What is Metacognition?

This is the comprehension of an individual’s learning or knowledge concerning the entire process of learning. It can also be termed “thinking about thinking.” Metacognition involves knowing when an individual knows, knowing when he doesn’t know, and knowing what he should do when he doesn’t know. Thus, it entails an individual’s self-monitoring and correction of his own learning processes. For example, X engages in metacognition if he notices that he’s having more difficulty learning concept A than concept B, or recognizes that his approach to solving a problem isn’t working and decides to work again on the problem with a different approach.

Metacognition also involves a person being aware of himself as a learner, test-taker, reader, or group member, and knowing his weaknesses and strengths. For example, if X can explain what his strengths are in exam-taking, academic writing, or other categories of academic tasks, he’ll be called metacognitively aware. Such awareness is crucial to recognize an individual’s limit of ability or knowledge and then figure out ways to extend the ability or expand that knowledge. Those who’re aware of their strengths and weaknesses in particular areas will be more prone to monitor their learning resources and strategies keenly and evaluate their readiness for specific tasks. 

Metacognitive procedures can be applied to thinking and learning in all contexts and disciplines. Since it’s a vital skill for lifetime learning, metacognitive skills should be discussed with and taught to students. However, the students need to be taught the concept and its language explicitly, not in a single lesson or through a content-delivery model that just involves a solitary reading or lecture session. Instead, the explicit instruction should be based on the students’ need to identify, evaluate, and connect new skills to old ones, and conducted over an extended period of time. 

Such explicit instruction will help students replace or expand existing learning strategies with new and more efficient ones. Additionally, it’ll give them opportunities to talk about learning and thinking, weigh their strategies against their classmates, and make more informed choices. This way, learning will be less opaque to students, instead of something mysterious that some students decipher and learn while others struggle and don’t. 

Metacognition instruction should also be inserted within the activities and content about which students are thinking. This is because metacognition isn’t generic. Rather, it’s most effective when it’s tailored to reflect the particular learning contexts of a specific course, topic, or discipline. When a learning context is explicitly linked to its relevant processes, students will be more able to adjust their strategies to the new contexts, instead of thinking that learning is the same every time and everywhere. 

For instance, a literature professor may read aloud a passage from a novel in class while also talking about his thoughts while reading, how he finds meanings of specific phrases and words, what connections he makes, his approach toward difficult passages, etc. This type of modeling is an effective practice in metacognition instruction.

Metacognition isn’t only vital for students. It’s also an essential basis for culturally intelligent leadership because it emphasizes how an individual thinks through a situation or problem and the strategies he creates to address it.

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