Metacognition and Self-Directed Learning

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What helps us in becoming effective learners? Is it the ability to reflect on what we know and how we learn and how we can take our learning further?

Research shows that students who succeed academically are the ones who can take charge of their learning. The ability to think effectively and independently is a powerful tool to support students in becoming meritorious learners as they can efficiently use a range of metacognitive tools and strategies to set goals and take their learning to the next level. Being skilled at metacognitive thinking is required to determine if learning has occurred, or if more work has to take place to understand a concept(Wang& Lan 2008)

What are Metacognition and self-directed learning?

Metacognition is termed as the ability to think about your thinking. If we decode the word by looking at the etymology it means - Meta(go beyond) +Cognition(an act of learning. Hence it is going beyond the act of learning.

Why does it matter to know more about Metacognition and self-directed learning?

Well, numerous researches in the field of Education and Psychology demonstrate the importance of metacognition and self-regulation leads to effective student learning.

“Self-regulated learning is a cyclical process, wherein the student plans for a task monitor their performance, and then reflects on the outcome. The cycle then repeats as the student uses the reflection to adjust and prepare for the next task. The process is not one-size-fits-all; it should be tailored for individual students and specific learning tasks.” (Zimmerman, 2002). Self-regulated learning looks different for learners of different ages. A facilitator can recognise these characteristics in their most effective learners.

Self‐regulated learning can be broken into three essential components that teachers need to know about to help their students to develop into successful learners:

  • Cognition-It is the ability to understand and learn by using various techniques. Cognition is fundamental to acquiring knowledge and completing tasks.

  • Metacognition-It is the way how students monitor and plan their learning.

  • Motivation-It is the willingness to engage our cognition and metacognition and applying it in the learning process.

Cognition, metacognition and motivation all interact in complex ways during the learning process.t. It is impossible to be metacognitive without having different cognitive strategies to draw on and possess the motivation and perseverance to tackle problems and apply these strategies.

From Cognition to Metacognition

Cognition is a mental faculty which helps us to acquire knowledge-It includes mental processes such as attention, reasoning, memorization, conceptualization, etc.

Metacognition is going beyond cognition as it helps the learner to look deeper beyond the surface level and allows us to identify our strengths and weaknesses. Metacognition involves not only our mental faculties but also our motivation and emotions.

Writings on metacognition date back at least as far as two works by the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BC): On the Soul and the Parva Naturalia.Some 500 years before our era, great thinkers were already juggling this notion of metacognition: it can be found in the motto “Know thyself” that Socrates made his own, as well as in this excerpt from the Confucius teachings: “You [a disciple], shall I teach you about knowledge? What you know, you know, what you don’t know, you don’t know. This is true wisdom.

Metacognition is a term first coined in 1976 by a renowned developmental Psychologist-John Flavell. The word metacognition means

Hence it is the awareness of our thought and cognition process to maximise learning.

More and more studies are suggesting that kids who are taught to use metacognitive strategies early on are more resilient and more successful, both in and out of school.

“I view metacognition as a goal, Getting into the habit of using metacognitive strategies early on helps students become more independent learners and bolsters self-advocacy skills,” says Marc Gladstone, a learning specialist.

Building a Sense of Agency

Metacognitive strategies alone are not sufficient to become an independent learner. Self-directed learning builds students’ sense of self’ to create empowered agents who demonstrate ownership over their learning. By using the inductive approach students view themselves as capable of forming their understandings without relying on or adopting the teacher’s thinking. This amplifies students’ voice in the classroom, as they make choices about what is significant from their learning.

Ramdass and Zimmerman(2008) assert that ‘’Classroom practice must not only cultivate the knowledge to succeed but should nurture the belief that one can succeed.”(p.37)

Providing students with opportunities to reflect on their beliefs about learning, as well as on the learning process, is integral to build metacognitive skills.“Metacognitive thinking teaches us about ourselves,” says Tamara Rosier, a learning coach who specializes in metacognitive techniques. “Thinking about our thinking creates perspective — a perspective that leaves room for change.”

She gives an example: “Instead of saying, ‘Math tests make me anxious,’ we’re asking ourselves, ‘What is it about math tests that make me feel anxious and what can I do to change that?’ ”

How Metacognition can be implemented in classrooms

Facilitators can foster curiosity by creating a culture of thinking by engaging learners in meaningful engagements to launch and relaunch their conceptual investigations.

Too often we teach students what to think and not how to think.

Metacognitive thinking helps the student to plan, monitor and evaluate their thinking and apply it in a new context.

As per John Hattie's Meta-Analysis, the metacognitive strategies rank in high impact strategy to accelerate student learning.

“Metacognition is an awareness of one’s learning. It entails understanding the goals of the learning process, figuring out the best strategies for learning, and assessing whether the learning goals are being met. A metacognitive student sees him or herself as an agent in the learning process and realizes that learning is an active, strategic activity.” Dr.Natalie Saaris

How do students become Metacognitive?

Metacognition is a skill which can be developed in each learner by developing a culture of inquiry where each student is valued as a capable inquirer. Teachers extend learning with open-ended questions. The classroom climate is such where it is OK to make mistakes.

John Hattie has rightly said,” Mistakes are the essence of learning”

Students will flourish in the tutelage of teachers who support metacognitive discussions.

In this age of overload of information being aware of our strengths and weaknesses and the ability to apply learnt knowledge in various situations is important to lead a successful life.

Our cognitive ability only helps us to acquire knowledge but the process of metacognition equips us to reflect, verbalize and give meaning to the environment in question.

