Metacognition is simply thinking about how one is thinking. Martinez (2006) summarized metacognition as the art of thinking about one’s thinking processes or the monitoring of how one thinks. However, Okoro and Chukwudi (2011) provides a more comprehensive definition of metacognition, being the alignment of what one already knows combined with what one desires to know and the ability to integrate the two through an understanding of how one thinks leading to a compilation of learned thinking behaviors.
Joyce, Weil and Calhoun (2009) provide the framework for implementing metacognition development techniques in the classroom. The development of metacognition was founded on the principles of constructivism, encouraging students to recognize their ability to learn, how they learn and how it is related to the information that they desire to learn. As students expand their knowledge of themselves and their thinking process, they notate the distance between what they already know about the topic and their cognitive processes to the desired knowledge of the topic and the needed cognitive processes to achieve the predetermined command of the information.
Metacognition is essential to the acquisition of knowledge and especially to the daily workings within a classroom. The benefits of using the knowledge of metacognition help students to increase their abilities in problem solving and critical thinking skills (Martinez, 2006). Pritchard (2009) further details the importance of teaching metacognitive skills to students. Since learning is an individual process, students need to understand their learning preferences and how they integrate new knowledge and information into the existing scaffolds within their minds. Educators must recognize the essential nature of the mental activity and processes within each students and help them to recognize these operations.
Educators need to help students develop plans, controls and assessment processes in their learning experiences to continue the greatest cognitive integration between old and knew knowledge. By implementing metacognitive strategies within the classroom, educators encourage students to develop a self-awareness as learners through the use of four different types of metacognitive skills, namely, prediction, planning, monitoring and assessing (Okoro & Chukwudi, 2011). Each of these skills needs to be demonstrated through the deliberate and careful modeling of metacognitive mentors.
Research in the development of metacognitive skills reinforces the need to make thinking skills transparent through asking questions and summarizing information. As mentors model these thinking skills, students are able to recognize their cognitive development and integrate further strategies into their personal learning repertoire as the knowledge is actively integrated (Sweeney, 2003). Additionally, new knowledge can be fully knitted into existing schemas as learners utilize their five senses as well as acknowledging their beliefs and personal opinions.
Keene and Zimmerman (2007) shares a powerful example of the implementation of recognizing metacognition strategies within a reading comprehension unit by sharing critical thinking skills, inferences, questions and the value of using the five senses. First, during the planning phase of the lesson, the educator examines what should be investigated within the reading. Will the focus be on the people, the characters’ conversations, landscape or the ideas embedded within the text? The teacher then ensures that the development of the metacognitive skills is around something that has cognitive value. Additionally, the instructor plans the direction of the lesson but trusts the student to choose the more obvious points to develop through a reflection period.
By using books which are rich in ideas, texture and emotional strength, students are drawn into the topic and able to make a faster emotional even passionate connection with the text. The instructor guides the students through the comprehension strategies by vocalizing their hidden thought processes. As the instructor voices aloud personal thought processes, the educator shares how their personal experiences integrated into their schema dictates their predictions for the text, indicating there are no right or wrong answer to the prediction process. Students need to know that even when they believe they have a command of a topic, there is still always something new to learn. This point also leads the discussion to the point that many times new facts may contradict existing information or schema located in the student’s mind.
In developing metacognitive skills, it is essential for students to record their thought process and to value time to ponder and reflect on what will be learned, what is being learned, what was learned and the process through each of these events. Brookfield (1995) encourages all educators and learners to keep an accurate learning journal. Through this autobiographical means, the individual will understand their past learning experiences and how they relate to current learning and teaching incidents. By using this tool, students and educators can understand their personal learning style and how it may be manifested in the classroom. As each learning experience is recorded, they should be used to engage in a reflection period to discuss and ponder on what was learned as well as the method. The results of developing a learning journal and reflecting on these experiences lead to enhanced self-esteem, an evaluative competence of self, acquiring learning principles, accepting responsibility, gaining social forms of learning and being prepared for lifelong learning (Arikan, 2011; Dam, 2011).
It is essential for educators to investigate their personal learning experiences to understand themselves not only as learners but as instructors. Osterman & Kottkamp (2004) emphasize the importance for educators to understand their learning experiences to enhance their ability to recognize their reactions to their students. Through this means, patterns can be observed and developed or altered as needed. Additionally, it is advantageous for educators to notate their feelings and emotions in learning experiences which only develops the ability to identify particular practices within their profession. The greatest benefit to the learning journal is the development of sensitivity and responsiveness instructors feel as they make connections with their students as they both succeed and struggle during the learning process.
