Metaliteracy and the Problem of Metacognitive Miscalibration

With the ACRL Framework, librarians have a couple of new buzzwords to work with — namely metaliteracy and metacognition. While metaliteracy is definitely a new term, the concept of metacognition has been around for a long time (about as long as information literacy). More importantly, metacognition has long been recognized as an important component of critical thinking and problem solving skills, so by default also an important component of information literacy.

However, there is a slight problem with metacognition that is not getting much press in the library world. Actually, it’s a pretty big problem. The problem is called metacognitive miscalibration. What is that you ask? Well, as you have probably heard more than once, metacognition is frequently described as “thinking about thinking.” Metacognitive miscalibration then can be thought of as “inaccurate thinking about thinking.”

It turns out that students are pretty bad judges of their own ability, and often overestimate their capability in many learning situations (with adults, I call this “not knowing what you don’t know”). This has been evident in studies about information literacy that date back to well over a decade ago. In other words, when it comes to information literacy, students are often far too overconfident about their capabilities. This is the very definition of metacognitive miscalibration.

So what happens now with this new emphasis on metaliteracy and metacognition? In reality, students are not going to become more accurate in their metacognitive abilities just because it has become the word du jour in the world of information literacy.

As I see it, two things need to happen. First of all, librarians need to become keenly aware of the fact that accurate metacognition is a tough nut to crack. Secondly, librarians need to learn about the strategies that provide students ample opportunity to metacognitively recalibrate  as they enter into the world of academic information literacy.

The idea of communities of practice (CoPs) is vitally important to this goal, as  CoPs are inherently metacognitive. Improving metacognition through CoPs would look something like this:


The keys here are scaffolding and feedback. Scaffolding information literacy means providing just-in-time supports for students as they go about the research process of finding, interpreting, and using information in a variety of disciplinary contexts. Feedback provides students with an expert’s analysis of their progress so that they are able to recalibrate accurately and make revisions effectively. Both these strategies need to take place through a combination of peer collaboration and mentor modeling.

More so, CoPs that foster IL practices need to go beyond the classroom and beyond the library to become a natural extension of students’ everyday academic literacy practices. In other words, the metacognitive aspects of IL become a habit of mind. And that is where IL dispositions and metacognition cross paths.

A Schema-Based Approach to Evaluating Information

How many of you use tools like the CRAAP test to teach students how to evaluate information? I have too, and even developed my own version at one point. There is a problem with the CRAAP test and similar tools though–they use a broad set of criteria to apply to any type of source, which really doesn’t do much more than promote procedural thinking about information. I liken it to the keyword approach to teaching word problems in math–it’s a horrible method because there are way too many exceptions to the rules and students never really learn to solve problems, only apply procedures. Bottom line, trying to simplify a student’s interpretation down to a set of keywords or criteria that can be applied to any type of problem (math or information) is moderately effective at best.

A better approach? Schema-based instruction.

Schema-based instruction is a method for teaching word problem-solving in math that has been proven much more effective than the keyword approach, especially for students with learning differences. But it is an effective method for all students (why it’s not taught more is a puzzle). Students learn how to identify word problem types first, then use an appropriately tailored strategy for solving each different type of problem. In a nutshell, it works.

I think this is an excellent approach for evaluating information as well. By first having students identify what type of information they are looking at, and then having them use a specific evaluation strategy for that type of source, students may be more likely to achieve a greater level of information literacy. I think it may also improve their appetite for better quality information (not just whatever pops up in Google). Another benefit of this approach? It supports metacognitive thinking.

For example, providing students with a graphic organizer as a scaffolding tool will help them identify and begin to differentiate between types of sources. This will teach them to look at information from a schema perspective rather than looking at all information as the same (thus, thinking more like a librarian).











An even better approach would be to have students identify the differences on their own (with guidance of course), and then construct their own graphic organizers that they can use as tools. Strategies for evaluating each type of source can then be further developed and dissected as students enter the upper-level courses in their majors.

The schema-based approach to evaluating information is more in line with the new ACRL standards than old standbys like the CRAAP test. It’s time to go beyond procedural thinking to support students’ metacognitive thinking about information practices.