Updated: Aug 24, 2019
This article posits that meditation and mindfulness are powerful tools in fostering metacognition in school-students since they involve direct observation of the mind's operations through introspection. Consequently, mindfulness and meditation can be used to cultivate metacognitive awareness, reflection, and insight.
Furthermore, this article highlights how meditation and mindfulness can enhance metacognitive powers (especially concentration and focus) as well as metacognitive skills such as monitoring and self-regulation. Meditation, traditionally, has been viewed as a way to discipline the mind towards various ends: a lack of mental discipline is a common challenge for school students - meditation therefore represents a potential avenue for creating more disciplined learners.
Finally, we posit that meditation and mindfulness can have positive implications for emotional and psychological well-being and that such behaviours can contributed to the non-cognitive aspects of self-regulated learning.
Mindfulness, Meditation & Metacognition: An Overview
Metacognition has been defined in various ways: "thinking about thought" and "thinking deeply about learning" or "awareness or analysis of one's own learning or thinking processes". In practice it means that students learn to monitor and regulate their learning. More precisely, 'metacognition' refers to the processes used to plan, monitor, and assess one’s understanding and performance. Metacognition includes a critical awareness of one’s thinking and learning and oneself as a thinker and learner.
Mindfulness refers to a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Mindfulness can practised through meditation or can be cultivated in a less formal manner whilst carrying out day-to-day activities (making it ideal for metacognition in the classroom). In a nutshell: mindfulness is non-reactive present moment awareness.
Meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique (such as mindfulness, or focusing their mind on a particular object, thought or activity) to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state. Unlike mindfulness, meditation usually involves a specific body posture: most meditation traditions encourage an upright seated posture.
Research by Mörck (2009) concludes that "awareness, a central component of mindfulness was significantly related to metacognition".
Meditation & Mindfulness as Metacognitive Skills
The heart of metacognition is students becoming aware of the subjective experience that underpins learning, monitoring it, understanding it, and regulating/adapting it to maximise learning. This means shifting the students' awareness to a deeper, more introspective, self-reflective level. More specifically, metacognition refers to the cognitive aspect of self-regulated learning.
An important aspect of mindfulness is that it involves focused, non-reactive, awareness of the thoughts and emotions we experience. Mindfulness allows students to 'take a step back' and observe the contents of their mind. In this sense, mindfulness is an essential step in the metacognitive process of monitoring, evaluating and regulating the cognitive aspect of the learning-process.
David Perkins (1992) defined four levels of metacognitive learners which provide a useful framework for teachers:
Tacit learners are unaware of their metacognitive knowledge. They do not think about any particular strategies for learning and merely accept if they know something or not.
Aware learners know about some of the kinds of thinking that they do such as generating ideas, finding evidence etc. However, thinking is not necessarily deliberate or planned.
Strategic learners organise their thinking by using problem-solving, grouping and classifying, evidence-seeking and decision-making etc. They know and apply the strategies that help them learn.
Reflective learners are not only strategic about their thinking but they also reflect upon their learning while it is happening, considering the success or not of any strategies they are using and then revising them as appropriate.
This ability to "reflect upon their learning while it is happening" can be cultivated through mindfulness training. The use of metacognitive questioning can steer a student towards mindfulness of their current state of mind, for example: suppose a student is misbehaving in a lesson and complains that a specific task is "boring" a teacher might ask, "When you pay attention to that feeling of boredom, how does it feel?" and then "How could you change your thinking about this task to make it more engaging or interesting?" by doing so the teacher uses questioning to encourage the student to pay close attention to what they are actually doing with their minds (instead of simply reacting to it by misbehaving or tuning-out).
As discussed in this article emotional awareness and understanding of how emotions impact learning is an important component of self-regulated learning and one that depends upon metacognition. We can use both mindfulness and meditation to foster students' understanding of how emotions such as stress and anxiety can impact their learning; crucially, meditation and mindfulness can also be used to help regulate these emotions and create emotional mindsets that are more conducive to learning. A simple example of how to implement this: a teacher might start a lesson with a five-minute mindfulness meditation and get students to copy and complete the following sentences:
Three words that would describe how I feel right now are ________, ________ & ________.
One thing my mind is a bit preoccupied with today is...
This might impact my ability to learn today by...
This is a very simple, direct and effective way of getting students to use their experience of mindfulness meditation in such a way that it contributes towards metacognition adn self-regulated learning.
Meditation, Mindfulness & Metacognition: The Research
Broderick, P. C., & Metz, S. (2009) found that, relative to controls, adolescent participants in the 'mindfulness meditation' group reported decreased negative affect and increased feelings of calmness, relaxation, and self-acceptance. Improvements in emotion regulation and decreases in tiredness and aches and pains were significant in the treatment group.
