How Metacognition Boosts Learning
When we talk about how we learn the first thing that comes to mind is the information we are presented and our ability to store it in our memory.
Whether it is information we don’t need or we actually use on a regular basis is a matter of our personal believes and goals.
Rarely do we ask ourselves why do we need the things we learn about in school and even rarer is the case when we stop and think about how we actually learn.
Which processes are being carried out in our brain when we retain the knowledge we learned is a difficult question to answer if we don’t understand how our mind works.
By nature, not everyone is equal when it comes to intellectual capabilities and that is nothing new to psychologists, but what we all have in common as human beings are the ability to learn and understand the same subjects and concepts in a rational way.
Some people take time in rationalizing and figuring out what certain subjects are all about, while others do it very quickly mainly because they are either more interested or know how to analyze and connect the concepts that have something in common.
School teachers don’t view the students who attend their class as equal when it comes to intellectual abilities either and it would be a bad thing to do so because it would lead to discrimination of others who simply can’t grasp the information very quickly and others who do it faster than them.
This is why teachers assess students by their grades and try to adapt to their knowledge all for the purpose of giving the students motivation to try to figure out things on their own.
Metacognition is one of the best ways to achieve such things because the whole purpose of teaching and learning is to understand the concepts in a unique way and to always try and ask questions which lead to independent answers.
WHAT IS METACOGNITION?
To put it as simple as it can be, metacognition is thinking about thinking, but the whole concept is more complex than that because it involves actively monitoring and making changes to a student’s learning pattern.
In order for us to further explain what metacognition is, we should first try to understand what metacognition is based on.
Metacognition comes in two dimensions which are often called:
- Metacognitive knowledge – What the students already know about learning.
- Metacognitive regulation – What the students do when it comes to learning new information.
Further explanation of these two dimensions of metacognitive learning is required in order to shed some light on what they mean, how do students use them and how they are connected so let us move on to these two dimensions.
Metacognitive knowledge as we said is the knowledge that the student already has about the things he has learned and knowing what are the steps he needs to take in order to use that knowledge for completing a given task.
Metacognitive knowledge includes:
- The student’s knowledge of their own cognitive abilities which, for instance, could be explained by not knowing or having trouble with dates they’ve learned in history class.
- The student’s knowledge of particular tasks such as thinking of the ideas and concepts of a certain reading assignment.
- The knowledge of different strategies which can be implemented in the task and why they are appropriate for example to skim reading the text before reading.
Once students know what metacognitive knowledge is they will understand much clearer what they need to do in order to learn the subject more effectively and also will help them figure out which are the tools that can be used to produce the best result.
Metacognitive regulation explains what the students do when it comes to new information and describes how they monitor and regulate their own cognitive processes.
By doing this they can test out different study tools and see which offers the best result, for example, scan reading the text before actively reading it.
Metacognitive regulation includes three phases which all have an end result of reflection which we will talk about later, but for now, let’s see what those phases are and how can they be used for learning much quicker and effective.
1. The Planning Phase
During this phase, students should think about the goals of learning and knowing the subject the teacher has presented to them and know how to approach the material in order to fully understand the concepts of the topic.
This is the time when the students stop and think for a moment how they should utilize all the tools they have and ask themselves these three questions:
- What they are asked to do? – Is it a reading assignment, a writing exam or even a project; once they understand what does the task they are given mean they will start to think about how to complete it most effectively.
- Which strategies should they use? – They should consider the best strategies out there in order to complete those tasks and how to successfully use them.
- Are there any strategies they’ve used before which might be useful? – In most cases, they will use the strategies they already know, for example, skim reading, but also they should try to find out if there are even better tools for that given task.
Once they complete the planning phase they can be care-free and know exactly what they are asked to do which will help them tremendously when the actual task is being done.
2. The Monitoring Phase
During the monitoring phase, students start implementing everything they’ve learned in the planning phase and monitor the progress they are making towards the actual goal of their learning.
Also, a critical point in this phase is that the students might try to change the strategies they were using if they see that the strategies are not working in order to find new and better ones which fit in completing the task.
