Metacognition is an individual’s ability to identify their current thought process and select helpful strategies to tackle challenges more effectively. It is often divided into three parts – before, during and after a task. Research Suggests that metacognition is one of the most effective and cost efficient ways to help students make gains in their learning.
Research, much of which has been evaluated by the Education Endowment Foundation, suggests that metacognition is one of the most effective and cost efficient ways to help students make gains in their learning.
Recent research has revealed that those with strong metacognitive abilities have more grey matter in the part of the brain known as the anterior prefrontal cortex. Interestingly, the anterior prefrontal cortex, which plays a critical role in metacognitive abilities, is one the few parts of the brain where we as humans show differences to our closest relatives, the great apes; therefore, it seems as though this ability to introspect may be unique to us.
Researchers still remain unsure as to whether the prefrontal cortex developed as individuals become better at introspection, or whether individuals who are better at introspection have greater development in this area in the first place. However, this does not mean that those with a lower functioning prefrontal cortex cannot demonstrate metacognitive abilities, as through practising the strategies highlighted below, everyone can improve.
Developing metacognitive skills encourages independent learning, resilience and grit in children. This is because it helps students identify what does and doesn’t work as well as helping them deduce what they would do differently next time if they experience a setback, failure, or make a mistake.
Put simply, planning happens before a task, monitoring takes place during it, and reviewing occurs afterwards.
Most people understand that preparation is key, but whether they know how to best prepare is another matter. Good preparation involves:
Through carrying this out, individuals are able to allocate their effort more efficiently.
Students need to assess how they are progressing on a task, to ensure they are on the right path. This self-monitoring is made easier if they spend time on the planning stage and know exactly what they want to be working towards.
After completing a task, students should spend time reflecting on what went well and what they would do differently next time. This ensures that they are learning as much as possible from the experience and as such, are developing and improving.
Setting and reviewing goals is one of the most significant ways that a student can make and monitor progress. This can be done by setting both short- and long-term goals, ensuring that they are both challenging and realistic, as well as placing a strong emphasis on skill development as well as on outcome.
Feedback can be one of the best ways to help someone improve their learning, yet research suggests that 38% of feedback interventions actually do more harm than good. Making feedback an integral part of the learning process is a key way to encourage metacognition in the classroom. Teachers should create an environment in where students appreciate that feedback from the task at hand is not a judgement on who they are as a person.
As giving and receiving feedback is so important, we have written a lot of blogs on the subject. This one is probably the best place to start.
So what are the best questions to ask yourself? Here are our top 5:
1. What do I need to do first?
2. Why is this true?
3. How can I get better?
4. Who can I ask for help?
5. Where do I do my best work?
Evidence suggests that keeping a diary helps improve a range of factors which include, but are not limited to, self-awareness, ability to manage nerves, mental well-being and metacognition. Diary keeping helps people in all walks of life and it’s a really easy way to improve your well-being. Just as Benjamin Franklin did, by writing down your targets, reflecting on how well they went or consciously trying to improve them for the next day, you give yourself the best chance of success.
For example, metacognition can be used to solve a maths problem (although this process is not unique to helping with maths):
- Planning: The student thinks about similar maths problems they have solved before and the strategy they used.
- Monitoring: The student then assesses the progress they are making in solving the problem and asks questions of their teacher if they need help.
- Reviewing: The student considers whether this was the best approach or strategy to solve that particular problem.