulation is needed to be a self-directed and self-determined learner and since I have as a goal to achieve a stage 4 learning with my students, I need to be prepared to help my students understand and apply to their learning these metacognitive strategies as well (Grow, 1991/1996). I just found the next topic for me to plunge into.

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I love learning.



Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques – A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Grow, Gerald O. (1991/1996). “Teaching Learners to be Self-Directed.” Adult Education Quarterly, 41 (3), 125-149. Retrieved from

TEAL Centre Staff, 2012, Fact Sheet: Metacognitive Processes. Retrieved from

Zimmerman, B..J. (1990) Self-Regulated Learning and Academic Success: An Overview Educational Psychologist, 24(1), 3-17 Lawrence Erbaum Associates, Inc. Retrieved from 

Reflections: Engagement


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Reflections Photo: L.. Schmidt

Objective: Barkley (2010) defined engagement as: “ . . . a process and a product that is experienced on a continuum and results from the synergistic interaction between motivation and active learning” (p. 8).

Reflection: During my time as a clinical practice educator in an acute hospital setting I was involved with the implementation of a health authority mandated, multiyear program called more OB (Managing Obstetrical Risk Efficiently) in a small, rural, maternity unit. This national program, designed by experts in the field of obstetrics, “is a comprehensive performance improvement program that creates a culture of patient safety in obstetrical units” (Global Salus Corporation, 2014 para. 1). The three year program involves reading educational material to ensure everyone is on the same page, team building activities, sponsored workshops, skills drills, simulation practice scenarios and frameworks for specific clinical situations and team debriefs (Global Salus Corporation, 2014). I was so excited! It was the dream program for a clinical educator; everything was already designed and ready to go. Staff nurses would even be paid for their time! All I had to do was follow the program as outlined by the program trainers and watch the unit flourish.

To celebrate the roll out, the core team and I organized a fun, team building event with food and entertainment. Hardly anyone showed up. Getting the staff to do the reading was like pulling teeth. We were told to create teams and offer coffee cards and gift certificates for dinners for those who completed their readings. There was major push back. I had a nursing union steward threaten to write us up for bullying. I was aghast. Why did this go so terribly wrong!

Interpretive: Barkley (2010) defined motivation as: “. . . a theoretical construct to explain the reason or reasons we engage in a particular behaviour. It is the feeling of interest or enthusiasm that makes someone want to do something” (p 9). It was obvious that the motivation to engage in this program was at a severe short fall.

Motivation can be understood as the product of expectancy and value (Barkley, 2010). Everyone enrolled in the moreOB program was already practicing obstetrics in a novice (the newly graduated perinatal nurse) or expert capacity. They knew they could be successful in learning the material; expectancy was therefore high. It then follows that the lack of motivation was attributable to the low perceived value of the program.

Value can be fostered through external and intrinsic rewards (Fluke, Peterson, Olson and Cathcart, 2015). The attempt to promote value via extrinsic rewards was a flop and was even being perceived as threatening. In the absence of intrinsic motivation the program did not hold value to the students of the program.

Barkley (2010) used the term of ‘evading’ (p 14) to describe students’ responses to situations of high success expectations and low task value perceptions. Student behaviours of minimal task completion and lack of engagement (Barkley 2010) match those seen with the staff.

Decisional: Engagement happens when the synergistic interaction between motivation and active learning takes place (Barkley 2010). Engagement of the students with the moreOB program faltered from the start as there was a perceived lack of value with the program. Relying on external rewards to kick start motivation was not the answer, creating intrinsic motivation was the route that should have been taken.

In their Motivation Tiers 1, 2 &3 Strategy Brief, Fluke et al. (2015) highlighted four conditions of the Motivational Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching (p 4). They are as follows:

Inclusion: through interactions that build respect and connectedness

Staff did not feel included in the process. It was mandated education. Had the health authority allowed time for the staff to become familiar with the program before the launch date and allowed them to opt out if they so desired the staff might have felt more respected and connected with the program.

