Identified over and over again as one of the most effective ways to boost student learning, metacognition can be defined as “thinking about thinking”. Specifically, it is a person’s ability to reflect and critically analyse the way that they think so they can monitor, reflect on and analyse their performance. Students with high metacognition have high self-awareness, control over their thoughts and regularly choose the most appropriate and helpful strategies to complete a task.
So, how can you encourage metacognition in the classroom? Meet metacognitive strategies, which can be divided into three stages: planning, doing and reviewing. In the first of this three-part blog series, we will be unpacking what metacognitive strategies students can engage in during the “planning” stage of a task...
Unpack the task
When starting a new task, many students don’t know what to do or the direction they want to go in. This overthinking can result in students getting stressed and consequently procrastinating because they’re overwhelmed. Therefore, when completing a task or trying to solve a problem, it’s important that students break down what the question is asking them to do before doing anything. If students cannot unpack the question and immediately rush into answering it, they’re likely going to make mistakes.
If students are feeling stuck on a task, ask them to consider whether it relates to anything they’ve previously done before. Whether it’s if they’ve answered a question with the same command term before or a different question on the same topic, it’s important that students make these associations. Not only will it boost their self-confidence if they know they’ve done something like the task before, but it will also help students make connections in their learning and consequently enhance their memory recall. By taking this important step back to unpack the question, students are in a better position to complete the task.
Engage in self-questioning
During the planning phase of a task, an important metacognitive strategy that students can engage in is self-questioning. If students know how to talk to themselves constructively and helpfully, they’ll perform better academically.
In fact, one study found that participants who asked themselves questions such as “will I do well?” before a task performed significantly better on a challenging anagrams task than those participants who had made declarations such as “I will do well”. Therefore, before completing a task, students should be asking themselves good questions. Some examples of these are:
- “Is this similar to a previous task?”
- “Why is this true?”
- “What should I do first?”
- “What do I need to do first?”
- “What do I want to achieve first?"
Before completing a task, it’s important that students do goal setting right and set both long-term and short-term goals. When done correctly, not only can goal setting improve intrinsic motivation and focus attention, but it can also improve performance by increasing students’ persistence and effort.
Setting long-term goals gives students something to strive towards and can help them overcome any minor setbacks that inevitably happen during the Doing phase of a task. Students should set goals that are challenging, as this will encourage them to apply more effort, but also realistically achievable.
However, goal setting isn’t just about the final destination - it’s about the journey as well. During the planning stage, students should also set themselves short-term goals as they serve two main purposes:
- They keep you on track - By breaking a task up into smaller, more easily attainable chunks, students will be able to keep track of their progress during the Doing phase which can help boost motivation.
- They make you more productive - Students are less like to procrastinate if they only have to focus on one small task at a time. By seeing how their small efforts are contributing to their long-term goal, students will develop a better sense of purpose.
Don’t fall victim to the Planning Fallacy
A common issue among students is poor time management: they often miscalculate how long a task will take to complete. Many students believe a task will take them less time than it actually will, which results in them putting off the assignment until the last minute. This difficulty in predicting how long a task will take is a phenomenon called the Planning Fallacy, which many students fall victim to.
One research study found that over 70% of students took longer to finish their assignment than they had originally predicted, with the average time taken being over 55 days compared to an average prediction of 34 days.
But why are students so bad with time management? Research shows that because of their age, to teenagers, time seems to move more slowly than it does for adults. To a 16-year-old, a year is 6.25% of their life, whilst the same time frame represents 2.5% to a 40-year-old. Consequently, students believe they have more time to complete a task than they actually do. So, when it comes to the planning stage of a task, make sure that students give themselves more time to complete the task than they think so they don’t become stressed about completing the task on time. Usually, a 15-20% time buffer is a safe bet.
Want to find out more about the next stages of the metacognitive process?
- Read part 2 of this series, all about the Doing part of the metacognitive process
- Read part 3 of this series, all about the Reviewing part of the metacognitive process
For more information on metacognition, check out our complete guide on how to improve metacognition in the classroom.