Metacognition and self-regulated learning help in boosting learning power by adopting a growth mindset. As the learner can reflect deeply about their learning and is aware to choose the right strategy most applicable in the given situation.

Evidence of Metacognitive thinking in my learners.

Metacognitive awareness is about how you think and how you learn. If learners are more conscious about how they learn they can identify a more effective way of doing that. As an educator, I consciously try to inculcate a stimulating environment where each learner is an equal participant in their learning journey. To promote metacognitive thinking and create a sense of agency I use the following strategies in my primary years’ classroom. My learners belong to the age group of 8-9 years old.

1. Who Am I As a Learner

Students learn best when the teaching style matches their preferred learning style. As Albert Einstein rightly said, “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Hence At the beginning of each session to understand my learners better and for them to identify their learning style I start by making observations and each student fills up a detailed google form, ‘Who Am I As a Learner’. Responses by the students help me reflect on my teaching practices and introduce strategies to match their learning needs. It is the first for students to take charge of their learning. Here a snapshot of the responses shared by my students.

2. SMART goal setting

Research shows that goal-setting leads to metacognitive awareness when students are aware of what they want to achieve and the steps they need to take to accomplish the target will lead to more success in learning

. Hence goal setting is a powerful practice where students need to set goals which are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely.

Here is an example of students setting SMART goals for themselves to achieve their targets.

3. Stating the learning outcome and co-creating the success criteria at the beginning of each session.

“Clear learning goals are necessary for students to effectively apply their metacognitive strategies. With clear learning goals, students can plan strategies that will help them to achieve the goals and will also monitor their progress towards achieving these goals.”

This helps to state the learning intent and what the students are expected to learn and do by the end of the lesson to be successful in their learning process.

4. Entry and Exit Tickets

The entry and exit tickets are great tools for formative assessment and to collect data. Also, the tickets help the learners to assess the previous knowledge of the concept, what they have learned and questions they still have hence is a diagnostic assessment tool to gauge their thinking. It is a reflective practice both for teachers and learners.

5. Visible thinking routines and Graphic organisers

Students use the thinking routines and graphic organisers to brainstorm and plan their thinking. They are introduced to various routines as per the objective of the lesson. For example-See-think-wonder, KWL, Hamburger paragraph writing and I thought and Now I think.

6. Asking questions before reading, while reading and after reading a text.

7. Inferring and justification by providing evidence of their thinking

8. Reflection is a fundamental part of the plan-monitor-evaluate process. Encouraging learners to self-question throughout the process will support this reflection.

9. Self assessing checklists and rubrics-The checklists and rubrics helps students to reflect on their learning and make edits to improve their work before submission.

10. Peer feedback using glow and grow strategy or using two stars and a wish approach-This strategy helps the learners to think critically and give feedback by first starting with something positive followed by an area of improvement.

11.Mindfulness-Being mindful and staying present in the moment helps the learners to collect their thoughts by being more aware and ready to learn. Hence in my classroom during the transition time, we begin with a short mindfulness breathing exercise.

Concluding Thoughts

By supporting learners to seek answers to their questions we as educators can promote the culture of thinking classrooms where each member is armed with a sense of agency. Metacognition and self-directed learning are tools to recognise how everyone’s voice and choice matters and gives us the power to change the world.

While there may be some benefit to introducing students to the general importance of planning, monitoring, and evaluating, the particular strategies are often quite subject- or task‑specific and the evidence suggests that they are best taught through subject content rather than standalone instruction.

The following seven‑step model for explicitly teaching metacognitive strategies can be applied to learning different subject content at different phases and ages.

It involves

1. activating prior knowledge;

2. explicit strategy instruction;

3. modelling of learned strategy;

4. memorisation of strategy;

5. guided practice;

6. independent practice; and

7. structured reflection.

In a dynamic, rapidly changing world, inundated with an abundance of information, our students must be able to ‘see-through’ the hype and form their own opinions.

Metacognition promotes reflective and independent thinking as students construct, critique and apply their understandings to new contexts and situations.

Weimer’s “Deep Learning vs. Surface Learning: Getting Students to Understand the Difference” (2012) offers additional recommendations for developing students’ metacognitive awareness and improvement of their study skills:

“[I]t is important that in explicit and concerted ways we make students aware of themselves as learners. We must regularly ask, not only ‘What are you learning?’ but ‘How are you learning?’ We must confront them with the effectiveness (more often ineffectiveness) of their approaches. We must offer alternatives and then challenge students to test the efficacy of those approaches.”

References and Bibliography

Mastering Metacognition: The What, Why, and How. (n.d.). Retrieved September 28, 2020, from https://www.activelylearn.com/post/metacognition

Marschall, C., French, R., Erickson, H. L., Lanning, L. A., & Mosteller, A. (2018). Concept-based inquiry in action: Strategies to promote transferable understanding. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, a SAGE Company.

Rae Jacobson is a writer and content engagement specialist at the Child Mind Institute. (2019, June 01). Metacognition: How Thinking About Thinking Can Help Kids. Retrieved September 27, 2020, from https://childmind.org/article/how-metacognition-can-help-kids/

What is Self-Regulated Learning? (2017, June 08). Retrieved September 28, 2020, from https://serc.carleton.edu/sage2yc/self_regulated/what.html

Metacognition and self-regulation: Toolkit Strand. (n.d.). Retrieved September 28, 2020, from https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evidence-summaries/teaching-learning-toolkit/meta-cognition-and-self-regulation/?utm_source=site