Attitude: Through choices and personally relevant curricula

The first year of the program was very heavy with a lot of readings, workshops, skills drills, tests, etc. I suggest that the program allow staff to choose what topics they want to learn and encourage more shared learning.

Competence: Through authentic ways that show students are effective

The program had a pre and post module year one test. Many nurses did quite poorly on the tests and although the results were confidential they felt quite devastated and frustrated that the tests were designed by physicians for physicians and not nurses.

I suggest that the program include exam questions that would be applicable for nurses and physicians.

Meaning: Through learning that challenges and engages students

I would suggest that the program focus the first year of learning on building internal motivation with its participants. This way it would create an environment where staff would feel motivated to take charge of their own learning in the years to follow.

By reviewing this case where a lack of engagement became a serious detriment to learning, I have gained an appreciation of the need for creating high value and expectancy with students so that the motivation to learn is present. For future courses and workshops that I will be teaching, I will ensure that the four conditions as discussed above are incorporated into the program’s delivery by: creating a sense of community through team building exercises and peer supported learning; having students determine what topics they want to focus on for the day; through the use of formative quiz techniques and case studies to help them assess their own competency; and by creating a safe environment that encourages students to challenge themselves.


Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques – A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Fluke, S., Peterson, L., Olson, A., & Cathcart, A. (2015). Motivation Tiers 1, 2 &3 Strategy Brief, March, 2015 pdf document. Retrieved from

Global Salus Corporation. (2014). more OB Taking Care of Life. Retrieved from


Let’s Get Critical Thinking!



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I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.” Socrates

For a good overview of critical thinking, check out the great little video below.


Critical thinking = knowing how to think.

Since the 1950’s, educators have used Bloom’s Taxonomy to develop learning goals that would promote critical thinking. I have noticed that learning goals for the curriculums and train the trainer workshops that I have taken are peppered with action words like implement, devise, apply, analyze and develop. Interestingly, aside from this course, I cannot ever recall having to critically think for much except for the occasional paper. Quite honestly, I feel like all I’ve been trained to do is simply reword course information.

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Image retrieved from

Recently, I had the opportunity to review the course content of an online nursing program. Not surprisingly, the learning goals language matched Bloom’s taxonomy to the tee. The only problem was that the content did not meet these lofty goals; with the exception of a couple of case studies and one paper, it only contained instructor written and textbook readings. The content alone would not stimulate critical thinking in the student.

Even though “(t)eaching students to become skilled thinkers is a goal of education . . . Some studies purport that students exhibit an insufficient level of skill in critical or creative thinking” (Critical Thinking Educator Wheel, 2016, para 4). It seems that educators are failing in translating the goal of engaging higher cognitive domains into the actual learning.


I think part of the problem is that some educators do not know how or are unwilling to educate beyond using the pedagolical approach. If I can apply what I have seen in nursing education I surmise it is from the belief that important information will be missed. I find this ironic, as retention from verbal processing (reading) is 4% (Barkley, 2010).

In the acute care setting, the nurse must respond to changing patient conditions, new technologies and new medications, unexpected emergencies, unclear orders and or directions from physicians, patient questions, patient education as well as multiple demands on his time. In other words, a nurse requires critical thinking skills. The way to develop these is through the critical analysis of educational content and case studies.

Armed with my budding understanding of critical thinking I suggest that the program developer for the online course I reviewed take the time to integrate learning activities that foster critical thinking. These could include: SET 17, Variations (Barkley, 2010) where alternative situations to case studies could be developed by students; SET 22 (WebQuests) where students could research parenting web sites and blogs critically analyze them; SET 24 (Think Again!) where students agree or disagree with a common misconception in maternity care. I would also suggest the use of formative tools like matching games and mini quizzes. Case studies could also be integrated throughout the course.

For the sake of the student, for the sake of the educator and for the sake of the patient, let’s start critical thinking!


Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques – A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Critical Thinking Educator Wheel, (2016) MentoringMinds Critical Thinking for Life. Retrieved from




In my two and a half decades working as a RN I have ventured into various specialties and roles. After a brief foray into a management role as a patient care co-ordinator I have realized that my ‘flow’ activity is learning and sharing that learning with others. I am blessed to be able to work as a perinatal educator teaching workshops for Interior Health and with UNBC as a sessional online instructor in addition to continuing to work as a frontline nurse. I am excited to be part of this learning with all of you.

Expect Engagement!

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It’s worth the risk and the effort to see new horizons. Photo: A. McKenzie


Barkley (2010) stated in her Tips and Strategies for Fostering Motivation on page 81, to:” (e)xpect students in your course to be engaged in learning, and resist settling for anything less.”

One of the ways to do this is through the ‘integrat(ion) of goals, activities and assessments” (Barkley, 2010, p 87). When learning activities and assessments work in concert to achieve key learning goals that are meaningful to the student, he will be motivated to learn (Barkley, 2010).

As a RN working in an acute site setting, I am expected to listen and watch powerpoint presentations online that address work related issues like medication safety and administration, patient safety and numerous other topics deemed vital for the safe functioning of the unit. While the powerpoint presentations are comprehensive and thorough, I must confess to zoning out after a few minutes. I quickly become the poster child for the not engaged student. Let’s take a look at why.

While I  highly value the goal of patient safety, which is the intention of the videos, I dread these non-interactive learning activities and the perfunctory tests at the end of each lesson. If I feel this way, I am sure I am not alone. What else can be done to increase engagement and enhance the learning experience?

One of the ways could be to include more interactive learning like formative assessment quizzes. Suzanne’s presentation on The Formative Quiz Technique Digital Project gives a great overview of this technique.

Another way would be to allow for more a more self directed learning approach for students. Perhaps clinical educators could create a blog and have staff post forum discussions on how to promote medication and patient safety on their unit. To ensure the key topics are covered, the clinical educators could have guest contributors post comments and resources. Proof of annual competencies could be achieved through education days where staff can display posters (SET 20, Barkley, 2010), Role play (SET 19,Barkley, 2010) as well as through the judicious use of quizzes.

As I see it, engaged, self-directed staff will promote and develop a culture of safety on the acute site unit. The challenge may come in changing to responsibility of learning back to the frontline workers instead of from management down.







Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques – A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.



A lesson in engagement, motivation and active learning

Today I had an opportunity to live what I just learned during my readings for PIDP 3250.

Barkley (2010) noted that: “In our model of student engagement, motivation and active learning are twin helices that work synergistically ” (p 23). She goes on to identify 3 conditions that integrate these elements to promote increased level of engagement; creating a sense of community, helping students work at their optimal level of challenge, and helping students learn holistically (Barkley, 2010)

I must confess, I am by nature a very engaged and motivated student. I love a challenge, so when this opportunity to start a blog came with this course, I revved up my engines and took the plunge. Only I went in WAY over my head. Somehow I thought I needed to set up my blog on a local server. Ya, it wasn’t pretty. However, before jettisoning my computer off my deck and into the wilds of my back yard I stopped and did the next thing mothers of adult children do; they put in an emergency call to their sons and beg for help.

Unfortunately, even my chemical engineering son was reluctant to support my cause. “You sure you need to do this?” was the question I heard repeated over and over as he talked me through creating folders and linking it to my document root. After an hour he needed to go. The project was incomplete. I felt deflated and overwhelmed.

Condition 2: Teachers Can  Create Synergy by Helping Students Work at Their Optimal Level of Challenge (Barkley, 2010, p 27).

After, emailing our instructor, I learned that this was indeed unnecessary. Of course there is an online version. Sure, I still have to learn how to navigate this dashboard but I don’t require a computer program background.

Whew!  I am back in the saddle again.

What did I learn?

Even the most engaged student can become disengaged if the level of challenge is too high. I facilitate neonatal resuscitation workshops with a variety of health care professionals whose skills vary from novice to expert. I will ensure that I individualize learning for each participant so that it matches their skill level so they will feel the synergy of active learning and motivation.

Bring on the next adventure!!


Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques – A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

woman running toward a peak