Metacognitive Awareness & Learning Transfer— Not Just for Math and English

By Joe Ciccoianni, Principal, St. Norbert Catholic School     5/30/2018

Consider the following: You have taught your students a concept in grammar, for instance. A few days later, your students end up making mistakes of that same type in a written social studies assignment. Sound familiar?

Transferring knowledge from one form, one subject, or one class to another is a learned skill that requires time and practice. How can we provide our students the time and practice they need to become reflective learners who apply their knowledge across subject areas? In her recent article at ASCD Express, author and teacher Sarah C. Johnson explains how “reflective writing for metacognitive awareness” can help. (“Learning to Write, Writing to Learn,” ASCD Express, April 26, 2018,

First, Johnson points out how students receive an ongoing flow of information throughout their school day. Added to it, most students in our Diocese also contend with a variety of sources for that information: the teacher(s), whiteboard, their device or Sycamore. Even on the device, students may be logging into Google Classroom/Drive, Edmodo or their email. The sheer volume of inputs can be a challenge for our students to manage and collate. Not surprisingly, their knowledge is often more fragmented or localized than before.

Johnson explores a few alternatives for teachers willing to invest the time in helping students develop metacognitive awareness. Her main point is to allow the students an opportunity to reflect in writing, using open-ended prompts (“What did you find helpful from today’s lesson? What will you do differently next time?”). Doing so in a low-stakes environment that fosters the students making connections across subjects or even to other parts of their lives gives students the practice they need.

As Catholic educators, this kind of metacognitive ability and learning transfer is demonstrated when students apply gospel values learned in Religion class to their daily experiences. Asking students to reflect in writing (or even allowing a few quiet moments of reflection) on one concrete way they can apply a biblical or moral principle to a situation they’re facing in their own lives will help our students develop into thoughtful, reflective Catholics who both know their faith and apply it to their lives.