Self-reflection – Try it, you’ll be more successful!

Hudesman, J., Crosby, S. Flugman, B., Issac, S., Everson, H., & Clay, D. (2013). Using formative assessment and metacognition to improve student achievement.  Journal of Developmental Education, 13(2), 2-13.

Teachers, students, researchers do it….You’ll be more successful if you do it….Try it, I bet you’ll like it!

The above article from the Fall 2013 issue of the Journal of Developmental Education shows that students who engage in regular and on-going reflection about their learning process show improved results in developmental Math courses.  This metacognitive process is essentially the same process that we as nascent researchers are being asked to do for ourselves and, as teachers, that most, if not all, of us do by training or temperament:  thinking about what we do, doing it, examining and reflecting on our results, and making adjustments to improve.

Data from four studies of students in developmental Math courses at an urban college of technology were gathered.  More than a thousand students were included over the course of three summer sessions and four academic years in the mid-2000’s.  In each study, an experimental group engaged in a special program (embedded in the class) that included regular self-reflection and a continuous feedback loop where the students and instructors both adjusted behavior.  This process was called EFAP-SRL (Enhanced Formative Assessment Program with features of Self-Regulated Learning).  For each experimental group, there was a control group of students taking the same level Math course without the added formative assessment, reflection, and feedback.  Whether the classes were short-term summer classes or full year classes, the students in the experimental groups earned higher pass rates in the course as well as higher pass rates on the Math portion of the ACT.  Some data support that students also did better on subsequent Math courses.

To facilitate the metacognitive process and “teach the students how to better plan, practice, and evaluate their ‘learning how to learn’ strategies,” (Hudesman, Crosby, Flugman, Issac, Everson, and Clay, 2013) instructors gave students regular (weekly during the school year, more often during the summer sessions) quizzes.  Students had to first predict their score on the quiz and write how much time they had spent preparing.  Prior to answering each of the five quiz questions, students had to rate their level of confidence in getting it correct and rate their expectation of having solved the problem correctly after completing each problem.   After the corrected quizzes were returned, students had to complete reflections comparing their predictions to the actual results.

The metacognitive process continued and was enhanced with instructor-facilitated class discussions about the reflective process and learning opportunities for the students using personalized data.  For example, students created graphs comparing their predictions of success with their actual quiz scores and then had to generate explanations for the results.  Students also came up with a plan for improvement that could include strategies discussed previously in class.

Instructors received training on the theory and practice of the EFAP-SRL process prior to teaching in the experimental groups and were observed throughout the term to see how often they were using the EFAP-SRL strategies.

This research, though it considered success in courses that I don’t teach, is still very exciting to me because it supports the value of on-going reflection and two-way feedback in the classroom setting.  I found the literature review rich in its explanation of formative assessment and student-regulated learning.  The Methods section is comprehensive; it took me several readings to understand, but I attribute that to my lack of familiarity with research methods.  The results and data tables are clear, simply presented, and easy to read.  The theoretical framework is strong and carried throughout the article.  The contribution to the field is significant because this study supports the efficacy of metacognitive learning which can be applied to all subjects and gives examples of instructor strategies that can be adapted for other subjects as well.  The Appendices contain examples of a quiz and a post-quiz reflection sheet.

The authors acknowledge that engaging in the EFAP-SRL process created more work for instructors and students.  Some instructors gave the researchers feedback that they were uncomfortable with the role of “educational psychologist” in the classroom.  A possible collaboration that I could see even before it was mentioned by the authors was to link the Math course with either a college success course or a counselor who could more comfortably handle the self-reflection piece.  I saw no mention of how the instructors were selected to participate which may have some influence on results.  The authors acknowledge that several interventions were included in this collection of studies and that further research would benefit from separating out the quizzes from the self-reflections to compare the impact of the different interventions.

I am interested to know more about whether students’ level of engagement with the reflections had any impact.  If a student only cursorily reflected was their pass rate still as high?  Yet, rating a student’s depth of reflection seems subjective.  Also, if a student started in the program and then dropped out, was there any measurable difference when they attempted Math again?

One small critique/confusion I have is that the abstract mentions that students’ pass rates on the ACT were higher after students completed the courses engaged in metacognitive activities; whereas in the results section it talks about COMPASS results.  From what I could tell from a Google search, ACT publishes the COMPASS test, but that connection could be more clearly stated in the article.

This research is important because as the authors point out, a third of students who enter college come in needing developmental classes to prepare for their college level classes.  Colleges need to be better prepared to help those students achieve their goals.  With President Obama’s completion agenda, community college funding will be tied to students’ graduation rates which provides another incentive to colleges to help students move through required course work in order to graduate.

All in all, I found these results highly encouraging.  The EFAP-SRL process seems replicable – think about what you are doing, do it, examine the results and reflect, adjust.  I am anxious to be more intentional with my students about using metacognitive strategies.  I am also beginning to think this may be a more viable line of inquiry I could tackle for my research.

Hudesman, J., Crosby, S. Flugman, B., Issac, S., Everson, H., & Clay, D. (2013). Using formative assessment and metacognition to improve student achievement.  Journal of Developmental Education, 13(2), 2-13.

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lynn mizzi brysacz

Faculty/Counselor at Glendale Community College

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