Getting Started with Metacognition

Paul Main

Getting started with metacognition: A classroom guide

What exactly is Metacognition?

Metacognition describes the processes involved when learners plan, monitor, evaluate and make changes to their own learning behaviours. It is a key component of self-regulated learning. The metacognitive process involves monitoring one's knowledge state in order to determine whether it needs updating or revision. This can be done by using various strategies such as reflection on past experiences, comparing current performance with previous achievements, asking oneself questions about what has been learnt, etc. Metacognition also includes the ability to recognise that one's thoughts are not always accurate reflections of reality.

The term "metacognition" was coined by Richard Mayer in his book Mind Control: Toward A Psychology Of Human Intelligence. He defined it as follows:

Mayer argued that metacognition should be considered an important part of intelligence because it allows people to control their behaviour through conscious thought rather than instinctive responses. In other words, he believed that metacognition allowed humans to think for themselves instead of simply reacting automatically.

Mayer proposed three levels of thinking which corresponded to different types of information processing:

Level 1 – automatic processing occurs without any awareness of its occurrence; this level corresponds to reflexes and instincts.

Level 2 – controlled processing requires some degree of attention but does not require effortful cognitive activity. For example, reading at speed may involve only Level 2 processing while listening attentively to someone speaking would probably involve both Levels 1 and 2 processing.

Level 3 – reflective processing requires more effortful mental activities and results in higher quality decisions.

In addition to these three levels, Mayer described two further categories of thinking:

Intuitive Thinking – refers to rapid judgments based on experience and intuition. Analytic Thinking – refers to slow reasoning involving analysis and synthesis.

These four levels have since become known as the Theory of Four Cognitive Processes.

Measuring Metacognition

There are many ways to measure metacognition including questionnaires, interviews, observation, tests and video recording. One method used to assess metacognition is called the Think Aloud Method. This technique consists of having participants read aloud whilst they complete tasks. By doing so, researchers can observe how much time each participant spends reflecting upon their answers before giving them out loud. Another way to examine metacognition is via the use of eye tracking technology. Eye movements provide valuable data regarding where individuals focus their gaze during task completion. Researchers can then compare this against the content of the text being read.

The importance of metacognition for supporting student learning has been promoted by educational psychologists. John Flavell's research focused on children's knowledge and control of their memory processes when he introduced the term 'metacognition'. John Flavell's research focused on children's knowledge and control of their memory processes when he introduced the term'metacognition'. His work demonstrated that students who were able to monitor their own performance had better recall skills than those who did not. The concept of metacognitive monitoring has subsequently been applied to a wide range of subjects such as mathematics, science and language studies.

Metacognition plays a key role in helping us understand our environment and ourselves. It helps us make sense of what we see, hear or feel. We learn from others through observing their actions and reactions. In turn, we also influence other people’s behaviour by showing interest in their thoughts and feelings.

Metacognitive skills and strategies

A number of different types of metacognitive strategy exist which help learners gain insight into their understanding of concepts and materials. These include self-monitoring, elaboration and critical evaluation. Self-monitoring involves taking stock of one's current state of knowledge and skill acquisition. Elaborative interrogation involves asking oneself questions about the material under study. Critical evaluation involves evaluating whether information provided is accurate and relevant. Metacognitive strategies may be taught explicitly using instructional methods like lecture notes, textbooks, tutorials etc., or implicitly through social interactions with peers and teachers.

In addition to metacognitive strategies, there are several individual differences factors that affect metacognitive ability. For example, some people tend to rely more heavily on explicit instruction while others prefer to explore ideas independently. Some people find it easier to think analytically whereas others need to process information visually. People differ in terms of their motivation towards studying; some enjoy reading books and articles but struggle to apply themselves to assignments, while others thrive off completing homework quickly without thinking too deeply. Metacognition advances the learning process because it allows learners to reflect upon how they have learned something before moving onto new topics. This enables them to develop an awareness of their strengths and weaknesses so that they can improve their academic performance over time.

Metacognitive Knowledge

Another important aspect of metacognition relates to its ability to support effective decision making. Metacognitive knowledge enables an individual to identify relevant information and apply it appropriately. For example, if you want to know whether your maths homework was completed correctly, you need to be aware of the fact that you may have made mistakes. You would therefore need to reflect on your previous attempts at solving problems and ask yourself why certain methods worked well while others didn't.

What are examples of metacognitive skills and strategies?

There are many ways in which individuals use metacognitive strategies. Here are a few:

Self monitoring

When students monitor their own progress during class, this provides feedback as to where they stand relative to their classmates. Students who do not perform well will often try harder next lesson. Conversely, those who excel will likely relax knowing that they did enough work for today.