Murray (2011) identified the reflective practice techniques, as used in a reflection-on-future, with Japanese students who learned English as an independent study course. These students often contemplated their progress before continuing forward in their plans. As their original plan did not correlate with their trajectory, they realigned, altered and even strategized to meet their goals. They created vivid details in their experiences when pondering to internalize their learning process. By using reflection-on-future, they adapted their plans and actions to meet their goals and thereby recognizing their cognitive strengths and weaknesses to master needed knowledge.
Through the reflection process, educators can devise the most needed strategies to develop metacognitive skills such as summarizing text or demonstrating the need for reasoning. Other classroom methods to develop metacognitive skills include cooperative learning within small discussion groups to help students become aware of their subconscious reasoning methods and then focusing students on the identified process to evaluate their effectiveness in critical thinking skills. Okoro and Chukwudi (2011) advises educators to not skim over or neglect lower level critical thinking skills within Bloom’s taxonomy such as rote memory.
Teachers should use multiple methods of instruction which will target the individual learning styles of each student. Even professors need to detour away from the traditional method where instruction was mainly conducted through the regurgitation of facts acquired through lectures and textbooks. There are several methods to move teaching from reception to participation. Among these suggestions are varying the activities, create multiple opportunities for students to interact with each other, use problem solving assignments as the foundation for most activities, have students participate in brainstorming activities and have students reflect on material.
Content needs to be used not to simply cover information but to develop learning skills, self-awareness of learning, metacognition awareness, learning preferences, assessments and strengths -all discovered through active learning experiences. Although this may lead to a loss of information being instructed in classrooms, students will be given the tools necessary to pursue further acquisition of knowledge throughout their lives. Students lack the ability to know themselves and to develop an understanding of their metacognitive processes as well as the necessary strategies to assist in developing their intellectual prowess and performance (Okoro & Chukwudi, 2011).
Although metacognition has been a buzz word in education, instructors have essentially missed the big picture of education, marketing content rather than using content as a means to develop thinking skills and lifelong learning within their students. Only through the implementation of educational strategies to mold the necessary skills to recognize and develop metacognitive abilities does the student experience greater courage and determination to understand the world surrounding them. They will seek out opportunities to contribute as well as to establish themselves as a member of their society (Perry, 1999). However, it is the responsibility of the educator and the educational system to understand how learner centered instruction will mold and empower the individual.
Arikan, A. (2011). Classroom texts and tasks for promoting learner autonomy in teacher education programmes: a postmodern reflection on action. In D. Gardner (Ed.) Fostering autonomy in language learning (pp. 166 -172). Gaziantep: Zirve University.
Brookfield, S. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Francisco: Josey-Bass.
Dam, L. (2011). Developing learner autonomy with school kids: Principles, practices and results. In D. Gardner (Ed.) Fostering autonomy in language learning (pp. 40-51). Gaziantep: Zirve University.
Joyce, B., Weil, M. & Calhoun, E. (2009). Model of teaching. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Keene, E. O. & Zimmerman, S. (2007). Mosaic of thought. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann.
Martinez, M. (2006). What is metacognition. Phi Delta Kappan, 64(10), 696-699.
Murray, G. (2011). Metacognition and imagination in self-access language learning. In D. Gardner (Ed.) Fostering autonomy in language learning (pp. 5-16). Gaziantep: Zirve University.
Okoro, C. & Chukwudi, E. K. (2011). Metacognitive skills: A viable tool for self-directed learning. Journal of Educational and Social Research, 1(4), 71-76.
Osterman, K. & Kottkamp, R. (2004). Reflective practice for educators: Professional development to improve student learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Perry, W. G. (1999). Forms of ethical and intellectual development in the college years. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Pritchard, A. (2009). Ways of learning: Learning theories and learning styles in the classroom (2nd ed.). New York, NY:Routledge.
Sweeney, D. (2003). Learning along the way: Professional development by and for teachers. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse.
By Tracy Harrington-Atkinson
Tracy Harrington-Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the Midwest with her husband. She is a teacher, having taught elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education, a master’s in higher education and continued on to a PhD in curriculum design. She has published several titles, including Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Lemosa: The Annals of the Hidden, Book Two, Rachel’s 8 and Securing Your Tent. She is currently working on a non-fiction text exploring the attributes of self-directed learners: The Five Characteristics of Self-directed Learners.