Metacognition is a phrase that is being talked about in more and more in staff rooms. But many people are still unclear on exactly what it is, how strong the science behind it is and what are the best ways to help students develop metacognitive skills.
What is Metacognition?
Metacognition is the ability to critically analyse how you think, or, in simple terms, having self-awareness and control of your thoughts. It is best described as developing appropriate and helpful thinking strategies at each stage of a task.
What Does the Evidence Say?
Metacognitive techniques are skills that can be taught to students. Metacognition often gets discussed alongside self-regulation techniques (which is the ability to control your thoughts and behaviours). These techniques have been found to help students improve their learning, thus leading to better scores in reading comprehension and science tests.
A comprehensive review on metacognition research by The Sutton Trust can be found here. As well as being very cost-effective and particularly helpful for disadvantaged students, psychologists have suggested that metacognitive skills learnt in one situation can be transferred to new and different tasks. These three things combined potentially explain why more and more schools are focusing on developing these skills and techniques.
How To Improve Metacognition
Metacognitive strategies can be divided into three sections. These are: helping students plan; monitoring; and evaluating their learning. This ‘before, during and after’ approach is very similar to the ‘Plan-Do-Review’ mantra which is heavily used in elite sport, including by many members of Team GB at London 2012.
Here are nine simple questions that can help develop metacognitive strategies in each of these three stages:
- Before a Task - Is this similar to a previous task? What do I want to achieve? What should I do first?
- During The Task - Am I on the right track? What can I do differently? Who can I ask for help?
- After a Task - What worked well? What could I have done better? Can I apply this to other situations?
Don’t be put off by the name metacognition. When the science jargon is stripped away, you’re left with developing strategies that help someone become more aware of (thus improving) their thought process. By encouraging students to use some of the above questions, they will be put on the right track towards improving their metacognitive skills.
For more info and research on the subject, check out our page How to Improve Metacognition.