Learning strategies, learning materials, and critical academic reading, alone and in groups

In conceptual change, metacognitive knowledge of the learning strategies and their use in regulation seem to be important since learners who frequently regulate their learning metacognitively seem to have more metaconceptual awareness and vice versa (Saykes & Trundle, 2017). However, metacognitive regulation alone does not seem to be sufficient for learners to achieve conceptual understanding, although metacognitive regulation does guide cognitive strategies in processing scientific concepts towards a conceptual change (Sackes & Trundle, 2014). Thus, metacognition as well as cognitive strategies are needed. When learners monitor their thinking processes (e.g., how to approach a text to understand it), they are seen to have better possibilities to regulate their learning (e.g., to choose between different alternatives) and take responsibility for their learning. This kind of metacognitive process, in turn, is suggested to effect students’ learning and development, both in formal and informal learning contexts (see King & Siddiqui, 2011).

Pedagogical practice, including textbooks, does not normally take the above-mentioned problems into account. Textbooks often strive for enrichment and assume that what learners already know is compatible with scientific knowledge (see Mikkila & Olkinuora, 1994; Roth, 1990). Until now there have been few tools to cope with this problem. Presenting a cognitive conflict in the learning situation has been used as a method by science teachers, but it does not seem to be enough for promoting conceptual change in a radical sense as both young learners and older learners can be resistant to change (Limon, 2001; Penttinen et al., 2013). However, learning materials, especially textbooks, play a great role in higher education, and texts can be seen as an important tool for conceptual change.

Recently, the potential of designing texts, especially so-called refutational texts, to facilitate conceptual change has been intensively explored among conceptual change researchers (Broughton, Sinatra, & Reynolds, 2010; Sodervik, Virtanen, & Mikkila-Erdmann, 2015; Tippett, 2010). By refutational texts we refer to texts designed to activate students’ prior knowledge by directly addressing their misconceptions, then presenting the scientific explanation as a plausible alternative (Hynd, 2001; Mason et al., 2017; Mikkila-Erdmann, 2001). For a learner, the process of becoming aware of a possible mismatch between his/her ideas and scientific content to be learned through a text can be an essential factor in promoting metaconceptual awareness. This can therefore be seen as an important prerequisite for conceptual change (see Mason et al., 2017; Vosniadou, 1994, p. 67; Vosniadou & loannides, 1998, p. 1224; Mikkila-Erdmann, 2001). In our studies, the use of refutational texts for adult students seemed to support conceptual change (Ahopelto et al., 2011; Mikkila-Erdmann et al., 2008; Sodervik, 2016). Also, students with lesser prior knowledge seem to benefit from refutational texts (Ahopelto et al., 2011). Furthermore, other instructional activities, such as writing a learning diary consisting of metaconceptual questions, concept mapping, class and group discussions, seem to facilitate students’ metaconceptual awareness and thus support conceptual change (Ozturk, 2017).

Interaction, for example in a collaborative learning setting, can help the student to become aware of his or her prior knowledge and possible alternative models (see Chapter 2). For instance, collaborative learning, such as reciprocal peer tutoring, has been indicated to support learners’ metacognition (De Backer et al., 2012). In turn, improved metacognitive awareness has been shown to have a relationship, for example, with the development of the conceptions of the nature of science (Abd-El-Khalick & Akerson, 2009). Thus, metacognition can be supported in peer-interaction and this can enhance conceptual understanding.

However, learners’ collaboration even at a metacognitive level itself does not necessarily support high-level learning, such as a conceptual change process. Instead, metacognition in collaboration should be focused on high-level knowledge co-construction rather than on low-level task co-production (see Khosa & Volet, 2014). In this setting, it is important that learners make their thinking process visible, also by means of small verbal signs (e.g., “I’m confused”, “It can’t be so”, “It isn’t necessarily so because ... ”, “It doesn’t make sense if we think that ... ”, “Let’s think ... ”) that provide other learners (or teacher) with an opportunity to react to these utterances and help all learners, together, meta-cognitively regulate the thinking process towards the learning goal (see liskala, Vauras, & Lehtinen, 2004; liskala, Vauras, Lehtinen, & Salonen, 2011). However, learners can also co-construct misconceptions in a student-led collaboration (see liskala, 2015), which can be seen as pedagogically problematic. Hence, a teacher with multiple perspectives (Kallio, 2011), theoretically high-level understanding and pedagogical skills are needed in adult education.

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