Metacognition: thinking about thinking

Basic idea:

Metacognition means ‘thinking about thinking’ (sometimes also translated as ‘learning to learn’), and the term is used to cover a range of approaches where students are encouraged to analyse their own learning process. For example, they might be asked to explain their thought processes and how they reached a certain conclusion or evaluate a piece of work or their academic progress. The obvious aim of these strategies is that students develop a greater degree of independence with their learning. They discover what strategies work for them, and they are able to find their own solutions to problems. They should also, presumably, become more self-reliant and resilient as well (see ‘growth mindset’).

When done well, there is good evidence that metacognition is an effective tool in improving student learning. However, successful interventions tend to be very carefully planned and thought out in terms of when and how students self-monitor, and when they don’t.

Suggestions for practice:

  • Allow the opportunity for students to discuss learning strategies for particular topics.
  • ‘Scaffolding’ in which specific strategies are taught, but with this support gradually withdrawn. Students could also have the opportunity to evaluate and adapt these strategies.
  • Give students plenty of opportunity to evaluate their work and to monitor their own progress… though not as replacement for feedback from the teacher!
  • Allow students to set goals and targets, but ensure that these are achievable and that the student actually understands what the target is and how to get there (e.g. “I must show more creativity and insight in my written answers so that I get a level 5” is likely to not be a helpful comment for a student to make, as it does uses buzzwords copied from a mark scheme rather than spelling out specifically how they are to improve).

Further reading:

https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evidence/teaching-learning-toolkit/meta-cognition-and-self-regulation/

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Metacognition: thinking about thinking

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