Monday, January 27, 2014

Habits of the Mind—Metacognition

One of the habits of mind that is identified as essential for success in life is metacognition.  While it is similar to the strategy of “thinking aloud”, it is much more.  Jennifer Livingston provided this overview of metacognition. 

"Metacognition" is one of the latest buzz words in educational psychology, but what exactly is metacognition?  The length and abstract nature of the word makes it sound intimidating, yet it’s not as daunting a concept as it might seem. We engage in metacognitive activities every day. Metacognition enables us to be successful learners, and has been associated with intelligence (e.g., Borkowski, Carr, & Pressley, 1987; Sternberg, 1984, 1986a, 1986b). Metacognition refers to higher order thinking which involves active control over the cognitive processes engaged in learning.  Activities such as planning how to approach a given learning task, monitoring comprehension, and evaluating progress toward the completion of a task are metacognitive in nature.  Because metacognition plays a critical role in successful learning, it is important to study metacognitive activity and development to determine how students can be taught to better apply their cognitive resources through metacognitive control.

"Metacognition" is often simply defined as "thinking about thinking."  In actuality, defining metacognition is not that simple.  Although the term has been part of the vocabulary of educational psychologists for the last couple of decades, and the concept for as long as humans have been able to reflect on their cognitive experiences, there is much debate over exactly what metacognition is.  One reason for this confusion is the fact that there are several terms currently used to describe the same basic phenomenon (e.g., self-regulation, executive control), or an aspect of that phenomenon (e.g., meta-memory), and these terms are often used interchangeably in the literature. While there are some distinctions between definitions (see Van Zile-Tamsen, 1994, 1996 for a full discussion), all emphasize the role of executive processes in the overseeing and regulation of cognitive processes.

The term "metacognition" consists of both metacognitive knowledge and metacognitive experiences or regulation.  Metacognitive knowledge refers to acquired knowledge about cognitive processes, knowledge that can be used to control cognitive processes. Flavell, a predominant researcher, further divides metacognitive knowledge into three categories: knowledge of person variables, task variables and strategy variables.

To learn more about metacognition you can read Jennifer’s full article at

Metacognition: An Overview

Other resources are available to address metacognition in particular disciplines—you need only google the term.  We need to learn more about this key skill and then share it with our young people through intentionally demonstrating the skill.  

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