The final type of cognitive strategy that we will discuss in this series of blog posts is metacognitive strategies. As we’ve seen, cognitive strategies are the basic mental techniques we use to think, study, and learn (such as chunking, rehearsal, elaboration, and organization). Taking it to the next level, metacognitive strategies involve “thinking about thinking.” Bottom line is that this is where real learning occurs. This is where students become aware of how they learn, and are able to regulate and monitor their own learning processes. If we teach at this level, then we are giving them the gift of lifelong learning along with increased self-confidence.
Research has shown that metacognitive strategies had a “significant, positive, and direct effect on cognitive strategy use” (Purpura, 1999). That means, if we want to teach students to successfully learn by using cognitive strategies, then we must concurrently teach them metacognitive strategies. In practical terms, this means students know how they learn best, and they are able to adjust their methods and environment as needed. Here are few simple examples of metacognition in action:
- identifying one’s own learning style and needs
- planning for a task
- gathering and organizing materials
- arranging a study space and schedule
- monitoring mistakes
- evaluating task success
- evaluating the success of any learning strategy and adjusting
With this in mind, there are four ways that teachers can teach metacognitive strategies—learning style assessments, modeling with think-alouds, meta-discussions, and guidance in self-questioning.
Learning Style Assessments
Research has shown that everyone’s brain works a bit differently, often due to past experiences and genetic predisposition. Thus, students have different style preferences for how they learn. Their brains are predominantly oriented to learn in a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic manner, depending on the type of categories measured.
For example, if a student knows she is mainly a visual learner, she should write down lists and facts, visualize new words, use diagrams or charts, and read regularly. An auditory learner would benefit from tape recording notes, subvocalizing1 when studying, participating in discussions, saying new words out loud, sing or talk to self when studying. A kinesthetic learner would do well with making models or lab work, taking frequent breaks, tracing new words, memorizing while walking or jogging, or standing up when reading.
|Write down lists and facts||Tape record notes||Make models|
|Visualize new words||Subvocalize when studying||Do lab work|
|Use diagrams or charts||Participate in discussions||Take frequent breaks|
|Read regularly||Say new words out loud||Trace new words|
|Sing/talk to self when studying||Jog or walk when memorizing|
|Stand up when reading|
Another key for learning is to know your personality type and your main strengths. Free tests are available online for each of these (see the list at the end of the article). Nowadays, with computers available in many classrooms, teachers should make these assessments available to their students and discuss how to take advantage of their strengths and styles. I always started my classes with one of these surveys, and students really appreciated this knowledge. We also referred to their styles as the class progressed, reinforcing these insights into new learning habits for them.
Research also shows that no one style is superior to another. Rather, learners should be encouraged to “stretch their styles” so that they develop a varied toolbox of skills and techniques that can help them learn better.
Research shows that students learn efficiently when teachers model their own thinking process or demonstrate a concept with a physical object. The key is for the teacher to think-aloud about how they are asking questions as they read. This shows the students how to be an active learner.
For example, a teacher might say, “As I read the sentence, I need to know which words are nouns. I ask myself if the word is a person, place, or thing. I see that this word names a person, so it must be a noun.”
Or another example: “I have a difficult time keeping track of which number I have used and which one I have not; therefore, I am going to make sure that I cross out the ones that I have already used.”
As for physical demonstrations, teachers are often familiar with this, but may not use them as much as they could. For example, a teacher could us a balance to demonstrate principles of algebraic equations, or use two magnets to demonstrate the existence of south and north poles.
Following up on their modeling or in place of it, teachers could engage the students in a discussion of how they learn. Instead of telling them to highlight something, they might ask, “Why is this a key phrase to highlight?” or “Why am I not highlighting this?” In developing a graphic organizer, teachers might ask, “Why did you place this word in this column and that one in the other column?” or “Why did you leave out this idea?” These are higher-order questions that help students think not just about the content but about how they are learning the content.
Teacher can help students with questions about:
- How they are planning a learning task
- What skills or strategies they are using to solve a problem
- How they are comprehending a text
- How they are assessing what they learned and how they are adjusting
- How they are progressing on the task
- How they are aware of distracting stimuli
As you can see, this is not about memorizing or recalling information. It’s about actively engaging in the process of learning; it’s using metacognitive “how” questions. EDI lessons often focus on these types of questions in the Checking For Understanding that takes place every few minutes during a lesson.
Guidance in Self-Questioning
The fourth type of metacognitive strategy is guidance in self-questioning. This builds on the modeling and the meta-discussions by encouraging the students to adopt this habit of questioning as they work through a task. The North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (1995) described a vision of students with well-developed metacognitive skills:
- They can think through a problem or a learning task.
- They have a repertoire of learning strategies.
- They can identify blocks to learning.
- They can modify learning strategies as needed.
- They often think about their own thinking processes.
- They are able to adjust for mistakes or inaccuracies.
Teachers can support this self-questioning or “thinking about thinking” by giving them questions to discuss in pair-shares with a partner. For example, they could ask, “How did you think about the question?” or “What was the process you used to arrive at the answer?” or “What was your main reason for choosing one answer over another?” or “What was most confusing about this question?” or “Why are you confident or not confident in your answer?” or “What would you need to know to increase your confidence?”
In addition, teachers can add metacognitive questions to the beginning of in-class or homework assignments, and then call on students to report back to the class on these questions. Such questions could include:
- Provide three questions you had about the assignment that you still cannot answer.
- Describe two ideas about this assignment that you found confusing.
- Did you learn a lot from this assignment? Why or why not?
- How did you complete this assignment differently compared to a similar one before?
- What advice would you give yourself now if you had to start this assignment again?
The goal is to get them to have “metacognitive conversations” with themselves. They need to talk to themselves about how they learn.
Students can become active lifelong learners IF we encourage them to adopt metacognitive strategies. Research shows that students who use a wide variety of metacognitive skills do better on exams and complete work more efficiently. These skills can be applied in all subject areas.
Students can become more adept at planning, monitoring, and evaluating their own processes of learning. It’s our job as teachers to give them the tools. This includes cognitive skills of chunking, rehearsal, elaboration, and organization. But more importantly, it includes a range of metacognitive skills. Thinking is all about asking questions. If we ask better questions, we get better answers. Now, let’s do it!
1 subvocalizing – to make words or sounds in your mind
What metacognitive strategies have you used? Which ones do you teach or encourage in your class? Share your comments in the feedback section below.
http://www.engr.ncsu.edu/learningstyles/ilsweb.html (Felder-Soloman Learning Styles Questionnaire)
http://www.mbtionline.com/ (take the Myers-Briggs Personality Test online)
http://vark-learn.com/the-vark-questionnaire/ (VARK Learning Styles Questionnaire)
http://www.howtolearn.com/learning-styles-quiz/ (How to Learn learning styles quiz)
http://www.literacynet.org/mi/assessment/findyourstrengths.html (Multiple Intelligences Strengths Test)
http://freestrengthstest.workuno.com/free-strengths-test.html (WorkUno Strengths Test)
https://www.123test.com/strengths-weaknesses-analysis/ 123 test.com European Test Center for personality and intelligence tests)