Fairleigh Dickinson University
Study Smart, Study Independently: The Importance of Metacognitive Skills for College Students with LD
One of the biggest differences between high school and college is the amount of time students are required to work independently. In college, a great deal of learning takes place outside of class through independent and unguided study and practice. This can be particularly challenging for students with Learning Disabilities (LD). Students with LD are accustomed to receiving constant guidance, attention and support outside of class by school staff and parents. In high school, students with LD are often told when to do their homework, what to study and what tools and strategies to use. In college, these same students are required, without guidance, to decide when to study, what to study, how to study. To be able to meet this new challenge, students need to develop new skills that will allow them to study independently.
Metacognition is the ability to think about one’s own thinking and to make smart choices when studying independently. Students with strong metacognition have self-awareness, understanding of the task, and knowledge of a variety of strategies. These students are aware of their disabilities, and their learning strengths and weaknesses. They understand what they need to know and what the professor’s expectations are. Finally, these students will be familiar with a variety of learning strategies and tools and know which ones are best suited to their own specific learning ability and the requirements of the task. A student with strong metacognition will think and plan carefully before he or she begins a learning task.
Because students with LD have had support and guidance throughout middle school and high school, they may not have been able to develop strong metacognitive skills. As a result, when these students are required to study alone, they do not plan, study the wrong material, overestimate their knowledge, and do not monitor and modify their strategies. The most significant problem for students with poor metacognitive skills is that they do not know when it is appropriate to seek help. Although students with LD can find programs in college that provide support and guidance for their academic work, it is still essential that these students strengthen their metacognitive skills.
Helping students improve their metacognitive skills should begin as early as possible. To do this, teachers and parents will need to find a balance between providing the support that students need to succeed academically and helping them develop the ability to think on their own. By simply stepping back and allowing the students to lead, we can give them time to think before they begin an assignment. In addition, helping students build self-awareness and knowledge of different learning strategies is essential. Here are some tips for helping students improve their metacognitive skills:
Build Self-Awareness. It is important that students know and understand their learning disability, and how it can affect their learning. Include students in meetings with counselors and school support staff. Talk to them about their diagnoses and give them the opportunity to ask questions and do research about their disability. Also point out and continually remind them of their learning strengths.
Ask, Don’t Tell. Don’t tell them what to do. Rather, ask them what their plan is. Asking the right questions is essential: “What’s your plan?”, “What do you need to know for the test?”, “How are you going to learn this?” Of course you can help them modify their plan to fit the task, but the student should be the primary driver of the process.
Present a Variety of Learning Strategies and Tools. Flash cards are not the only tool available to students with LD. Introduce as many learning strategies and tools as possible for different learning situations. Allow the students to choose and experiment with new ways of studying, memorizing and learning. Include digital and electronic tools as well as traditional tools such as flash cards and graphic organizers.
Use Think-Alouds. Model what good metacognition looks like. As you help students with their work, explain your own thinking process. Share what you are thinking and why you are choosing to do what you do at every stage of the process.
Prepare Them for the Transition. Make sure high school students are aware of the differences between high school and college. Interview current college students with Learning Disabilities, search the topic on the internet, and ask specific questions about academic expectations when visiting colleges. #
Josephine Vonarburg, Ed.M. is a learning specialist at the Regional Center for Learning Disabilities at Fairleigh Dickinson University.