There is a good deal of evidence that training in mindfulness improves cognitive function and attention (e.g., Chambers, Lo, & Allen, 2008). Flook, et al (2010) found that mindfulness-training program improved executive functions in young elementary school students. Zeidan, et al (2010) found that mindfulness training improved executive function and metacognitive insight.
Davidson et al (2012) Argues that self-regulatory skills associated with emotion and attention, self-representations, and pro-social dispositions such as empathy and compassion are essential for academic success and that 'Contemplative practices and mental training' strengthen these positive qualities and dispositions by inducing changes in brain function and structure, supporting pro-social behaviour and academic success in young people. Felver et al (2014) found evidence to suggest mindfulness based meditation may be an effective intervention to reduce off-task behaviour and increase academically engaged behaviour for behaviourally challenging students.
A fairly comprehensive review of research relating to meditation, mindfulness and metacognition can be read here. To summarise the findings, the benefits of meditation for learners include:
Improved attention and focus
Reduced stress and anxiety and improved emotional regulation
Various improvements mental heath (e.g. reductions in symptoms of depressive and anxiety disorders)
Benefits to ADHD diagnosed students
Increases in pro-social behaviours that aid in the learning-process (e.g. peer-acceptance)
Improved metacognitive insight
Improved executive function
Enhanced skills in dealing with rumination, intrusive thoughts, and emotional arousal
Greater empathy, perspective-taking, emotional control, optimism, school self-concept, and mindfulness
Enhanced social-emotional resiliency
A meta-analysis by Zoogman et al (2014) and a separate meta-analysis by Zenner et al (2014) of all the research into the impact of mindfulness-based interventions on educational performance both concluded that mindfulness interventions can significantly benefit students.
Aside from the metacognitive benefits, and the health benefits (beyond the scope of this article) there is evidence that meditation and mindfulness can produce benefits to brain-health and neurological development. Weare (2012) concludes that, "There is also good evidence from neuroscience and brain imaging that mindfulness meditation reliably and profoundly alters the structure and function of the brain to improve the quality of both thought and feeling."
Resources for Teaching Meditation & Mindfulness
If you need teaching resources that teach secular mindfulness and meditation practices with and emphasis on metacognition and learning-power, check out our Meditation & Deep-Metacognition Resource pack here...
This 'Metacognitive Meditation Pack' focuses on secular (non-religious) meditation techniques; the pack includes everything you need to bring meditation to your school and, unlike other meditation teaching resources, ours is focused on how meditation can enhance concentration, thought-regulation and learning.
The download includes six resources:
An Introduction to Meditation
Meditation & Metacognition: How Meditation Can Boost Learning
Using Meditation to Train Concentration
Meditation & Gratitude: Improving Attitudes, Energy-Levels & Motivation
Meditation Instructions (A Multi-Use Tool With Instructions for Six Different Types of Meditation)
The Whole-School Meditation Poster Collection (Contains Ten Posters!)
It is a useful tool not just for boosting metacognitive and learning power but also for enhancing your school's PSHE and SMSC provisions!
Broderick, P. C., & Metz, S. (2009). Learning to BREATHE: A pilot trial of a mindfulness curriculum for adolescents. Advances in School Mental Health Promotion, 2(1), 35-46.
Chambers, R., Lo, B. C. Y., & Allen, N. B. (2008). The impact of intensive mindfulness training on attentional control, cognitive style, and affect. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 32(3), 303-322.
Davidson, R. J., Dunne, J., Eccles, J. S., Engle, A., Greenberg, M., Jennings, P., . . . Vago, D. (2012). Contemplative practices and mental training: Prospects for American education. Child Development Perspectives, 6(2), 146-153.
Felver, J. C., Frank, J. L., & McEachern, A. D. (2014). Effectiveness, acceptability, and feasibility of the Soles of the Feet mindfulness-based intervention with elementary school students. Mindfulness, 5(5), 589-597.
Flavell, J. H. (1979). Metacognition and cognitive monitoring: A new area of cognitive–developmental inquiry. American psychologist, 34(10), 906.
Flook, L., Smalley, S. L., Kitil, M. J., Galla, B. M., Kaiser-Greenland, S., Locke, J., … & Kasari, C. (2010). Effects of mindful awareness practices on executive functions in elementary school children. Journal of Applied School Psychology,26(1), 70-95.
Zeidan, F., Johnson, S. K., Diamond, B. J., David, Z., & Goolkasian, P. (2010). Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: evidence of brief mental training.Consciousness and cognition, 19(2), 597-605.
Zenner, C., Herrnleben-Kurz, S., & Walach, H. (2014). Mindfulness-based interventions in schools – A systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 603.
Zoogman, S., Goldberg, S. B., Hoyt, W. T., & Miller, L. (2014). Mindfulness interventions with youth: A meta-analysis. Mindfulness, 6(2), 290-302.