Metacognition refers to one's awareness of and ability to regulate one's own thinking. Some everyday examples of metacognition include:
  • awareness that you have difficulty remembering people's names in social situations
  • reminding yourself that you should try to remember the name of a person you just met
  • realizing that you know an answer to a question but simply can't recall it at the moment
  • realizing that you should review an article you read last week because you have forgotten many of the key points
  • realizing that there is something wrong with your solution to a problem
These types of mental events are common for all of us. Metacognition may not seem to be an especially important skill until you consider how central it is to effective learning. For example, research demonstrates that good readers monitor their comprehension as they read and poor readers do not. Specifically, good readers notice when they don't understand something and then do something about it (e.g., re-read, stop and think it through, take note that something doesn't make sense and decide to come back to it later, ask a question about it, etc). Good readers are strategic, and it is metacognitive skill that makes them so. Weak readers fail to monitor their understanding. Some studies show that weak readers simply plow through a reading from beginning to end with little recognition of what made sense and what didn't.

So, metacognition is like an internal guide that notices when your attention wanes, when your comprehension and memory fail or succeed, when your thinking is faulty, when you haven't learned something, and so forth. And, the internal guide takes action, whether that involves refocusing attention, re-reading, mulling over an idea, asking questions, or other mental moves to deal more effectively with the situation. Metacognition makes you smarter--or at least better able to take advantage of your abilities. Fortunately, students can improve their metacognitive skills and teachers can help them do so, like the elementary school teacher who always admonished the class to, "check your work!"

Read more . . .

Cognitive psychologist, Steve Chew, uses frequent formative assessment tasks in class to help students see discrepancies between what they thought they understood and what they actually understand. See Metacognition and Learning. Chew also has made a series of short videos to help students become more strategic in the ways they approach learning. See How to Get the Most Out of Studying.

Also see, Learning How to Learn: Metacognition in Liberal Education where college instructors are using metacognitive assignments to promote the development of more sophisticated "self regulated" learning. One interesting technique is something called an exam wrapper, a post-test assignment in which students analyze their preparation and performance on an exam and then propose ways to improve their future learning. Introduced by Marsha Lovett and colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University, exam wrappers engage students in being more self aware about the relationship between their preparation and performance and acting more strategically as they try to improve their learning in a course.