Metacognition is quickly becoming one of the most popular terms in education. This is because evidence suggests that metacognitive strategies are some of the most cost-effective ways of improving student performance. This raises three important questions: what actually is metacognition? How can it be developed? And does it take long to improve it?
What Is Metacognition?
Metacognition is the ability to critically analyse and monitor the way we think. For students, this means evaluating their performance so that they can decipher what caused their successes and failures.
How To Improve Metacognition
One fascinating recent study explored if metacognition can be improved, in an average time of just two weeks. To find out, participants completed a series of memory and perception tasks and were given one of two types of feedback. The first group received feedback based on whether they got the answer right or wrong and how accurate their confidence rating was (this was the metacognitive training group), whereas the other group simply received feedback based on whether they got the answer right or wrong.
The researchers found that metacognitive training enhanced people’s ability to critically analyse and monitor the way they think. This improvement was seen in both the perception and memory tasks, demonstrating that feedback does not have to be specific to the task being completed. In addition to this, metacognitive training had more of an impact for those with a lower baseline metacognition.
What Can Teachers Do?
The research shows that, to improve metacognition, teachers should try and encourage students to monitor and reflect on their performance. This should allow students to identify what went well and how they can improve, facilitating better academic performance in future tasks. Once students have recognised what they can improve on, teachers should encourage students to set goals to motivate them, and focus on those improvements.
Teachers should also be aware that improving metacognitive skills can be particularly beneficial for struggling students. This is because it is unlikely that such students have naturally developed their metacognitive abilities. Therefore, they have a larger potential for development and improvement, which can subsequently lead to higher academic performance.
What Are The Benefits Of Improving Metacognition?
Improves performance – having strong metacognitive skills allows students to recognise when they are making suboptimal choices. This identification then encourages students to change their mind to make choices that facilitate a higher level of learning and performance.
Improves interactions with others – metacognitive skills allow students to better communicate their point and debate topics they are learning about, which in turn enhances classroom discussion and decision making.
Application to different settings – improvements in metacognitive abilities gives students tools that can be used to improve performance and decision-making not only within the classroom, but outside of it as well.
Whilst the research does give evidence that improvements in student metacognition can be achieved through the use of metacognitive feedback, further research does need to be conducted to identify just how widespread the benefits could be. However, what is clear is that improvements in metacognition are possible in just 2 weeks. And, whilst the enhancements are so quick, the benefits may last a lifetime.