There are two questions which the students should ask themselves during this phase:
- Is the strategy they are using working at all? – They should see the results relatively quickly by knowing how much time they’ve spent on the task using this specific strategy if it takes too long they should consider changing it.
- Do they need to try something different? – If the strategies they are using aren’t giving them the results they want they should figure out something better, but also sometimes it takes time to really get good at using a specific strategy, for example reading the content table of a book before reading it because it is virtually one of the best strategies out there which can be difficult to use properly.
When they complete this phase, they will start to understand which strategies work and which don’t and how do they affect the overall study of the subject they are taking.
Time is crucial, so they will need to monitor how much time they’ve spent on which strategy in order to get a grip on how much time they have to do a specific task.
3. The Evaluation Phase
This is the last but may be the most important of the three phases mainly because it is in this phase where they think about which strategies they used were successful for achieving their goal and why.
To further understand what happens at this stage the students should ask themselves these three questions:
- How well did they do the task? – Is the task finished as they wanted or is there some space for improvement?
- What didn’t go well? – They should try to understand what they did wrong in order to avoid making the same mistake next time.
- What did go right? – This is the most important question they should ask themselves because they should understand which strategies worked out and why so that they can use them and get better with them over time to get the result they need.
Now that these three phases are finished it is time for some more thinking about the whole grand of things which they’ve already done.
Reflection is the most important tool to use in metacognitive learning and in life as well in order for us to truly understand what we’ve learned and what we already know and much of our life is based on that whether we are aware of that or not.
When the plan-monitor-evaluate phases are over, what the student is left to do is try to reflect on what he learned from these phases, what went wrong, what went right, did he have trouble with something and which part of the whole process did he find to be easy.
The student should understand exactly what he did to achieve the results he achieved and what to look out for when a similar task is presented to him all in the aim of better and much quicker problem solving and using the right strategies at the right time.
This is a hard thing to pull off and takes a bit of practice and experience but that just means once you get a hang of it you will start to perform much better than you’re used to which is the main goal of metacognitive learning.
THE BENEFITS OF METACOGNITIVE LEARNING
Now that we’ve explained what metacognitive learning is, let’s take a look at the actual benefits of using this method in learning and why it is better than most methods out there.
- Independence – Metacognitive learning teaches the students how to be independent learners and to monitor their own progress and take control of their learning as they read, write and solve problems when given a task to do.
- Positive impact – Metacognition has a positive contribution on how to properly learn things and is more influential than intellectual abilities because even if a student has a high IQ if he doesn’t understand how to learn and what are the steps he must take in order to do so, the IQ is an irrelevant element.
- Age group – Metacognition isn’t just used in primary or secondary school, it can be also used in universities and college and even later in life. The main goal of metacognition is to motivate us to learn with our own head and that is a valuable lesson no subject, except psychology, is going to teach us.
- Inexpensive – There are really no expenses when it comes to implementing metacognitive learning in schools and the only expense really is time spent on organizing and planning how to use metacognition and what the teachers should know about how to effectively present the students their study plan.
HOW TO USE METACOGNITIVE LEARNING IN THE CLASSROOM
The practice of metacognitive learning involves the students implementing metacognitive strategies to achieve clear and explicit learning goals which have either been set by the teacher or identified by the student themselves.
The student uses their metacognitive strategies to plan, monitor and evaluate their own progress in order to move towards and achieve their goals.
In order to implement the metacognitive approach, the students must access the strategies and also a specific learning environment to develop their metacognitive abilities.
We said a lot about using the right strategies when trying to complete a task and now we will focus on specific ones which can be used across different domains of the school curriculum, for example, they can use some of the strategies they applied in a math test and apply them to a history lesson.
- Mnemonics – Mnemonics are either used with words or images in order to make short captions and descriptions for the purpose of quick memorizing of certain definitions or concepts. A good example of mnemonics would be dissecting a certain definition into a word containing just the first letter of the words in the definition.
