Metacognition is a cognitive theory defined as a learner's awareness of his or her own learning process. Metacognition is grounded in constructivist theory and gained widespread prominence in the 1970's. The term metacognition evolved from Flavell's (1985) term metamemory. Several components of metacognition include metacognitive knowledge and metacognitive experiences. Students learn to control their learning through the use of metacognitive strategies. Teachers are critical in this process, as they can identify those learners who are novice or learning disabled and are unable to monitor their own process. Research suggests that intervention is critical in the development of students' awareness of how to learn more effectively.
Keywords Cognition; Cognitive Process; Cognitive Theory; Collaborative Learning; Constructivist Theory; Learning Strategies; Metacognition; Metacognitive Experience; Metacognitive Knowledge; Metamemory; Novice Learners; Prior Knowledge; Summative Assessment
Teaching Methods: Metacognition
Metacognition is an important concept in cognitive theory that is defined as a learner's awareness of his or her own learning process. Learners who are aware of their own learning process are able to monitor their learning progress and make changes to their process. They are able to adapt new strategies if they are not learning as well as they expect they should be learning. They also monitor, evaluate, and make plans for their learning, as they develop a self-awareness of their learning process and progress (Winn & Snyder, 1998). They are honest about their self-assessment, as they "think about their thinking" (Flavell, 1979; Kuhn & Dean, 2004; Hanna, 2007). Learners who possess the ability to control their own cognitive processes are more likely to be efficient and active in their learning experiences. Bonds and Bonds (1992) present two basic behaviors that are involved in effective use of metacognition. The learner:
• Possesses knowledge pertinent to progressing toward the learning task, evident as the learner talks about mental processes used during learning.
• Knows the nature of the learning task and what is required to learn or understand the material being read or studied, evident through the application of certain skills such as checking, planning, selecting/monitoring, self-questioning, introspection, or monitoring (Bonds & Bonds, 1992, p. 2).
Metacognition is grounded in constructivist theory and gained widespread prominence in the 1970's. Constructivist learning is described as "a dynamic, active, problem-solving process in which existing knowledge is modified, added to, or reconstructed" (Sheets, 1994, p. 1; Stahl, 1992). Theories of metacognition are also found in Piagetian developmental theory, with its focus on cognitive knowledge, metacognitive awareness, and conscious access to knowledge (Garner, 1994). The term metacognition evolved from Flavell's (1985) term metamemory. Flavell (1976) defines metacognition as "one's knowledge concerning one's own cognitive processes and products…[and] the active monitoring and consequent regulation and orchestration of these processes" (p. 232). As researchers began to study learners' thinking processes and problem solving skills, they began to view metacognition as an important performance-based mental activity that expert learners complete, as they "plan, monitor, and evaluate their thinking processes more often and more efficiently than poor or novice learners" (Goldberg, 2003). Most recently, metacognition has emerged into the mainstream of cognitive psychology.
Components of Metacognition
Metacognition has several components. One such component is metacognitive knowledge, or the ability to know and use strategies that learners need to effectively comprehend text. Metacognitive knowledge is further defined as knowledge of learners' selves, the kinds of tasks learners engage in, and the strategies learners use while engaged in these tasks (Baker & Brown, 1984; Garner, 1994). According to Dimino (2007), there are three elements to metacognitive knowledge: declarative, procedural and conditional.
• Declarative metacognitive knowledge includes facts, rules, concepts and strategies that are stored in a learner's long-term memory.
• Procedural knowledge relates to how learners' declarative knowledge is applied, or how learners can produce a product or activate a strategy.
• Learners tap into conditional knowledge when they identify when and under what conditions they need certain strategies for optimal learning (Dimino, 2007).
Another component of metacognition is metacognitive experiences. Metacognitive experiences occur before, during and after reading. For example, these experiences could be experiences with a certain type of text, experiences in school, or experiences with the demands of completing certain tasks (Garner, 1994).
