"Introspective observation is what we have to rely on first and foremost and always" -William James

| What is it? | How does it develop? | How does it relate to teaching? | | Theoretical underpinnings | Why is it important in education? | Teacher Strategies | Examples of metacognitive teaching formats | Connection to Curriculum | Resources for Teachers | Further Suggested Readings

What is it?

Metacognition is the awareness of thinking about one's own thinking and cognitive processes. In short, it is "thinking about thinking"

How does it develop?

Regular Development
"Piaget called thinking about thinking 'reflective abstraction', and said that this develops in children through their growing awareness of different viewpoints and the experience of self-conflict when their understanding is challenged. The years from 4 to 9 see significant developments in children in their growing awareness of themselves as thinkers and learners. An illustration of this is provided by Istomina (1982) in studying the ways children of different ages set about a shopping task using a class shop. The 4 year olds ran impusively back and forth 'buying' things on their oral list, the 5 and 6 year olds tried to memorize what they had been told by asking for it to be repeated, the 7 year olds tried to make some logical connections between items on their lists."*

external image Mind.gifMetacognition in "poor learners"
"Metacognitive development in individual children varies widely. Poor learners show marked delays in metacognitive devlopment (Campione 1987, Watson 1996). They have the metacognitive awareness of much younger children, they tend to over-estimate the capacity of their memory, they fail to try different approaches, fail to see that similar problems can be solved by similar means (Sternberg 1985). Pupils with learning difficulties fail not only because they have less knowledge about tasks, but also because they fail to utilise the knowledge and skills they have, they tend not to plan, have no strategy in attempting tasks and do not monitor their progress. What these studies point to is that these pupils need is not only the most explicit teaching but also metacognitive help to improve their self regualtion and monitoring of learning."*

Metacognition in gifted students
"If there is one characteristic of very able or gifted children it is that they have more metacognitive awareness than less able peers (Sternberg 1983). They have a clearer grasp of what they know and what they do not know, they know what they can do and what they cannot do, and they know what will help them gain the knowledge or understanding they need. One researcher found that very able children could 'describe in detail how they managed their mental learning resources and what they did to improve their learning strategies. (They) ... also knew about the importance of involving the whole self - intellect, emotion, amd body - in their learning' (Freeman 1991). Metacognitive skill in able pupils does not necessarily show itself in evidence of 'quick thinking', but in their ability to use quick or slow thinking when the occasion demands. Creativity is not related to quickness of thinking. Indeed evidence suggests that children with high IQs tend to be slower not faster than those with lower IQs in creative problem solving, but show more insight and success (Davison, Deuser & Sternberg 1996). "*

*All of these abstracts have been taken from Developing Metacognition in children

How does it relate to teaching?

external image metaco1.jpg

Applying metacognition to teaching opens students to self-regulated learning. When using a metacognitive approach, students will learn to be able to answer the following questions:
  • What do I know about this subject, topic, issue?
  • Do I know what I need to know?
  • Do I know where I can go to get some information, knowledge?
  • How much time will I need to learn this?
  • What are some strategies and tactics that I can use to learn this?
  • Did I understand what I just heard, read or saw?
  • How will I know if I am learning at an appropriate rate?
  • How can I spot an error if I make one?
  • How should I revise my plan if it is not working to my expectations/satisfaction?

Theoretical underpinnings

"Metacognition is grounded in constructivist theory and it provides the foundation upon which students can construct new information". In brief, constructivist theory states that experience provides the basis for gaining new knowledge. For more information, see Constructivism and Metacognition.

Why is it important in education?

Metacognition encourages:
  • Active reading
  • Relating new material to old material
  • Self-regulated learning
  • Better learning (by engaging students and making them more than just a consumer of learning, but an active member)
  • Better teaching (by learning from the students as they reflect on their own learning)

Prof. Stephen Heppell describes many of the advantages of metacognition in this short clip:

Teacher Strategies

Integrating a metacognitive approach in the classroom is not too difficult. Here are some ideas of how to incorporate metacognition into your own class:
  • Have students monitor their own learning and thinking (Example: have student monitor a peer's learning/thinking/behaving)
  • Have students learn study strategies (Examples of study strategies: study groups, positive environment, memory tools, flash cards etc)
  • Have students make predictions about information to be presented next based on what they have read
  • Have students relate ideas to existing knowledge structures (Important to have relevant knowledge structures well learned)
  • Have students develop questions; ask questions of themselves, about what's going on around them (Have you asked a good question today?)
  • Help students to know when to ask for help (must be able to self-monitor; require students to show how they have attempted to deal with the problem of their own)
  • Show students how to transfer knowledge, attitudes, values, skills to other situations or task

Domain Specific Knowledge
Knowledge of Self as Learner
Strategy Training
Underlying Goals
  • Teaching specific strategies
  • Monitoring conflicting thoughts
  • Building coherent understanding
  • Teaching self-oriented Strategies
  • Developing a strong sense of self-as-learner

Design Characteristics
  • Modeling
  • Prompting
  • Social or peer modeling

Examples of metacognitive teaching formats

Example 1
  • Lecture wrappers
  • Homework wrappers
  • Exam wrappers
Wrappers include asking students specific questions before and after a lecture, assignment, or test to guide students to understand how they are really working (ex homework wrapper questions: Before "How quickly and easily can you solve these problems?" After, "Now that you have solved the problems, how quickly and easily can you solve these questions?")

More information on wrappers can be found in Teaching Metacognition

Example 2
A different approach can be in formatting lesson plans in a way to increase metacognitive thinking. To do this, you can follow this format:
  1. FOCUS introducing the theme of the lesson
  2. LESSON OBJECTIVE discussing the thinking and learning objectives
  3. INPUT / STIMULUS providing information and stimulus to learning
  4. STRUCTURED ACTIVITY engaging in active learning task(s)
  5. METACOGNITIVE REVIEW discussing as a group what they have thought and learnt, reviewing objectives, setting targets, lesson closure

Example 3
A sample lesson of a different way to teach metacognition can be found at Metacognitive Strategies. This sample lesson plan uses the teacher as a guide to self-regulated reading in students; beginning with the teacher demonstrating aloud what he or she is thinking while reading a text.

Teaching metacognition is in no way limited to these, but they do give some solid examples of how metacognition can be taught.


Connection to Curriculum

In each of the four strands, there is an overall expectation of reflecting on skills and strategies. For example, in the writing strand, the fourth overall expectation is "Reflecting on Skills and Strategies: reflect on and identify their strengths as writers, areas for improvement, and the strategies they found most helpful at different stages in the writing process."

Metacognitive fulfills these reflecting on skills and strategies overall expectations. By teaching metacognitive skills to students, they will learn to reflect upon their own learning (and in this case, on their own writing skills) and identify strengths and weaknesses through self-evaluation and self-regulation.

Resources for Teachers

external image images?q=tbn:ANd9GcS8tWBZaxPYAXzmbgbeimtiTlPC0jDmHGZxOvj2JK5Yue-ouk0&t=1&usg=__ZR_b7pG1wdOT5mz1KkJ_4BA6x2w=
Active Reading Activity (A list of questions for students to ask themselves throughout the reading of a text)
This activity teaches students the types of questions they should ask themselves in order to fully engage in a reading.
Students can use these questions for any future reading and will eventually ask these sorts of questions automatically.

Further Suggested Readings

METACOGNITION: Study Strategies, Monitoring, and Motivation
Teaching Metacognition
Developing Metacognition
Metacognitive Strategies
Designing Metacognitive Activities
Developing Metacognition in children