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What is metacognition?

Updated: Dec 11, 2019


What is metacognition? It has to do with thinking about one’s own thinking. It involves understanding and appreciating the factors that make the learning process possible. People who use metacognition know how to use strategies and recognize when learning has taken or is taking place.

As our students are learning, we coach their processing of the information by providing thinking time, using exercises, and metacognition. As we lead our students’ thinking, we need to provide thinking time – a break in the instruction. Providing a break gives students an opportunity to think about how and why they engage in this process.

How can you facilitate metacognition with your students?

Think of three questions that a student could have during this session?

  1. Why are you learning this?

  2. Why is this important to know?

  3. How will you remember this?

If your grandmother was sitting in this class, what questions would she have?

There are many exercises that we can use to help students develop their metacognition while learning a new subject. One very simple exercise is a variant of the often-used Think-Pair-Share: Ask students to write for two minutes about their thinking on this new subject. You may need to provide a more specific prompt until your students become adept at metacognitive thinking. Ask students to share their “thinking thoughts” with a partner. When the class reconvenes as a large group, ask students to share their paired conversations. End the discussion with: “What insights do you have as a result of thinking about your thinking?”

Another metacognitive strategy is called Knowledge Ratings. Knowledge Ratings are quite effective because they evoke a sort of metacognitive dissonance – creating a lack of harmony in one’s mind. Students will work to restore continuity or harmony in their thoughts. The strategy asks students to assess and evaluate what they know and what they do not know. Students often unconsciously spend mental energy resolving their dissonance by attempting to reach a higher knowledge rating.

Meta-cognitive skills work best when they are over-learned and operate unconsciously. We can develop meta-cognitive thinking skills in our students, helping them to fill in the gaps in their information. We can develop meta-cognitive thinking in our students and help them solve their own “four-hundred children” mysteries.


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