MEtacognition in Action

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Metacognition is an important element of St. Andrew’s Effort Grade Rubric since it can lead to deeper learning for all disciplines and ages from elementary school through college. In a review of research, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) found metacognition to be one of the strategies that had the greatest impact on student learning. But what exactly is metacognition? And how can you as parents help build your students’ metacognitive skills at home?

According to the EEF, metacognition is “learning to learn,” or thinking about one’s learning explicitly. The goal for metacognition, as stated on the CTTL’s MBE Strategies Placemat, is to actively think about one’s own learning and use the experiences one has had before to navigate a better path through one’s current work, answering questions such as: how does this problem or task resemble ones I have tackled before? What did I learn then that can help me now? Metacognition involves students self-regulating their own learning, rather than being led at every step by the teacher or parent.

Educational philosopher John Dewey describes the power and the difficulty of this kind of reflection, which “involves willingness to endure a condition of mental unrest and disturbance.” He suggests that metacognition is difficult to master because it involves looking objectively and critically at one’s past, analyzing which actions to repeat, which to avoid and which to change. Pushing students beyond the common level of reflection asked of them requires teachers and parents to employ their skills strategically. If the goal for both teachers and parents is to help students succeed as learners, what can we do to teach students how to master metacognition?


1. Model It Ourselves Explicitly: Think Aloud

Research suggests that modelling our own metacognitive process out loud in front of the your children can help. Ask yourself the following questions to expand your own metacognitive skills: why did I structure my day in that particular way? What would I like to learn how to do better? What am I confused about? When appropriate, share these musings with your children.

In addition, try writing in a journal in which you reflect on your parenting each week. Consider the following questions when you write: which elements of the week went well and why? Which interactions would you change, and how would you change them? How can you incorporate reflection into your daily life so that you more clearly understand your own learning journey as a parent and thus model metacognitive habits for your children?


2.  Building a Home that Encourages Questioning

To encourage metacognitive habits, giving children permission and encouragement to share their confusions at home about various issues so that they can earnestly ask themselves what they understand is essential. You may also ask your children for their feedback on a particular parenting strategy you’ve tried, showing that you are also cultivating your metacognitive skills and thinking about how you teach, just as you are asking them to ponder how they learn.

3. Ask the Right Kind of Questions

    To encourage metacognitive thinking, help your students by asking them questions that are open-ended, solution-focused and process-oriented. Ask your students to explain their thought processes through open-ended questions, posed with words like “Can you tell me more about why you think that way” or “Why do you feel that way?”

Similarly, ask questions that are solution-focused; encourage your students to think about how they can use their experience to improve in the future. For instance, after doing poorly on a test, perhaps ask your child questions such as: what study strategies did you use? What could you do for next time to improve your grade? What can you learn from your mistakes?

Asking questions that are process-oriented can also help children be more aware of how their thought processes works. You can ask questions such as: how will you know when your project is complete? How long will it take to finish each step? How can I break up the work of the project so it is more manageable?

Modeling metacognitive thinking, building an environment that encourages questioning and asking the right kind of questions are ways that you as parents can help your children understand their own learning processes. This ability to self-regulate will help students throughout their academic lives in addition to preparing for life after St. Andrew’s.

For more research-informed ideas, follow the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning on Twitter @thecttl.

The CTTL produces a monthly newsletter, The Bridge, for St. Andrew's teachers. Each month the Bridge analyzes a specific aspect of teaching and learning through a Mind, Brain, and Education Science, research-informed lens. If you would like to receive the newsletter, please sign up here.

Works Cited

Dewey, John. How We Think. Cosimo, 2008. Google Books. Accessed 25 Jan. 2017.

Didau, David. "What is Meta-Cognition and Can We Teach It?" The Learning Spy, 1 June 2013, Accessed 25 Jan.2017.

"Meta-cognition and Self-regulation." Education Endowment Foundation,

Tanner, Kimberly. "Promoting Student Metacognition." CBE Life Sciences Education, vol. 11,

no. 2, Summer 2012, pp. 113-20, Accessed 25 Jan. 2017.

The Child Mind Institute. "How Thinking About Thinking Can Help Kids Build Resilience."