Metacognition: How do we think about thinking?

We hear educators use the term “lifelong learners” quite regularly.  It follows the belief that we’re never really done learning.  However, being a learner beyond traditional school requires more than the basics of reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic.  It means students have an understanding of what learning is and how to facilitate their own learning.  This requires the ability to reflect on how we learn and think.  Every hear yourself say, “I don’t learn well that way.” or “I don’t even have enough information to know where to start.”  These thoughts fall in the category of metacognition, or the thinking about thinking.

 When learners (children or adults) can think about how to approach a learning task, they are able to set up an environment that sets them up for success.  For example, if you’re doing your taxes and this year you bought a house, you might reflect on what you already know. 

  •  I know buying a house could impact my filing.
  •  I don’t know exactly how to report or what documentation I need.
  • I want to know exactly how much this will save me in taxes.

Because you can think about your thinking, you can focus your learning on what you don’t know and how to determine what your refund will be.  This is an example of using metacognition to be aware of your knowledge.  You know what you know and know what you don’t know.  Next, you can move on to other areas of metacognition.  If you complete your taxes, expecting an increase in your return due to the credit you’ll have for buying a house, and your return actually decreases, if you’re using metacognitive strategies, you’ll notice something isn’t right and put thinking strategies into place.  What do I need to do to make sure I understand how to file my taxes correctly?

Fostering this reflective ability in our students helps them become independent thinkers and achieve that goal we have of being lifelong learners.  There are a few simple strategies we can use to encourage students to be metacognitive.

 1.  Plan ahead

  • ·         Determine the steps necessary to complete a task.
  • ·         Set up a learning environment where the student can focus.

2. Ask Questions

  • What do I already know about this? 
  • What do I need to know before I can start?

3. Reflect during the learning

  • Does this makes sense?
  • How can I improve my understanding?

Intentionally focusing on these metacognitive thoughts will support confidence as students grow making them less dependent on others to tell them what they need to do.  Thinking about thinking is worth thinking about.