The iPad and Metacognition

English: An image of an iPad 2.
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Metacognition is our ability to think about our own thinking. It involves an awareness and self-assessment of what we know and how well we know it. It also refers to executive function, or our ability to monitor and manage our cognitive processes as we think about how to accomplish a task.

Because students’ academic success depends so heavily on their metacognitive skills, RRLS explicitly teaches students how to approach tasks, manage learning, and self-monitor progress.  We accomplish this by drawing their awareness to the products of their efforts and helping them to evaluate their work. Our new iPads have become excellent tools for building metacognition as they help students cultivate these important self-appraisal skills.

The iPad has a unique ability to provide the feedback students need to gain proficiency in an area. This is especially effective with letter formation instruction. The program we use, Handwriting Without Tears, employs a multi-sensory approach to develop a student’s grapho-motor skills. The technique helps students to integrate gross and fine motor movements with the self-guided speech and thought processes that play a critical role in cognitive development. In layman’s terms, this means students learn to orally describe the strokes they are making as they form letters. The language component serves as an auditory reminder of how to properly write letters and accelerates understanding. As our students often begin to practise these skills at a time when executive controls like working memory and attention are still developing, we have been using the interactive whiteboard app Doceri to support their ability to master all of these simultaneously occurring tasks.

Doceri’s “timeline” feature is uniquely suited to this job. For example, as students practise writing the lowercase letter ‘b’, they learn to guide their strokes with the verbal script “start up at the top, dive down and bump, swim back up and over.” With enough repetition and practice, students eventually internalize this as the inner dialogue that becomes imbedded in their thought processes. However, coordinating that speech with writing tasks like proper letter orientation, starting points, placement, size, and spacing requires substantial effort. To ask students to then simultaneously be observers of their work may be overwhelming — and because that task would compete with the motor and cognitive needs of “simply” transcribing, it’s a request that may often be ignored.

But when students practise first using the Doceri application, each stroke of their finger or stylus is recorded, helping to share the metacognitive weight! Strokes can then be replayed in real time, slowed down, or sped up, allowing for review of skills being practised such as shape, speed, and direction of letter formation. Students can circle the letters they formed best and add audio recordings to explain their reasoning — “This ‘r’ is the best one because I started it in the right place and I bumped the line.” As lessons continue, prior recordings can be replayed to help remind students of what they did right — with the added bonus that now they’re modeling letter formation for themselves!

The iPad is certainly a cool little tool with incredible potential and wide application. We hope our enthusiasm for the ways we’ve been able to integrate these tablets into students’ work is palpable — there’s always a thrill that comes with supporting students with the right tools and instructors at the right moment. And metacognitively speaking, we think this feels pretty right!


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