- Thinking journals – They can be used to motivate the students to track their progress and know at any given moment what they need to do in order to complete the tasks. It’s also a great way to know what went wrong at what exact moment of the whole process of task completion.
- Metacognitive talk – Talking out loud might be a distraction or annoyance for the teacher but by doing so the students can say the questions they have out loud or simply read out loud the text they are reading so they can hear themselves and others to better grasp the knowledge. In order for this strategy to work the plan-monitor-evaluate phases should be implemented.
- Reciprocal teaching – This is used for reading comprehension and has four key strategies attached to it:
- Questioning – When the students first start reading they should be stimulated to ask questions that come to their mind about that specific topic.
- Clarifying – The teacher should explain as best as possible the topic and answer the questions students may have.
- Summarizing – After the reading, the students should do a quick summary of what they’ve read in order to see if they understood the text and what they retained.
- Predicting – When reading a similar text the students should identify the links between key concepts saving them time and making them understand the material better.
- Exam wrappers – They are a worksheet with questions which can be handed to students before and after an exam to better prepare them and also to stimulate them to evaluate themselves after the test.
- Modeling the strategy – Call it the strategy of how to use strategies, it is a step-by-step representation which the teacher presents the students so they can implement it themselves, it is very important for the teacher to show them how to properly use the strategies in order for them to work.
METACOGNITIVE STRATEGIES YOU COULD USE BY YOURSELF
College students beware because I’m going to share with you some of my tactics when it comes to metacognitive learning and they are the strategies I had to implement in my study myself because our teachers and professors didn’t use them when they taught us in school.
I really didn’t use them up until college years but they work wonders now and I really suggest you try them if you aren’t taught metacognition in school.
- Skim reading – The first strategy is to open your workbook and quickly skim the pages and content table just so you have the important concepts in your head to later think about and also to get to know the material.
- Scan reading – This is slightly different from skim reading because you are looking for key concepts which the teacher has already talked about and locating them in the workbook, also you are revising the concepts you’ve remembered when you skimmed the text.
- Printing out the presentations – If your teacher or professor teaches using presentations you can easily find them either on the Internet or in your study group page. By printing the presentations out on a piece of paper you are using the strategy similar to image mnemonics by having the actual topics of the subject right in front of you.
- Mind-maps – When you get back from school or college try to draw a mind map of the notes you’ve been taking in the classroom which will give you a visual representation of key concepts which you will link to one another creating an awesome and unique image of what the subject is about.
- Making your own worksheet – By making your own exams and writing down potential questions you are implementing the same strategy as exam wrappers which will prepare you for the upcoming test and will also force you to really get the idea of what you need to know in order to pass it.
See what works for you best and also try to figure out some strategies of your own, because that’s what metacognition is all about – reflection.
Also don’t be shy of using the same strategies for different subjects because that helps a lot when you don’t know what strategy to implement, just try the one you already know.
To summarize this broad topic we’ve explained today, metacognitive learning is a skill which everyone can learn to use effectively given the proper tools, strategies, and knowledge of how to apply it to any aspect of learning and studying.
As far as the teachers are concerned their job is to present and explain to the students how metacognition works and also what are the key aspects which need to be mastered in order to accomplish the tasks that are given to the students.
But not only that, the teacher must be in the role of monitoring and evaluating the students similar to the students themselves so they can work together in solving any misconception or problem that might occur.
As for the students, their job is to follow the instructions of the teachers and pay attention in and outside of class so that they can develop that metacognitive state of reflection in any given moment.
Also, they should try to create some strategies of their own to see if they will work out or not because, like most things in life, metacognition is not built upon just success but also the failure.
If you as students don’t have access to metacognitive learning in schools or the college you attend, you should try to follow my instructions on how to make the strategies yourselves because metacognitive learning is a newer topic not implemented in every school.
It’s articles like this one which brings awareness to such topics as metacognition and will surely help in spreading the word across the globe about what it’s all about and why it’s great to use it.
Learning should be fun but also productive and that is exactly what metacognition is trying to acquire so the more you try to implement the things we explained today the better chance you have at succeeding and getting better results.