‘A metacognitive learner is one who has knowledge and control over cognitive skills and processes. They understand how learning happens, and they are able to actively and independently apply this understanding to help them learn in the most effective way, and to sustain that learning into the future.’ (The Metacognition Handbook, Jennifer Webb, 2021)
Metacognition is not new and is often described in simplest terms as ‘thinking about your own thinking’. The root ‘meta’ means ‘beyond’, so the term refers to ‘beyond thinking’. Specifically, this means that it encompasses the processes of planning, tracking, and assessing your own understanding or performance.
The phrase was termed by American developmental psychologist John H. Flavell in 1979. Metacognition primarily consists of metacognitive knowledge (a declarative component) and regulation (a procedural component). Metacognitive knowledge refers to the knowledge about cognitive tasks, strategies and knowledge learners possess about themselves and people (Flavell, 1979). Flavell also identified what he believed to be two elements of metacognition: knowledge of cognition and regulation of cognition (Flavell, 1985).
Metacognition is so much more than thinking about thinking; it also encompasses motivation, memory, regulation, emotional intelligence and cognition.
In their Guidance report: Metacognition and self-regulated learning, the EEF make seven recommendations:
- Teachers should acquire the professional understanding and skills to develop their pupils’ metacognitive knowledge.
- Explicitly teach pupils metacognitive strategies, including how to plan, monitor, and evaluate their learning.
- Model your own thinking to help pupils develop their metacognitive and cognitive skills.
- Set an appropriate level of challenge to develop pupils’ self-regulation and metacognition.
- Promote and develop metacognitive talk in the classroom.
- Explicitly teach pupils how to organise, and effectively manage, their learning independently.
- Schools should support teachers to develop their knowledge of these approaches and expect them to be applied appropriately.
Perkins (1992) identified four levels of metacognitive learners:
Tacit learners: unaware of metacognitive knowledge and do not think about any particular strategies for learning.
Aware learners: know about some kinds of thinking that they do, e.g., generating ideas, finding evidence. However, thinking is not necessarily deliberate or planned.
Strategic learners: organise thinking using problem-solving, grouping and classifying, evidence-seeking and decision-making. They know and apply the strategies that help them learn.
Reflective learners: also reflect upon learning while it is happening, considering the success (or not) of any strategies they are using and then revising them as appropriate.
Consider the following questions:
- How much do I know about metacognition and self-regulation, and how can I develop my own knowledge and understanding?
- What do my pupils understand about metacognition? Do they understand how they learn?
- Which metacognitive strategies do you teach? Do you support pupils to plan, monitor and evaluate their learning?
- How can I explicitly teach my pupils metacognitive strategies?
- How often do I verbalise my own thinking as I work through tasks to model metacognitive thought processes?
- How often do I use scaffolded tasks, such as worked examples to support pupils to develop their metacognitive skills?
- Do I use dialogue in the classroom to develop metacognitive skills?
- Who are the highly metacognitive learners in the classroom? Which learners need support to develop their metacognitive skills?
‘The word metacognition contains the word cognition within it. The strategies of metacognition become stronger when they are taught through subject knowledge. Metacognitive strategies require an anchor to become effectively grounded, as it is the basis of cognitive acceleration. It is virtually impossible to understand how you can learn something without having something to learn. For example, without having the subject knowledge about how a water cycle works, you cannot possibly describe all the factors which can lead to flooding.’ (Think! Metacognition-powered primary teaching, Anoara Mughal, 2021).
This blog was written by Bretta Townend-Jowitt, Education Consultant and Trainer.
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