Portrait of a Learner 4-8

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Metacognition, the act of thinking about thinking, is a higher-order cognitive process centered on managing one's thoughts. This awareness of one's own cognitive processes enables students to gain control of their own learning. As students gradually monitor and assess their learning, they begin to recognize the limits of their own knowledge, planning strategies, and ability to evaluate resources. This allows learners to ultimately become better problem-solvers, decision-makers, and Critical Thinkers. Executive functions are a huge contributor to this metacognitive skill, supporting learners' ability to manage time, focus Attention, and manage multiple tasks to achieve goals as early as the first year of life. While executive functions and Metacognition function separately, they are interdependent upon one another.

Main Ideas

When learners use their Metacognition, they become aware of their own cognitive processes. Once learners develop the ability to regulate their own cognitive processes, they start monitoring their own thoughts and actions, while consciously modifying their thinking and behavior following these reflections. Metacognition is a complex construct that can be broken down into several important components:

  • Metacognitive knowledge is the knowledge learners gradually gain about their own thinking and thought processes, about the demands of a particular learning task, and about different approaches that can be used for learning. That is, metacognitive knowledge is knowing what you know about yourself, the task, and effective strategies for carrying out the task or activity.
    • Metacognitive monitoring involves evaluating and regulating one's own thoughts, actions, and motivations, such as planning, assessing one's own progress, and checking one's own errors. Monitoring skills develop steadily throughout childhood, with children often overestimating their abilities early on, and becoming more accurate with time and experience.
    • Metacognitive control involves deliberately adjusting one's own goals after having identified mistakes and successes and understanding their origin. Development of metacognitive control follows after metacognitive monitoring.
  • Metacognitive processes are processes learners use to regulate their own learning, using metacognitive knowledge to guide behavior. Metacognitive processes involve two important skills that interact to help learners better apply learnings to different contexts and tasks:

Information continually flows between the different components of Metacognition. For example, a student might use metacognitive monitoring to recognize what areas of a lesson they have the most difficulty with, and decide to study or practice these before an upcoming test using metacognitive control. These metacognitive experiences during learning improve learners' awareness of how their minds process and use knowledge, supporting metacognitive knowledge. Although Metacognition skills begin developing early, by the end of elementary school students are better able to use metacognitive strategies when learning, and these abilities should continue developing throughout adolescence.

Metacognition develops through natural, social interaction with the environment, whether unstructured (such as play) or structured (such as formal schooling). However, educators can support Metacognition by asking students to practice evaluating their own knowledge or thinking (for example, through formative assessment such as peer feedback, teacher check-ins, or self-assessment checklists or inventories), and to practice using these evaluations to effectively plan and direct their own learning. Important to note is that students with ADHD and learning disabilities who have negative experiences or interactions around repeated failure with both social and academic skills, often have a low sense of self-efficacy, which has been shown to impact some domains of Metacognition.

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