Metacognition: what it is and why it matters.

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Metacognition is not new and is simply thinking about thinking.

‘Metacognition means “thinking about one’s
own thinking”. There are two aspects of metacognition: –
reflection- thinking about what we know and self-regulation managing how we go about learning.

Taking together, these
processes make up an important aspect of learning and
development. Developing these metacognitive abilities is not
simply about becoming reflective learners, but about
acquiring specific learning strategies as well. Metacognitive
beliefs, metacognitive awareness, metacognitive experiences,
metacognitive knowledge, metacognitive skills, executive
skills, higher-order skills, metacomponents, metamemory
are some of the terms that we are often using in association
with metacognition. Metacognitive awareness means being
aware of how you think.’

All quotes in bold from –

A Study on the Metacognitive Awareness of Secondary
School Students (2016), see link below:

Metacognition enables learners to be independent and to develop self-efficacy. It allows them to generalise across their learning profile, developing successful study skills and attitudes.

It is a 2 way process with the teacher developing their own metacognition: reflecting on what they have done, what has worked, what could go better…and the student doing the same.

It is especially important for struggling learners and it is a process of making thought processes visible.

How can we do this?

One of the ways to do this is through ‘metalanguage’, giving the student the language to express how they did something and how they might do it differently in future.

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Simple questions to stimulate this might be:

How did you know that?

What did you use to help you when...?

What did you do differently when…?

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The trick is to catch them being successful, making the process visible, so that they acknowledge what they have done and can apply it in future. Struggling learners almost give up on themselves as learners, disappointed in their memory and persistent failure.

Metacognition allows people to take charge of
their own learning. sometimes people use the phrase ‘going
meta’ when talking about metacognition, referring to the

process of stepping back to see what you are doing, as if you
were someone else observing it. “Going meta” means
becoming an audience of your own performance- in this case,
your own intellectual performance.
“Metacognition was originally referred to as the
knowledge about and regulation of one’s own cognitive
activities in learning processes” (Flavell, 1979; Brown,
“Metacognition involves awareness of how they learn, an
evaluation of their learning needs, generating strategies to
meet these needs and then implementing the strategies”
(Hacker, 2009).

Give the student space to talk through their processes. Due to low working memory, students may experience overload and forget what they were doing/thinking. Thinking aloud supports low auditory memory. You will know this yourself if you are someone who spells aloud or repeats phone numbers aloud when writing them down.

I assessed a spectacular young man recently who gave me a running commentary on his thinking throughout. It was so revealing… and yet in the classroom probably very rare for him to be able to talk through what he was thinking (and doing).

Metacognition is most commonly divided into two distinct,
but interrelated areas. John flavell, one of the first

researchers in metacognition and memory, defined these two
areas as metacognitive knowledge- awareness of one’s
thinking- and metacognitive regulation- the ability to
manage one’s own thinking processes. These two
components are used together to inform learning theory.
Flavell describes three kinds of metacognitive

 Awareness of knowledge- it involves understanding
what one knows, what one does not know, and what one
wants to know. This category may also include an
awareness of other’s knowledge.

 Awareness of thinking- understanding cognitive tasks
and the nature of what is required to complete them.

 Awareness of thinking strategies- understanding
approaches to direct learning.

Fostering metacognition in the classroom allows students to be active learners, self-monitoring: Have I understood? In order to facilitate this, there needs to be a move away from celebrating only correct answers and celebrating the processes. Often, if students are given space to reason aloud, you may find they are very CLOSE to the answer.

Give students time. A recurring difficulty for students with dyslexia is confusing a comma and an apostrophe. Difficulties here are linked to rapid naming – trying to name objects at speed. Allowing thinking time will mean that they can carefully select the correct response and analyse their choices: I know these look the same but they are used for different things, one goes in the air, one on the line…

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Saying ‘no’ to a response shuts thinking down. Instead, draw the student out and encourage them to share their thinking.

What to say to an incorrect answer:

Close, but can you tell me more about that

That’s really interesting, what makes you say that?

I’d like to hear more about that

Model metacognition and do your own thinking aloud.

These are some useful metacognitive skills for students:

Knowing your limits – knowing the limits of one’s
own memory for a particular task and creating a means
of external support.

 Self-monitoring – self-monitoring one’s learning
strategy, such as concept mapping, and then adapting
the strategy if it is not effective.

 Modify – noticing whether one comprehended something
one just read and then modifying approach if one did
not comprehend it.

 Skimming – choosing to skim subheadings of
unimportant information to get to the information one

 Rehearsing – repeatedly rehearsing a skill in order to

gain proficiency.

 Self-test – periodically doing self-tests to see how well
you learned something.

Classrooms that foster recognition are inclusive, calm, nonjudgemental environments where every student can shine.

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