A Minute a Day Keeps the Metacognitive Doctor Away!

Aaron S. Richmond

Metropolitan State University of Denver

First and foremost, what I am about to discuss with you all is not an educational or metacognitive teaching panacea (aka silver-bullet). But I would like introduce and discuss is the idea of using Classroom Assessment Techniques (affectionately known as CATs) as a form of a metacognitive instructional strategy.

CATs: A Very Brief Review

Described best by Angelo and Cross (1993), CATs are designed to serve two purposes. First, they are meant as a formative assessment tool for teachers to understand how much their students are learning in the course. Second, CATs are designed to provide you, the teacher, feedback on the efficacy of your teaching strategies/methods. CATs are typically very brief and take very little instructional time (a minute or two).  CATs are also created based on your assessment needs. For instance, if you are interested in assessing course-related knowledge and skills then you might want to use the one-minute paper, focused listening, background knowledge probe (see Cunningham & Moore, n.d.). Or, if you are interested in assessing skill in analysis and critical thinking, you may want to use pro and con grids, or analytic memos, or content, form, and function outlines (see Cunningham & Moore, n.d.). If you would like to assess your students’ skill in synthesis and creative thinking you may want to use one-sentence summary, or concept maps, or approximate analogies. The list of different types of CATs goes on and on (see Cunningham & Moore, n.d. for complete list and summary) so I would like to focus on previously established CATs that lend themselves to be quite quick, easy, and potentially effective metacognitive improvement tools. I like to call these the Metacognitive Cats or MCATs!


Cunningham and Moore (n.d.) recently categorized 50 of Angelo and Cross’ (1993) CATs based on the purpose of the assessment needed (some described previously in the blog). Among these categories, Cunningham and Moore posit that some CATs are meant for “Techniques for Assessing Learner Attitudes, Values, and Self-Awareness” (p. 4). Several of the CATs in this category lend themselves to be almost metacognitive awareness activities. Specifically, these include course-related self-confidence surveys, focused autobiographical sketches, muddiest point, productivity study time log, and diagnostic learning logs. Let me take a moment to describe these potential MCATs (Angelo & Cross, 1993).

  • Course-related self-confidence surveys: At the end of class you have students fill out an anonymous questionnaire that assesses their confidence in mastering the material discussed in class.  
  • Focused autobiographical sketches: At the end or beginning of class, have students write a brief statement on a “successful” study strategy or learning strategy that they used to learn the class material.
  • Muddiest point: At the conclusion of a lesson, ask students to write down the one concept that they are still struggling with in one or two sentences. You can use this to identify which concepts students are struggling with.
  • Productivity study time log: Have students keep a daily log and record both the amount of time spent studying and the quality of time spent studying for your course. Students can complete this before, or at the beginning or end of class.
  • Diagnostic learning logs: Have students write a log for assignments or assessments in which the student identifies what study methods and knowledge that they had correct and have them diagnose what they did not have correct and how to solve this error for the future. These can be done before, during or after class as well.

Now, these MCATs are just CATs unless you help students connect the CAT to the Metacognition. The trick is, how do you do this? One answer may be direct feedback and reflection to the learner. What I mean, is that if you employ a CAT (e.g., muddiest point), then you need to make it metacognitive by providing feedback directly to your student on their performance, have students elaborate and reflect on their answers, and provide constructive solutions/assistance in improving their metacognition.  Let me illustrate using the MCAT of a muddiest point. After your students turn in their muddiest point, take a few minutes to talk to the students about why they are confused about the content. You may ask your student about their note-taking strategies in class. Or you may ask your student about their reading strategies when they read the chapter before class. You may ask them about their attention to the lesson (i.e., the amount of cell phone or computer use). You may ask them about their use of other study strategies. Then, have your student reflect on why they didn’t understand the course material based on your conversation and have them come up with changing just one thing about how they studied. The next time, you repeat the MCAT muddiest point, the process can start over and you can revisit the same questions with your students. Incorporating direct feedback, reflection, and solution of CATs may just turn them into MCATs.

Concluding Questions

As, to my knowledge, educational and metacognitive researchers have not investigated the efficacy of these potential MCATs as metacognitive instructional tools. Therefore, I feel like I must wrap up this blog with a few questions/challenges/inspirational ideasJ

  1. Can the use of MCATs increase metacognitive awareness in students?
  2. Can the use of MCATs increase metacognitive knowledge in students?
  3. Can the use of MCATs increase academic performance of students?
  4. If the answer to any of the previous questions is yes, then the questions becomes are some MCATs better than others and can students transfer the use of these MCATs to other content domain?


Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Cunningham, K., & Moore, D. (n.d.). 50 CATS by Angelo and Cross. Retrieved from http://pages.uoregon.edu/tep/resou

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