How Metacognition Helps Students

What is Metacognition?

We engage in metacognitive activities every day, yet it rarely comes up in day-to-day conversation. So what is it?

According to researcher and professor from the University at Buffalo, Jennifer A. Livingston, metacognition is higher-order thinking which involves control over the cognitive process of learning. In other words: Thinking about thinking (Livingston, 2003).

Metacognition is vital in learning. Metacognition is “rooted in rigorous self-analysis of the learning process by students, with the view to ensure that learning is deep, constructive and outcome-focused” (Yussuff, 2015). The introspective practice allows students to assess their strengths and weaknesses and adjust their practices to achieve improved outcomes (Pantiwati, 2017). 

Metacognition is one of the most dynamically and extensively researched cognitive practices in developmental, instructional, and educational psychology (Mahdavi, 2014). That being said, it can still be challenging to imagine how metacognition fits into a course, particularly ones based on a more traditional model of learning. 

Bloom’s taxonomy is an effective place to start imagining how metacognition fits into the larger teaching framework of a course.

Bloom’s revised taxonomy enhances meta-cognitive thinking skills

Bloom’s taxonomy is a hierarchical framework used to describe the cognitive processes by which thinkers encounter and work with knowledge (Anderson et al., 2001). Created as an assessment aid to help classify educational goals, Bloom’s has become a foundational pedagogical model used for curriculum design, learning objectives and classroom activities. 

Bloom’s six orders of learning position critical and evaluative thinking at the summit of learning. This ‘cognitive process dimension’ represents the progressive continuum of complex cognitive development (Anderson et al., 2001). Using Bloom’s taxonomy, instructors can effectively implement meta-cognitive practices into their classroom. For example, by having students evaluate and analyze their work and the work of their peers, they are revisiting their thought process, which takes their learning deeper as they engage with course content.

Using Meta-Cognitive Activities in a Classroom Setting

Implementing metacognition into the classroom begins with a tailored instructional design. Students need guidance when recognizing, assessing and connecting their new skills to those previously developed (Chick, 2013). Creating an instructional plan with a knowledge construction and introspective approach is key to successfully introducing meta-cognitive learning in your classroom (Chick, 2013). Metacognition plays an important role in varying areas of learning, including: 

  • oral communication of information and persuasion
  • oral comprehension 
  • reading comprehension
  • writing
  • language acquisition 
  • attention 
  • memory 
  • problem-solving
  • social cognition
  • various types of self-control and self-instruction 

While certain areas incorporate meta-cognitive thinking, the benefits to student learning are dependent on effective implementation. (Mahdavi, 2014). More specifically, professors should approach activities with a purposeful plan imagining how students will consider their thinking and learning. Activities should be adapted to reflect the specific learning contexts of a topic, course, or discipline (Chick, 2013). 

How to introduce metacognition into the classroom 

  1. Create assignments with clear instructions 

Establishing clear expectations for course outcomes and individual assignments allows students to understand what is expected of them, what they already know and where they should focus their attention. The more the students can see themselves taking part in their education process, the stronger the learning experience and the more meta-cognitive thinking will occur.  

  1. Create a classroom culture that welcomes metacognition 

Introspective practices can be challenging. Instructors play an integral role in creating an open environment for students to ask questions and discuss gaps in their knowledge. Classrooms with an open line of communication between students and instructors have benefits that extend beyond the course. In particular, an open and supportive class environment naturally encourages students to reflect on their understanding and ask questions to fill gaps in their knowledge. Additionally, inviting discussions of metacognitive knowledge will keep these practices top of mind for students.

  1. Integrate metacognitive components in activities 

Implementing reflective practices into assessments is a fantastic way for students to engage with the metacognitive process. An activity involving reflection encourages students to think critically about what they are learning and what they already know. 

Kritik is leading the way with competency-based assessments that promote higher-order thinking in higher education

Professors across the United States and Canada are using Kritik to engage students, develop critical thinking and higher-order skills while reducing professor workload. Kritik effectively introduces and facilitates meta-cognitive tasks and activities in the classroom through discussion, group work, and peer assessment. Kritik takes the meta-cognitive process a step further through the feedback on feedback stage of peer assessment. With this, students receive feedback on the evaluation they provide to their peers. This means that they can revisit their thought process and make necessary adjustments to improve their work moving forward. 

To learn more about how Kritik can improve learning outcomes and reduce the grading load, schedule a personalized walkthrough

 Anderson, L. W., Krathwohl, D. R., & Bloom, B. S. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing : a revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives / editors, Lorin W. Anderson, David Krathwohl ; contributors, Peter W. Airasian ... [et al.]. (Complete ed.). Longman.

 Chick, N. (2013). Metacognition. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.

Mahdavi, M. (2014). An overview: Metacognition in education. International Journal of Multidisciplinary and Current Research, May/June 2014 Issue(2), 529-535.  

Pantiwati, Y. (2017). Self and Peer Assessments in Active Learning Model to Increase Metacognitive Awareness and Cognitive Abilities. International Journal of Instruction, 10(4), 185-202. 

Yusuff, K. (2015). Does self-reflection and peer-assessment improve Saudi pharmacy students’ academic performance and metacognitive skills? Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal, 23(3), 266-275. 

Madison Tsoutsoulas
Education Researcher