Students learn to control their learning through the use of metacognitive learning strategies. Using metacognitive strategies indicates that learners are aware that learning is a process and that they are also aware that they may need to learn a certain strategy so that they can accomplish learning more effectively (Vaidya, 1999). According to Smith, Rook and Smith (2007), teachers are responsible for identifying those learners who can benefit most from use of metacognitive strategies. Teachers can arm learners with ways to develop metacognitive questioning, an important executive function of the brain that helps students become productive learners, as they become more responsible for their own learning. Teachers can enhance metacognitive knowledge by:
• Embedding metacognitive strategies within the usual content-driven lesson across the curriculum;
• Teaching explicitly to learners through modeling and providing examples; and,
• Assessing informally (Ediger, 1999).
As Galucci (2006) states, teaching is not just to provide content, but that "the heart of teaching is providing students with the tools to make them more effective learners" (p. 19). Teachers can assess the progress of the application of these learning tools by providing learning goals and assessing learner progress toward the achievement of these goals. They can also model both general and content-specific metacognitive strategies by the way they articulate information knowledge from their content area, through use and employment of strategies, conduct discussions, share ideas; organize the classroom, and structure the learning experience (Duplass, 2006). Teachers also model how they think. Duplass explains that there are several ways that teachers can implement metacognitive modeling:
• In decision-making and problem-solving, as they model how to think during the process of working through the sequence of steps;
• In reading, as teachers ask rhetorical questions or makes comments to demonstrate the kinds of questions and thoughts that learners should process while reading; and,
• In questioning, as teachers ask questions and then explain how to answer them, sharing the thinking process and not necessarily the answers (Duplass, 2006, p. 205).
Examples of Metacognitive Strategies
Other strategies to promote metacognition include the use of case studies. Case studies provide students with an avenue for real-life experiences as they use problem-solving strategies to engage in questioning and monitoring their own approaches and learning, while developing a solution to the case. Comprehension monitoring also promotes metacognition, as readers of text evaluate their understanding of what is being read. The materials must make sense when readers reread to see if they may have misread words or the author's intended message. Comprehension monitoring can take place by using such metacognitive strategies as think-alouds. In think-aloud protocols, teachers provide a model of how readers monitor, question and recall what they have just read. As teachers model think-alouds, they raise questions or problems, then "think" out loud to the class as they demonstrate how a problem is resolved or how comprehension of materials occur (Duplass, 2006). Other useful metacognitive strategies include self-questioning generation as a way to develop questioning skills and the use graphic organizers to promote concrete visible models to enhance learning. Metacognitive journals also monitor learner awareness of students' learning and thinking processes.
Teachers can develop and present their own metacognitive strategies for use in the classroom, as they plan the strategy to be learned, model the strategy, use guided practice while monitoring the learners and provide feedback to the learners (Spring, 1985). Lock, Babkie, and Provost (2002) suggest certain steps that teachers can take to promote metacognitive strategy instruction. Teachers can:
• Study research about metacognition and update their own knowledge base;
• Determine areas of academic and social behaviors that are problematic for their learners;
• Determine if any published materials are available for insights into new strategies that are ready for use in the classroom;
• Determine their rationale for using certain strategies;
• Pretest learners to see what they already know about how to perform a task;
• Select and customize a strategy they think will help their students;
• Write their own strategies so that they can target specific areas for remediation;
• Model prompt and practice techniques with their students;
• Use strategies that promote teaching at mastery or above;
• Model strategies for learners after the basics have been taught;
• Use role playing, as teachers become "the student" and students become "the teacher;"
• Reinforce and repeat strategies to assure mastery;
• Post the strategy in their classroom for easy reference and reminder;
• Point to the strategy when learners need it;
• Make cue cards that outline a strategy that can be used at the learners' desks;
• Prompt learners to use a specific strategy;
• Target one strategy at a time; and,
• Train other faculty in use of metacognitive strategies (pp. 173-174).
Benefits for Novice Learners
Research shows that the teaching of metacognitive strategies works best for students who are novice learners. Halter (2007) defines novice learners as those students who "do not stop to evaluate their comprehension of material; who do not examine the quality of their work or stop to make revisions; [and] do not make connections or see the relevance of material in their lives" (p. 1). Novice learners lack the essential metacognitive monitoring, assessing and decision-making skills that are needed for successful problem-solving and learning. Schoenfeld (1985) states...
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