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How we help students develop Metacognition: Learning how to learn

How we help students develop Metacognition: Learning how to learn

3 min read
  • Metacognition

You may have heard a lot about Metacognition in education in recent years, but how confident are you that you know what it is? And even then, how do you actually go about helping students develop metacognition?

There are many strategies you can employ to cultivate Metacognition in your classroom. Our work with thousands of students over the years has helped inform our Metacognition student workshops on this very question. In this blog, we will cover:

  • What is Metacognition?
  • Why is Metacognition important in education?
  • 3 strategies to develop Metacognition in your classroom

What is Metacognition?

Metacognition refers to “thinking about thinking”, or the ability to analyse, choose and reflect on one’s thought processes. However, this phrase is quite vague; and broad; and maybe not the most practical.

Dig a bit deeper and it encompasses the awareness of our knowledge, strengths and weaknesses, understanding how to set goals, how to monitor progress and make adjustments as needed. By developing metacognitive skills, students become active participants in their own learning journey, gain confidence and become more capable of independent learning.

Why is Metacognition important for students?

Research suggests that students who possess strong metacognitive skills not only excel academically, but also exhibit greater persistence when faced with challenges. This means that they are better equipped to overcome obstacles with resilience.

Metacognitive strategies can specifically help students in two key areas:

1. Self-regulation

Metacognition empowers students to regulate their own learning, behaviour and problem-solving processes. When they actively engage in metacognitive activities such as setting goals, monitoring their progress and adapting their strategies accordingly, students develop a sense of agency and control over their learning outcomes.

2. Self-awareness

Metacognition also contributes to the development of self-awareness in students, which involves understanding themself, including their strengths, weaknesses, emotions and motivators. By reflecting on their thinking processes, students gain insights into their own cognitive abilities and limitations, leading to enhanced self-awareness.

Help your students optimise their memory, develop their metacognitive skills, and tackle challenges more effectively.

3 ways we teach Metacognition in the classroom

1. Making a guess about what you do and don’t know

In the research, this is known as a “judgement of learning”, or metacognitive judgement. Writing these down help students recognise what they do and don’t know. This is why we often encourage students to maintain a reflective journal or diary where they can document their learning experiences, thoughts and emotions. This strategy also helps them set goals and having a clearer idea of what they want to accomplish.

2. Developing students’ relationship with feedback

Receiving feedback allows students to become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to reflect on their learning strategies and make adjustments. Feedback can provide students with information about their progress, making it easier for them to track their academic performance.

Out of the 10 ways to give better feedback we recommend, some of the most impactful ones include:

  • Focusing on effort, not ability
  • Being specific
  • Avoiding lavish praise
  • Providing clear action steps

We also have lots of tips to help students react better to feedback. After all, feedback only has an impact if it is actioned. Some of these tips include:

  • Teach your students that feedback is not a judgment about them as a person
  • Help them focus on what they have learnt
  • Teach students how to check for their own understanding
  • Help them distinguish between the message and the messenger

3. Prompting with good questions

Answering questions enables students to articulate their thoughts and ideas, helping them clarify their understanding and uncover misconceptions. You can help prompt questions before, during and after a task to encourage students to critically analyse their thought processes and reflect on their performance. Here are nine great metacognitive questions to get started:

  • Before a task: Is this similar to a previous task? What do I want to achieve? What should I do first?
  • During a 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?

Final thoughts

Metacognition is an essential part of academic success. Cultivating a metacognitive classroom can equip your students with a powerful tool to improve their learning. The evidence is certainly encouraging: students with strong metacognitive skills become more attuned to their own learning needs, nurturing their self-awareness and reflection.

A great way to get the ball rolling? Book our Memory and Metacognition student workshops.


About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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