Comments by

Joseph D. Novak. Professor Emeritus, Cornell University


This paper presents a brief discussion of the literature on metacognition and related topics and strives to point out that learning can be improved if effective metacognitive tools are extensively incorporated into school learning practices.

Chrobak begins by pointing to the complexity of school learning and to the need to take cognizance of four “commonplaces” of education described by Schwab, namely 1) teacher, 2) learner, 3) curriculum, and 4) the social context. To this he would add a fifth commonplace or “element” suggested by Novak, 5) assessment. Each of these elements or commonplaces operate in any educational event, and each needs to be considered. This is one of the reasons high quality education is so difficult to achieve.

Two other considerations Chrobak emphasizes is that we need to be guided by a theory of knowledge and a theory of education. Recent advances in cognitive psychology recognize that each learner must construct for her/himself the meanings for all the symbols that are used to code events and objects observed. Moreover, the learner must learn these meanings in ways that are not bound to the specific examples used, but can also be applied in new contexts. He describes the key principles from Ausubel’s theory of learning and shows how these principles function to explain the process whereby students build powerful knowledge structures. He shows how Ausubel’s theory is not only consistent with current ideas from constructivist epistemology, but it is also consistent with and explanatory for the best metacognitive practices.

The use of two metacognitive tools, concept maps and Gowin’s Vee, that have their foundations in constructivist epistemology and Ausubel’s cognitive psychology are presented. Also discussed are strategies for helping students and teachers use these tools.

It is evident from the numerous efforts in curriculum improvement that have taken place in the USA and other countries that changing the curriculum alone does not result in improved education. Educators have been shuffling the content of courses for decades with little evidence that this will lead to better learning. What Chrobak suggests, and I strongly support, is that we must look beyond curriculum changes alone to improve education; we must also move to apply the best we now know about how humans learn and about the nature and structure of knowledge. His paper is an important contribution to this end.