Metacognition (in Education)

The term metacognition refers to learners' consciousness of their own body of knowledge and their ability to understand, wield control over and even change their thought processes. Metacognition is an automatic process and one that is important not just during a person's school years, but all through life. In effect, metacognition is what helps a person learn to learn. It is metacognition that helps people take the material found in schoolbooks and apply it to real-life situations.

While metacognition as a field is still new, most of the research on this subject lies within three categories: metamemory, metacomprehension and self-regulation. Each of these subcategories of metacognition involves a crucial component used in the learning process. All three components of metacognition are about using innate knowledge and ability toward the learning process.

Metamemory refers to learners' awareness and knowledge of their own memory systems and how they might use those systems to best effect. The metamemory consists of the consciousness of the various memory strategies, knowing which strategy is best in a given memory task and knowing the most efficient way to use that strategy.

Metacomprehension signifies the learner's own monitoring process in regard to the intake of new information. Learners use metacomprehension to see how much or how little they understand the information that is communicated. The learner notes when there is a failure to comprehend information, and once an area of failure is identified, that individual can employ strategies to attempt to repair understanding of the subject at hand.

Where there are poor metacomprehension skills, a learner may discover he or she has finished a chapter of a book without being aware that there is no understanding of what has just been read. A learner who has sharp metacomprehension skills, on the other hand, will self-edit a passage as it is read. That person may look for inconsistencies in the text or identify parts of the text that are confusing. That individual may even apply a corrective strategy to the reading process. For instance, he or she may reread the chapter, tell over parts of the text to another person, watch for key topics, identify a paragraph that sums up the material or relate the information to what he or she already knows.

Self-regulation refers to a learner's ability to adjust his or her learning process as a response to feedback about the current learning status. There is a great deal of overlap between this term and the previous two. The focus of self-regulation is the ability of a learner to monitor the personal learning process with no external motivation. By extension, self-regulation is also the ability of the learner to call up and use these monitoring strategies without external prodding or persuasion. If a student is to use self-regulation with efficiency, that individual needs to know what strategies are at hand and the purposes they serve. The learner must be able to select, employ, monitor and evaluate the use of these strategies at the right time.

While metacognition is an important factor in the learning process, it can also be used to improve attitude and, therefore, the personality of the learner. For instance, a key factor in understanding is to approach reading with the idea that the topic treated in the material is worthy of consideration and comprehension. Using metacognition, it is possible to foster a positive attitude, and this, in and of itself, is a metacognitive skill.

Since metacognition is a somewhat automatic process, individuals may not be aware that they use metacognition on a regular basis. A good reader uses metacognition to take meaning from the words and applies a metacognitive strategy to adjust understanding of the more confusing passages. These metacognitive powers are always within, ready to be called upon and utilized whenever the need arises. So while most people have little awareness of their metacognitive processes, it is possible to raise consciousness of metacognitive powers and to consciously control them.

A good example of how this works is seen in the person who reads a paragraph of a book while distracted. A certain amount of time goes by, and the person realizes he or she has read a paragraph without having comprehended what was read. At that point, the person goes back to the beginning of the paragraph and slows down to allow for the conscious application of metacognitive strategies to reading.

While one can pause and reflect on the metacognitive steps used in a particular process, the most efficient metacognition occurs as the result of "overlearning." This can only happen through repetition and with the passing of time. As a person repeats the metacognitive processes over and over, they become automatic and somewhat unconscious, making for a decreased burden on the working memory.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Metacognition in Educational Theory and Practice
Douglas J. Hacker; John Dunlosky; Arthur C. Graesser.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998
Applied Metacognition
Timothy J. Perfect; Bennett L. Schwartz.
Cambridge University Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Part 1 "Metacognition in Learning and Education"
What Is Metacognition? Teachers Intuitively Recognize the Importance of Metacognition but May Not Be Aware of Its Many Dimensions. Mr. Martinez Explores the Varieties of Metacognitive Skills and Then Offers Suggestions for Cultivating Them in Learners of All Ages
Martinez, Michael.
Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 87, No. 9, May 2006
Easy Comes, Easy Goes? the Link between Learning and Remembering and Its Exploitation in Metacognition
Koriat, Asher.
Memory & Cognition, Vol. 36, No. 2, March 2008
Strategies for Learning and Metacognition: Identifying and Remembering Big Ideas
Farenga, Stephen J.; Ness, Daniel; Flynn, Gregory V.
Science Scope, October 2007
Not All Errors Are Created Equal: Metacognition and Changing Answers on Multiple-Choice Tests
Higham, Philip A.; Gerrard, Catherine.
Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, Vol. 59, No. 1, March 2005
Increasing Teachers' Metacognition Develops Students' Higher Learning during Content Area Literacy Instruction: Findings from the Read-Write Cycle Project
Curwen, Margaret Sauceda; Miller, Roxanne Greitz; White-Smith, Kimberly A.; Calfee, Robert C.
Issues in Teacher Education, Vol. 19, No. 2, Fall 2010
Self-Efficacy, Metacognition, and Performance
Coutinho, Savia.
North American Journal of Psychology, Vol. 10, No. 1, March 2008
Reading Comprehension Difficulties: Processes and Intervention
Cesare Cornoldi; Jane Oakhill.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Ten "Metacognitive Monitoring in the Processing of Anaphoric Devices in Skilled and Less Skilled Comprehenders"
Electronic Portfolios and Metacognition: A Phenomenological Examination of the Implementation of E-Portfolios from the Instructors' Perspective
Zellers, Michael; Mudrey, Renee R.
International Journal of Instructional Media, Vol. 34, No. 4, Fall 2007
What Reading Research Tells Us about Children with Diverse Learning Needs: Bases and Basics
Deborah C. Simmons; Edward J. Kameenui.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 12 "Metacognitive Strategies: Research Bases" and Chap. 13 "Metacognitive Strategies: Instructional and Curricular Basics and Implications"
Emergent Metacognition: A Study of Preschoolers' Literate Behavior
Fang, Zhihui; Cox, Beverly E.
Journal of Research in Childhood Education, Vol. 13, No. 2, Spring-Summer 1999
Intentional Conceptual Change
Gale M. Sinatra; Paul R. Pintrich.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Part I "Cognition, Metacognition, and Intentional Conceptual Change"
Tip-Of-The-Tongue States: Phenomenology, Mechanism, and Lexical Retrieval
Bennett L. Schwartz.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Theories of Metacognition"
The Development of Judgment and Decision Making in Children and Adolescents
Janis E. Jacobs; Paul A. Klaczynski.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Metacognition and Cognitive Variability: A Dual-Process Model of Decision Making and Its Development"
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