Asee peer logo

The Use of Metacognitive Writing-to-Learn Prompts in an Engineering Statics Class to Improve Student Understanding and Performance

Download Paper |


2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

NSF Grantees’ Poster Session

Tagged Division

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1251.1 - 24.1251.9



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Saryn R. Goldberg Hofstra University

visit author page

Dr. Saryn R. Goldberg is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering in Hofstra University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Dr. Goldberg received her Sc.B. in Engineering with a focus on materials science from Brown University, her M.S. degree in Biomedical Engineering with a focus on biomaterials from Northwestern University, and her Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering with a focus on biomechanics from Stanford University. At Hofstra she teaches courses in mechanical engineering, materials science and biomechanics. In addition to her research in engineering education, Dr. Goldberg studies the biomechanics of human movement, focusing on gait rehabilitation. She is a member of the Society of Women Engineers and the American Society of Biomechanics.

visit author page


Jennifer Andrea Rich Hofstra University

visit author page

Jennifer A. Rich received her doctorate in English and American literature at the Graduate Center/CUNY in October 2002. Her dissertation, Shakespeare’s Economic Unconscious: Representations of Emergent Capitalism in Shakespeare’s Drama, considers how the early modern emerging market-based economy is represented in Shakespeare’s drama.

Rich has published widely in film, cultural studies, Shakespeare, rhetoric, critical theory and writing studies. She is Associate Professor of Writing Studies and Composition at Hofstra University.

visit author page


Amy Masnick Hofstra University

visit author page

Dr. Amy Masnick is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Hofstra University. Dr. Masnick received both her B.S. and Ph.D. in Human Development at Cornell University. At Hofstra she teaches courses in introductory psychology, research methods, cognitive psychology, and child development. Dr. Masnick is interested in conceptual development, reasoning about science and number in children and adults, and in science and engineering education.

visit author page

Download Paper |


The use of metacognitive writing-to-learn prompts in an engineering statics class to improve student understanding and performanceRecent studies on the use of writing-to-learn assignments in math, science and engineeringcourses have yielded little success in identifying the kinds of writing that lead to greater studentperformance and metacognitive understanding (Kagestan & Engelbrecht 2006; Moore 2012;Porter & Masingla 2000; Yancey 2012). This paper discusses our experience designing andimplementing a study integrating metacognitive writing-to-learn prompts into an undergraduateengineering statics course. We asked students to respond to a writing prompt for one problem on10 homework assignments per semester. Through student surveys, we assessed the effect ofresponding to these prompts on student understanding of statics concepts. We also assessedwhether the inclusion of the writing prompt improved student performance on exams.The initial iteration of the writing prompt required that students describe each step of theirsolution to a homework problem and assess whether their answer seemed reasonable. Weintended for the writing protocol to prompt students to consider the purpose of each step of thecalculation and thus prevent them from resorting to a “plug-and-chug” approach to solving theproblem. The assessment of the reasonableness of their answer was designed to encouragestudents to think about the problem in a real-world context, strengthening their understanding ofthe concepts and providing an approach for recognizing errors. Students indicated that theyfound the exercise useful in improving their understanding of statics concepts. However, we haddifficulty with compliance with the step-writing portion of the prompt. Further, the writingresponses were challenging to grade effectively and consistently. The intervention resulted inonly small trends in improved test performance.After considerable re-assessment, discussion and continued research, we streamlined the writingassignment. In the latest iteration, we ask students to reflect on any confusion they have abouthow to solve the homework problem and then revise this reflection after receiving instructorinput. Specifically, we have students assess the reasonableness of their numerical answer to eachproblem and then answer a series of questions to describe any confusion they had about theconcepts or computations required to solve the problem. The problem solution is thendemonstrated in class as students correct their own work. Following this demonstration, studentsare asked to re-examine and revise their conceptual and computational errors in writing. Finally,the instructor provides feedback when grading the homework as to whether students’understanding of the source of any errors is accurate. If the inclusion of a revision step in thiscontext functions as it does in other related fields (Kagestan & Engelbrecht 2006; Porter &Masingla 2000; Pugalee 1997; Miller 1996), then we predict that directing students to reflect onthe cause of their misunderstandings about the problem will lead them to have a betterunderstanding of the concept under review.In this paper, we will discuss pedagogical and practical reasons for our redesign of the writingintervention and will describe preliminary findings of student compliance and success using themodified writing prompts. ReferencesKagesten, O., & Engelbrecht, J. (2006). Supplementary explanations in undergraduate mathematics assessment: A forced formative writing activity. European Journal of Engineering Education, 31(6), 705-715.Moore, J. (2012) Mapping the questions. Composition Forum 26 Retrieved from, L.D. (1992) Teacher benefits from using impromptu writing prompts in algebra classes. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 23, 329-340.Porter, M. & Masingla, J. O. (2000). Examining the effects of writing on conceptual and procedural knowledge in calculus. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 42, 165-177.Pugalee, D. (1997) Connecting writing to the mathematics curriculum. Mathematics Teacher, 90, 308-310.Yancey, K. (2012) Prior knowledge and its role in transfer. Composition Forum 26 Retrieved from

Goldberg, S. R., & Rich, J. A., & Masnick, A. (2014, June), The Use of Metacognitive Writing-to-Learn Prompts in an Engineering Statics Class to Improve Student Understanding and Performance Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23184

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2014 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015