Looking back meaningfully : self-assessment

As a final in-class exercise of two of the modules that the students in the BSc in Psychology have been studying for the past year, they were asked to prepare an oral presentation in which they self-assess their learning process throughout the modules, hopefully taking an honest and critical stance. Within the broad guidelines provided for preparing the presentation, it was suggested the students should pay attention to the what, the how, and the why of their learning. Using these three distinctions, although seemingly basic and simple, could be a very powerful way to explore and understand in depth any kind of event or developmental process.1 The quality of the exploration depends, of course, on the degree of depth and breadth in which one uses the what – how – why triad. And this degree is something that can be developed through thorough and reflective practice.
Psychology students Keuma and Lina presented a remarkable work, specifically when it came to the depth of the how of their learning processes throughout the last semester. A shared experience for both happened to be the encounter with a different learning approach from the one to which they had been accustomed during their previous academic history, which very much consisted of rote learning (this involves memorization and “delivery” of contents often disconnected to their reality). In connection with some of the topics discussed in our module on Learning and Higher Cognitive Processes, the students identified that, in their first semester at the university, they experienced a constructivist learning approach in which they had to engage in open discussions, think critically and practice divergent thinking.

The former is linked to two trendy topics in the field of education practice research: intelligence and creativity. On the one hand, and after a hegemonic predominance of the IQ as the only (and rigid) way to conceptualize and measure intelligence (in the decade of 1890s James Cattell was the one who coined the term “mental tests”), the last decades have brought new approaches to intelligence, such as the “theory of multiple intelligences (Gardner, 1983), or the construct of “emotional intelligence” (Goleman, 1995; Salovey & Mayer, 1990) and even more recently “social intelligence” (Goleman, 2006). On the other hand, Joy Paul Guildford, one of the first theorists on creativity, wondered back in 1950 why  schools were not producing more creative persons. Unfortunately, this question still remains open, as  presented in this interesting and well-known TED Talk in 2006, where Ken Robinson addressed the question whether schools  kill creativity. Thus, it is relevant to note that issues remain requiring work when it comes to understanding and practicing learning, hopefully moving step by step towards a more integrated and holistic perspective enabling individuals to become more meaningful life-long learners.

As for more detail on the how of their learning process, the students were also able to identify their strengths and limitations while learning. Among the strengths mentioned were issues such as the interest and the passion for the learned topics. Among the weaknesses were issues such as the acknowledgement that they  sometimes felt a lack of commitment when doing the weekly readings, or the difficulties that they had encountered  concentrating on  some other occasions. This, in itself, was a demonstration of metacognition. In very simple terms, metacognition can be defined as “cognition about cognition”, “thinking about thinking” or “becoming aware of one’s awareness”. It is the development of our students’ metacognition (and ours!) which, as educators at any level, should have as one of our priorities.

In the context of a semester, something that necessarily will be a focus of any kind of metacognitive process is the possibility of noticing changes over time in one’s way of learning. In this regard, it is to highlight that the students were able to compare themselves at several moments across the semester and to notice differences in their ways of coping with several proposed learning dynamics, including their increasing degree of depth when engaging in an open discussion or their growing self-confidence  during their oral presentations in front of an audience.

Now it is your turn! Both as a student or as a teacher: have you spent some “quality time” thinking on what, how, and why you have learnt throughout the recently-ended semester…?


Last day of the semester for the BSc Psychology students and two of their professors

By Gloria Nogueiras


  • Gardner, H. (1983) Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Basic Books.
  • Goleman, D. (2001). Emotional intelligence: Issues in paradigm building. The emotionally intelligent workplace, 13, 26.
  • Goleman, D. (2006). Social intelligence: Beyond IQ, beyond emotional intelligence. New York.
  • Guilford, J. P. (1950). Creativity. American Psychologist, 5, 444–454.
  • McWhirter, J. (1998). Re-Modelling NLP Part One: Models and Modelling. Available online at: http://sensorysystems.co.uk/dbm-remodelled-nlp/part-one-models-and-modelling/
  • McWhirter, J. (2011). “Behavioral remodeling,” in Innovations in NLP: for Challenging Times, eds L. M. Hall, S. R. Charvet, and S. Rose-Charvet (Carmarthen, UK: Crown House Publishing), 95–114.
  • Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. D. (1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, cognition and personality, 9(3), 185-211.

1. The what-how-why triad is a very basic tool in Developmental Behavioural Modelling, developed by the Scottish psychologist John McWhirter. Developmental Behavioural Modeling is a comprehensive field to systematically model modelling (McWhirter, 2011). It studies how human beings create our own models of the world through natural modelling skills, how effective our models are, and how we change them in order to adapt them to new circumstances in an optimal way (McWhirter, 1998). For more detail you might want to explore this website.

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