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 the task.
Often, metacognitive strategies can be divided into 3 stages: planning, monitoring and reviewing. For more information on good questions to ask at each of these stages, see our previous blog, 9 simple questions to improve metacognition.
Metacognitive Strategies - What Does the Evidence Say?
The Sutton Trust reports that metacognitive and self-regulation strategies help pupils make an average of 8 months additional progress. As well as being very cost-effective, the evidence indicates that teaching these strategies can be particularly effective for low-achieving pupils, as well as for older pupils.
Metacognitive and self-regulatory strategies have been positively associated with academic performance, helping students improve their learning, leading to better marks in reading comprehension, science tests and maths. In that latter study, the impact of these type of strategies were more pronounced when they were taught by the researcher, not the teacher. More research is needed to know why an external facilitator may have more impact. One possible reason could be due to them having an increased knowledge of the topic.
METACOGNITIVE STRATEGIES - Not in Isolation
Metacognitive strategies are not often taught in isolation. It is interesting to note that the Sutton Trust group them together with self-regulation strategies. This makes sense as often psychological disciplines interlink and can have multiple benefits. Below, we consider three other areas that can be developed alongside metacognition:
Growth Mindset – Alex Quigley writes some brilliant blogs, some of which are on how his school helps students develop a growth mindset. In this post, he suggests that metacognition might be a key strategy for his students to master with their growth mindset. He talks about the importance of helping students plan, monitor and evaluate themselves, as well as the importance of being subject specific.
We recommend that a good starting point would be having students ask themselves questions after a task, such as, ‘what could I do better?’ or ‘what would I do differently next time?’. Even better would be having these discussions with their subject teacher, who can ensure that they are guided in the right direction. This sort of strategy should help them develop both their mindset and their metacognitive skills.
Goal Setting – A key component to metacognition is the planning stage before a task. One such metacognitive question, ‘what do I want to achieve?’ fits well with the research on the importance of goal setting. Setting goals, if done correctly, can help improve performance by focusing attention, enhancing effort and increasing persistence.
The key caveat is that these benefits are only felt if goal setting is done correctly. For an insightful commentary into the potential limitations of goal setting, we recommend reading this brilliantly titled blog by James Theobald, on ‘How to eat 50 hotdogs in 12 minutes’.
Monitor and Evaluate – As mentioned at the start of this blog, the Sutton Trust toolkit combines metacognition and self-regulation (which is the ability to control your thoughts and behaviours). Whereas self-regulation strategies may be applicable during the task, evaluations and reviews are done afterwards.
Many self-regulation strategies exists, including how you talk to yourself, or pausing to collect your thoughts after some deep breaths. Evaluation strategies allow you to objectively look back and reflect on a task. This is best done when it is fresh in your mind but not clouded by any emotional bias. When working with our athletes, we recommend doing this process 24 hours after an event.
Final Thoughts on METACOGNITIVE STRATEGIES
Metacognition – Don’t be put off by the name. It is simply having an awareness, understanding and control of your thought process. The evidence is certainly encouraging; it appears to be a strategy that is cost-effective and can help students improve in reading, science and maths. As with any psychological construct, it is often not taught in isolation. The spillover from teaching metacognitive strategies can help students develop their growth mindset, goal setting skills and self-regulation.
For more info and research on the subject, check out our page How to Improve Metacognition.