Boosting learning through metacognition

What is metacognition?

Metacognition is defined as thinking about thinking. It describes the processes involved when learners plan, monitor, evaluate and make changes to their learning behaviour.

Significance of metacognition in education

The art of reflection is important in teaching and learning. Teachers must be able to identify personal strengths and weaknesses in their teaching practice. The same skills are to be developed in students by modelling it for them and then by supporting them so that they build their metacognitive practices.

Students often avoid answering or accepting that the answer given was incorrect. They do not push themselves to understand why or how to improve.

For every student to be successful in the future, they should be provided with opportunities to develop skills that are useful to them beyond school when they become adults and face different challenges. The students should be capable of self-assessing their learning needs, identifying areas of strength and weaknesses. They should also be able to use this information to plan their next steps. Though the world of work has been changing continuously, the basic set of skills like setting goals, problem-solving, analyzing and evaluating challenges continue to be the same. These are the same skills that are aligned to the three phases of metacognition: planning, monitoring, evaluating.

Metacognition inside a classroom

In a classroom setting, we often find responses of students plagued by self-doubt and lack of confidence. Questions are generally avoided because of the fear of being wrong. The flipside of avoiding being wrong or extending the conversation, is that it does not help them to understand exactly what is it they don’t know, why they don’t know it, and how to push through to figure it out.

Some strategies to promote metacognition

Building Relationships

Build a supportive environment that promotes two-way communication in the classrooms. Students must feel comfortable answering and making a mistake. The environment should be such that failures are expected and welcomed as part of the learning experience.

Share ideas

Share with the students learning strategies and ways to question their learning process, help them figure out how they learn best, encourage them to try different strategies. They should be encouraged to think of what worked for them and what failed.

SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely) Goals

Set smart goals. Use weekly exit slips, video responses, reflection tools like Google Forms, Kidblog, etc.

Thinking aloud

One to one communication with the student should be practised by asking students to share what they know.

Visible thinking

Create a scope for students to make their thinking visible by using a set of questions and having students fill in their thoughts, or ask students to jot down ideas and make connections to their learning, or think-pair-share, etc. These will help students interact with peers and also build on prior knowledge.

Clear learning goals is the key to effective use of metacognitive strategies or self-regulated learning.

Some strategies that students can apply across a variety of different subjects.

It is used to remember information that might otherwise be difficult to recall.

Mnemonics do not support the development of higher-order thinking skills, but they are useful in helping recall.

Thinking journals

These are a powerful active learning tool that helps students to reflect on how they think, explore, question, connect ideas and continue with their learning.

The journal can be used to record ideas from a lesson, make predictions, record questions, summarize and restate main ideas of a lesson. (Costa, Bellanca and Fogarty 1992)

Reciprocal teaching
This strategy used to develop reading comprehension (Palincsar and Brown 1984). It includes four key strategies: questioning, clarifying, summarizing and predicting. The students can after this take on the role of teacher and teach these strategies to other students.

Metacognitive talk
This involves a person saying out loud what they are thinking while they are carrying out a task. The teacher must model metacognitive talk by working through a task out loud. When teachers do this, it helps children to understand how more proficient thinkers solve problems.

Exam wrappers
These are worksheets that contain reflective questions that help learners to review their performance in a test.

Before taking the test or receiving feedback if given, they help the students to reflect on how they prepared for the exam and the study strategies they used.

If given after receiving the feedback, the student can review the feedback to categorize any errors made and discuss how they will prepare for the next assessment.

For metacognition strategies to work it is important to create opportunities to work collaboratively with their peers, encourage reflection and evaluate progress.

An activity that encourages metacognition in the classroom.

KWL chart

KWL stands for: What do I know? What do I want to know? What did I learn?

Follow these steps to use it.

Share with the class explicit learning objective.
Ask the students to answer the question ‘What do I know? ’Students can also share their ideas using the think-pair-share strategy.
Now ask them to answer to the second question: ‘What do I want to know?’ The teacher with this knows what the students already know and what they are interested in knowing. This helps plan future learning activities.
During the lesson prompt them to ask questions such as: ‘How am I doing?’, ‘What should I do next?’, ‘Should I try a different strategy?’
At the end of the lesson ask them to answer ‘What did I learn?’
After the completion, ask them to reflect on the answer they wrote to the question What do I want to know?. Note down the questions that were unanswered and plan future activities based on that.
One important step for metacognition to work successfully is to classify your students into the four levels of metacognitive learners as identified by David Perkins (1992) :

Tacit, aware, strategic and reflective are the four types of learners. All strategies to be worked upon keeping in mind the end goal which is to empower students to drive their learning and foster a growth mindset in learning.

As teachers always share their own experiences both the struggles and successes. The key is to show our true selves to our students. Make sure to emphasize that what they are today does not define them for the future. All weakness in learning is just starting points for any journey of learning.

“Let’s make an attempt to teach students how to think and not what to think.”

References and citations
Cambridge assessment international education: professional development


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