Understanding how our own minds work, how we respond to everyday challenges and recognising our self-generated biases are central components to metacognition. Often credited to John Flavell, the term ‘metacognition’ is deemed as – at a basic level – ‘thinking about thinking’ but, more fundamentally, metacognition challenges individuals to take mental steps to stop automatic thinking and responses. Developing metacognitive skills is not a quick fix, demanding time, patience and persistence to correct, tweak or improve automated responses when presented with a predicament.
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What is metacognition?
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Metacognitive strategies are not an educational fad, with John Hattie recognising that, when enough attention to the development of student’s metacognitive skills takes place, then a positive pedagogical impact score of d=0,69 is achieved in improving learning outcomes for students. Many of the ideas and principals behind Metacognition are carried out in the business sector, so why is developing metacognitive skills in pupils so important?
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Drawn from various research and study papers, books and articles, the 12 reasons why educators should consider using metacognitive strategies showcased below highlights advantages as to why schools should explore metacognition development with staff and pupils.
In addition to the list below, the evidence of the importance of meta cognitive skills is strong. The Education Endowment Foundation concluded metacognition as having ‘high impact for very low cost‘, giving 7+ months’ advancement as the likely impact on learning.
- Helps develop independent learning – Possibly most importantly, metacognitive strategies can help pupils become more independent in their learning, as self-guided questions, routines and schemes can be developed to help complete tasks to the best of ability. Outcomes are more likely to be positive (see #6), as well as an awareness of how to deal with mistakes and develop (see #11).
- Helps develop self-awareness – Metacognition is self-regulation, so being aware of how one learns and developing strategies to ensure the successful deployment of completing a task, whether classroom or homework based.
- Helps challenge self-generated biases – Challenging our own biases and reactions to situations is also a central element to metacognition, understanding how we react to tasks, and developing a more considered approach to dealing with how to successfully fulfil the criteria, rather than having an emotional breakdown.
- Helps clarify and develop goals – With a clear framework developed, students can see how to plan, review and achieve their goals, recognising next steps and identifying gaps in their learning, or study skills, that require attention.
- Helps recognise own strengths and weaknesses – As part of the evaluative nature of the metacognitive cycle, students can recognise skills and learning that they are on the road to mastering, but also the areas that require further refinement and improvement. This positive self-critical assessment of skills and learning can lead to identifying further steps that need attention.
- Helps promote positive task outcomes – Once metacognition is embedded within the classroom and learning routine, students are able to plan the approaches that can help them achieve a positive outcome to the task at hand. Self-regulating to apply the strategies that can be utilised means that students have the tools, and internal conversation, to understand what is asked of them. Students need to feel confident that if they encounter any barriers stopping them from succeeding in a task, then they know what to do, and where to go.
- Helps develop problem-solving skills – Metacognition offers an internal framework for individuals when dealing with problems, in any problem-solving situation, especially within education.
- Positive and meaningful increases in achievement – Various studies (including this one) have shown that utilising metacognition in the classroom has a positive increase in achievement across different subjects, with students of different ages and abilities.
- Achieves a pedagogical impact score of d=0,69 – Meta-analysis completed by Hattie showed that implementing Metacognition in the classroom is one of the most impactful strategies teachers can undertake to help the progress of their students.
- Accessible for educators to foster at all ages and ranges – Although metacognitive strategies are best developed when students are aged 12-15 years (although metacognitive skills do not develop linearly or at the same pace), younger learners also have the capability to learn skills, developing the question structures individually to help them learn effectively. Younger students will need much more support and understanding of the metacognitive structures being developed, but they can still utilise these skills to help in their learning.
- Helps promote “using mistakes to reflect on the structure and coherence of one’s own actions” – The quote is taken from Hattie & Zierer (2018), noting how the review element of metacognition helps individuals explore and recognise where mistakes were made, and the steps they can take to overcome such errors in the future.
- Helps develop study skills – Once mastered, metacognitive thinking strategies offer individuals guidance and internal questions that help ensure their study skills are positively maturing.
To be clear, using metacognitive approaches in the classroom needs to be a continued approach, and there is no ‘quick fix’ of ideas to help improve outcomes and develop such strategies. Ensuring educators become proficiently aware of metacognition and the classroom strategies that can help develop students is essential, with ongoing monitoring best applied to ensure repetition, support and development is maintained to ensure positive and desired outcomes for all.