Using Metacognition to Support Students with LD and their Transition to College

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by Mary L. Hebert, PhD; Fairleigh Dickinson University, The Regional Center for Learning Disabilities

Launching as a new college student is one of the most significant transitions a young person experiences. With college comes not only the adjustment to a new school, but newly defined relationships and expectations with professors, higher-level classes, new levels of independence and expectations for managing academics, social, emotional and physical wellness, as well as increasing physical separation from family. Academic transitions can be particularly stressful for students with a learning disability, as well as for their parents. This post advocates that strong metacognitive skills are an asset for any student going through transitions, but particularly for a student with learning differences.

Metacognition is associated with self-awareness and application to one’s environment to assist with adaptation. For the student who is arriving on a college campus with a history of accommodations and either an Individualized Education Plan or a 504 Plan due to a learning disability, the transition can be a daunting one. Well-developed metacognition is a powerful asset in preparing a student with learning disabilities to transition successfully to college. These students’ confidence may be impacted due to their history of academic challenges and having been a part of a program of services that provided accommodations in high school. It is important for such students to evaluate several things including: will they or won’t they identify their LD as they enter college, will they opt to seek services or apply for accommodations, how comfortable do they feel about identifying their LD in a college setting, how much do they know about services and accommodations at the college level?

While confidence is a necessary and desirable quality, a student with a LD may be at risk of over confidence, which has the potential to interfere with quality metacognition. Stephen Chew of Samford University in Alabama discusses over confidence in regard to its negative impact on choices of behaviors related to learning (Lang, 2012). I suggest here that over-confidence can also negatively impact the metacognition of students, especially LD students, across that broader set of choices related to the transition to college. Metacognitive strategies are essentially strategies that provide a student with a heightened awareness of the skill sets they have that will support them toward their tasks at hand. Students with weak metacognitive skills may underestimate the degree of support or accommodations that might be appropriate to support their successful adjustment to college life. I have observed students who are new freshmen with long histories of academic, mental health, and other services decide upon entry to college that they no longer wish to utilize these services. It is worth pausing to ask, is this the best time to cease or decrease services? Strong metacognitive skills can assist the student to judge more accurately a plan of services that will suit their needs at this point of transition.

A useful metacognitive strategy in preparation for this transitional phase of their education is to give aspiring college students lower stakes experiences and opportunities to assess their own awareness about the mastery of skills necessary to adjust to college. This practice prior to performance is an effective strategy to apply to college readiness thinking, decision-making and planning skills. Parents, counselors, teachers and others involved in a student’s educational process can orchestrate purposeful metacognitive opportunities to give the student a chance to practice and reflect on experiences that will be key strategies for the transition to college life. For example, a student who may be expressing a desire not to identify their disability when they transition to college and therefore not seek accommodations may be given the chance to work without accommodations in high school to assess how they perform without certain accommodations such as extended time, a note taker, modified assignments, organizational and time management assistance etc. In a supportive manner the student can be questioned as to what this experience was like, and how it impacted their learning and performance.

Having students practice in the manner they will be required to perform becomes an indispensable metacognitive tool which can assist with the metacognitive skills to think about, evaluate, and acquire self-knowledge and awareness of what their strengths, needs, and challenges are so they can plan for their transition more realistically and therefore more effectively. The goal is that they will adjust more successfully to college expectations and demands. As a high school student, a certain set of skills and expectations have been developed to respond to academics, social and emotional and time management tasks. Transitioning to college requires a solid metacognitive evaluation of how these skills and expectations will or won’t transfer to college expectations and demands. Understanding one’s learning disability and its impact not only on academic performance, but also on life skills such as time management, social relationships, emotional regulation, and wellness needs becomes key in readiness for functioning successfully in a college setting.

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Lang, James M. (2012). Metacognition and Student Learning, Chronicle of Higher Education, Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/MetacognitionStudent/130327