Elaborative questioning

When teaching concepts such as fractions, students might engage in elaborate questioning techniques. They could start by dividing up into groups and then discussing what each group has learnt. The teacher could also encourage students to write down key points from lectures and share these with other members of the class. By doing this, students learn to evaluate their understanding of the topic and make connections between different aspects of the subject matter.

Critical Evaluation

Students should always assess their own abilities when attempting tasks. If they feel confident about their answers, they should give credit to their efforts. However, if they don’t understand the question, they should seek help from tutors or fellow students. In either case, critical evaluation is essential for developing self-awareness.

Teaching strategies that develop metacognition in students

Developing metacognitive skills includes encouraging learners to take responsibility for their own learning and providing opportunities for reflection. These approaches allow teachers to provide more targeted instruction and ensure that all pupils achieve high standards. The following resources explore some of the most common types of metacognitive strategy used by students:

Can you teach metacognition? Yes! It's possible to incorporate metacognitive thinking into lessons without having to spend hours planning activities. Instead, simply focus on helping students become better thinkers through small changes to existing practices. Some suggestions include:

  • Providing regular written reflections
  • Encouraging students to think critically about their own learning
  • Giving students control over their study materials
  • Making sure that students get sufficient sleep
  • Developing a positive attitude towards studying
  • Incorporating peer assessment

How does metacognition enhance the learning process?

Metacognition helps us to be aware of our strengths and weaknesses so we can improve ourselves. This means that it allows us to recognise how much effort we put into something and whether we have achieved success. For example, if someone asks me “how was your day?” I know exactly what she wants to hear – an answer like ‘it was great thanks’. But if I say “I had a really busy morning but my afternoon went smoothly”, I am giving her information which may prove useful later on. Metacognition enables us to reflect upon our performance and plan accordingly.

What are the benefits of using metacognition?

The main benefit of incorporating metacognition into education is that it encourages people to look at themselves objectively. Students who use metacognitive techniques tend to perform well because they realise that there will inevitably be times when they do not meet expectations. They therefore try harder next time around.

The ability to identify areas where improvement is needed makes individuals more likely to succeed. When students work hard to overcome challenges, they gain confidence and motivation. As a result, they often find that they enjoy schoolwork even more than before. Metacognition develops independent learners who are able to make decisions based on personal experience rather than relying solely on external sources of knowledge.

Why might teaching methods fail to encourage metacognition? Many schools still rely heavily on rote memorisation as opposed to active engagement with material. Teachers need to consider ways of making this approach less effective. One way would be to introduce new concepts gradually instead of cramming everything into one lesson. By making thinking processes more visible in class, teachers could help students develop strategies for overcoming difficulties. Another option would be to provide opportunities for students to discuss topics outside of formal classes. These discussions should take place within a safe environment where everyone feels comfortable expressing opinions. Having an awareness of your cognitive abilities also gives you the opportunity to challenge yourself by trying out different approaches to problems. These cognitive processes are all indexed in the Universal Thinking Framework, you can read more about it here. Having learning strategies such as these available to you will enable you to become a better learner.

Unpicking a learning situation using a metacognitive approach

A component of metacognition is having an awareness of what cognitive processes you have available. Having names for these different learning words provides us with a rich repertoire for moving our thinking forward. Whether you are in a primary school or secondary school having the vocabulary of learning at your disposal is a step forward in the development of metacognition. We have seen many of our member schools make the thinking processes of their children visible using the Framework's learning actions. Having a set of colour-coded indexed cognitive processes available means that classrooms can design instructional processes for any learning situation. Once children have an awareness of these cognitive processes they can then begin to choose which ones are appropriate for any given academic task. Using the framework in this way automatically kick starts a metacognitive approach as the learner has to think carefully about what the task entails. This type of metacognitive experience enables a student to think carefully about the cognitive task in hand. In time, this type of metacognitive regulation will have a positive impact on academic achievement. Learning is not a singular mental process. It is made up of a variety of cognitive actions that can be carefully woven together to create rigorous metacognitive thinking. 

Using metacognition to reach learning objectives

And then object tips can be thought of as the final destination for any given learning experience. The Universal Thinking Framework can be thought of as the guidance for reaching those learning objectives. Depending on the learning context, teachers and students can choose the actions from the taxonomy to create a well constructed and manageable learning path towards the objectives. These learning path's can be seen as academic steppingstones to deep learning. When a child says 'I can't do it' what they are often saying is they don't know how to move forward. These learning pathways create routes forward for both primary school and secondary school children.