Why Do We Teach Metacognition?

scott's thoughts Apr 06, 2022

We have found that teaching metacognition methods to students allows them to self-monitor their own learning behavior, to become aware of their learning deficits and develop coping strategies, and to discover where their learning skills are strongest so they can use those skills to their maximum potential. Students learn to integrate and analyze knowledge at an advanced level.

Therefore, metacognitive teaching using mentoring, through both the classroom face-to-face interactions, and the Student Success Program, introducing students to methods of “learning to think” and “thinking to learn.” By showing students how to examine the working of their minds, we show them how to manipulate their preferences and programming to their advantage.

Those with strong metacognitive knowledge display several traits:

  • They know the limits of their own memory for a task.
  • They seek help when and where they need it
  • They frequently perform self-assessments of their knowledge to ensure they can figure out how well they are learning something 
  • They use a variety of strategies to learn 
  • They undertake careful rehearsal of a skill in order to gain confidence and competence
  • They plan effectively at many levels and see the big picture of learning

Strong metacognitive knowledge also recognizes the variables in any learning situation. There are three variable categories to consider when presented with a learning task:

Personal: What one recognizes about their own strengths and weaknesses in learning and processing information

Task: What one knows or can figure out about the nature of a task and the processing demands required to complete the task

Strategy: The strategies one has “at the ready,” to apply in a flexible way to successfully accomplish a task

Example: “I know that I have difficulty (personal variable) with large vignette test questions (task variable). I will answer the simpler stem questions first and save those for last (strategy variable).”

Those of us with an educational background are well aware of Bloom’s Taxonomy, and its levels of learning from simplest to most sophisticated: Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, and Create. But even without exposure to the colorful pyramid illustrations of Bloom’s categories, our minds can and do process knowledge through these levels without any “meta” awareness, which also mean our minds drop knowledge off by the wayside if it doesn’t carry any meaning for us. Our hope is to facilitate the former and prevent the latter.

Many of the things we learn seem to move quite naturally for us from mere memorization to complex thinking with no difficulty at all. Such easily absorbed topics are usually things that are meaningful and enjoyable to us – those who love a subject, sport or hobby seem able not only to immediately grasp trivia and concepts and remember them with ease, but to apply and adapt that knowledge to entirely new situations effortlessly.

Of course, higher educational material is by nature complicated and specialized, and just “getting it” doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Metacognition is necessary for taking complex material beyond mere recital and into long-term understanding and application. We all have the ability to discover where our learning strengths lie (or not) and use that knowledge to bring even difficult concepts into our grasp.

Our Student Success Coaching Model approaches students offering this framework, which is in effect an opportunity to learn this intense level of self-awareness. It is not a difficult task, nor should it be presented as one.  Our mind’s processes aren’t hidden from us; they may have simply gone unnoticed. All we must do is shine a light on them.


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