10 Ways to Improve Metacognition in Students

Jun 28, 2018

Transformative pedagogies, encourage students to be an equal and active participant in their learning. They are not limited to being passive listeners or mere receivers of information, with instructions on how to process the same. Students are expected to consciously understand their learning, the thought processes intertwined with it, while questioning, exploring, and discovering new realms of learning. This thought process that delves into the concept of thinking, is called Metacognition. Termed by the American Psychologist John H. Flavell, in 1979, it’s a combination of two words that best describe its meaning; meta – beyond and cognition – thinking. Going by this conceptualization, simply put, metacognition implies beyond thinking, or thinking about the thinking process.

Components of Metacognition

Metacognition principally involves being aware of one’s current thinking skills, and developing the same to customize the process of learning. The three major components of this process, are:

  1. Metacognitive knowledge - Knowledge and awareness of one’s own cognitive processes.
  2. Metacognitive regulation – Regulation of learning existing cognitive knowledge through regulatory activities and exercises.
  3. Metacognitive experience – Experiences relevant to ongoing attempts at regulation.
Importance of Metacognition in Students

Meta cognition gives direction to a student’s thinking process as a learner, eliminating doubts and confusions in their own skills. They get a better understanding of all that they learn, instead of just hoarding information for examinations. Metacognition in students help them delve deeper into learning, providing better exposure and applications that extend beyond education, into different areas of life. Here are a few more benefits of developing metacognition in students.

  1. Beneficial in problem solving
  2. Strategic approach to learning
  3. Better prioritization skills
  4. Increased confidence in setting and achieving goals
  5. Flexibility in learning
  6. Easy adaptation
  7. Reflexive thinking
  8. Better memory
Ways to Develop Metacognition in Students

The good news about metacognition, is that it can be developed, irrespective of a student’s learning abilities. Here are a few strategies to develop metacognition in students.

  1. Explain metacognition
    When students are clear about what metacognition is, they’ll be encouraged to practice it. It will also eliminate several doubts and lack of confidence they may have when it comes to learning. Teach students that their brains are wired for growth, and that they have the power and ability to change their mindset. Lay out the term and the benefits of practicing it in simple language to help them understand it without intimidating or overwhelming. Being aware of this ability to think about thinking, puts more power in students’ hands, ensuring active participation in the process.
  2. Comprehension
    When dealing with text and content, teach students to look deeper into the meaning of the text, than just reading it. Ask them to spot keywords or summarize content, to judge their understanding levels, and also invoke perspectives. Help them focus, dissect and delve deeper into the subject, and look for several meanings in the same content. Encourage them to ask questions and eliminate any doubts, to get a clear understanding of the content, while exercising their minds to look beyond the surface.
  3. Concept mapping
    Concept mapping tracks the relationships between ideas, images or words. Encourage students to connect their ideas with the bigger picture. Concept mapping pushes students out of rigid zones, into flexible thinking, as they see the long term result of a short term action. It also invokes qualities of questioning and planning in students.
  4. Planning
    Students that plan their learning journey and goals are more likely to have better metacognitive skills, since planning requires them to foresee, weigh the odds, and regulate accordingly. When they have a say on their learning journey, they tend to be more vigilant, confident and self-directed.
  5. Problem solving
    Problem solving is an excellent method to exercise metacognition. Solving a problem requires critical thinking, organizing, reviewing, reasoning and reflecting all possible aspects. It also pushes students beyond their comfort zone and familiarize themselves with the unfamiliar.
  6. Avoid multiple choices
    Multiple choice answers do not challenge a student’s critical thinking. It requires les effort and skills. Instead, ask for in-depth analysis and explanation of answers. Personal opinions rather than text book answers, would push this exercise further, activating more arenas of the mind. Open ended questions will engage them further, stirring the several possible explanations they have in mind.
  7. Recognize metacognitive skills
    When you notice students practicing metacognitive skills in general, recognize the same. Much like any skills that develops when appreciated, students are more likely to explore metacognition and ways to expand their thinking and exercise their minds, when the use of their metacognitive skills is highlighted.
  8. Debates, class discussions, and brain storming
    When students engage in debates and class discussions, or brainstorm ideas, they get to witness several sides of a concept, and also learn more about their own views. To be able to oppose a point or support it, they’ll need to put their thinking caps on, and while they listen to the views and opinions of others, they are challenged to think differently and understand various perspectives.
  9. Encourage students to recognize their moments of doubts
    Encourage students to notice and recognize their moments of doubts, instead of passing it away as just another thought. For example, when they do not know the answer to a question, despite understanding the subject, or when they find certain situations tricky or confusing, ask them to list it out and understand the reason behind it. Make them notice patterns and similarities of their moments of confusion from the past, to help crack the problem. Being mindfully aware of an issue at hand, is the first step to think about the reason behind it and ways to change it.
  10. Practice retrieving
    Devote certain time towards the end of the class, to make students retrieve their learnings for the day. This practice doesn’t just ensure they understand the subject well, it will also polish their memory. Combined with feedback, retrieval has proved to be an effective method to develop metacognition.

When students are made to practice metacognition, they are better equipped and more empowered to think for themselves. Being aware of thinking, and finding ways to develop and enhance thought processes, isn’t just a skill that will benefit them as students, but also as individuals with active minds, contributing to their overall development.

- Jiji Tharayil