Metacognition is thinking about thinking, knowing "what we know" and "what we don't know." Just as an executive's job is management of an organization, a thinker's job is management of thinking. The basic metacognitive strategies are:
- Connecting new information to former knowledge.
- Selecting thinking strategies deliberately.
- Planning, monitoring, and evaluating thinking processes. (Dirkes, 1985)
A thinking person is in charge of her behavior. She determines when it is necessary to use metacognitive strategies. She selects strategies to define a problem situation and researches alternative solutions. She tailors this search for information to constraints of time and energy. She monitors, controls and judges her thinking. She evaluates and decides when a problem is solved to a satisfactory degree or when the demands of daily living take a temporary or permanent higher priority.
Studies show that increases in learning have followed direct instruction in metacognitive strategies. These results suggest that direct teaching of these thinking strategies may be useful, and that independent use develops gradually (Scruggs, 1985).
Learning how to learn, developing a repertoire of thinking processes which can be applied to solve problems, is a major goal of education. The school library media center, as the hub of the school, is an ideal place to integrate these types of skills into subject areas or students' own areas of interest. When life presents situations that cannot be solved by learned responses, metacognitive behavior is brought into play. Metacognitive skills are needed when habitual responses are not successful. Guidance in recognizing, and practice in applying, metacognitive strategies, will help students successfully solve problems throughout their lives.
Strategies for Developing Metacognitive Behaviors
- Identifying "what you know" and "what you don't know." At the beginning of a research activity students need to make conscious decisions about their knowledge. Initially students write "What I already know about..." and "What I want to learn about...." As students research the topic, they will verify, clarify and expand, or replace with more accurate information, each of their initial statements.
- Talking about thinking. Talking about thinking is important because students need a thinking vocabulary. During planning and problem-solving situations, teachers should think aloud so that students can follow demonstrated thinking processes. Modeling and discussion develop the vocabulary students need for thinking and talking about their own thinking. Labelling thinking processes when students use them is also important for student recognition of thinking skills. Paired problem-solving is another useful strategy. One student talks through a problem, describing his thinking processes. His partner listens and asks questions to help clarify thinking. Similarly, in reciprocal teaching (Palinscar, Ogle, Jones, Carr, & Ransom, 1986), small groups of students take turns playing teacher, asking questions, and clarifying and summarizing the material being studied.
- Keeping a thinking journal. Another means of developing metacognition is through the use of a journal or learning log. This is a diary in which students reflect upon their thinking, make note of their awareness of ambiguities and inconsistencies, and comment on how they have dealt with difficulties. This journal is a diary of process.
- Planning and self-regulation. Students must assume increasing responsibility for planning and regulating their learning. It is difficult for learners to become self-directed when learning is planned and monitored by someone else. Students can be taught to make plans for learning activities including estimating time requirements, organizing materials, and scheduling procedures necessary to complete an activity. The resource center's flexibility and access to a variety of materials allows the student to do just this. Criteria for evaluation must be developed with students so they learn to think and ask questions of themselves as they proceed through a learning activity.
- Debriefing the thinking process. Closure activities focus student discussion on thinking processes to develop awareness of strategies that can be applied to other learning situations. A three step method is useful. First, the teacher guides students to review the activity, gathering data on thinking processes and feelings. Then, the group classifies related ideas, identifying thinking strategies used. Finally, they evaluate their success, discarding inappropriate strategies, identifying those valuable for future use, and seeking promising alternative approaches.
- Self-Evaluation. Guided self-evaluation experiences can be introduced through individual conferences and checklists focusing on thinking processes. Gradually self-evaluation will be applied more independently. As students recognize that learning activities in different disciplines are similar, they will begin to transfer learning strategies to new situations.
Establishing the Metacognitive Environment
A metacognitive environment encourages awareness of thinking. Planning is shared between teachers, school library media specialists, and students. Thinking strategies are discussed. Evaluation is ongoing.
In the creation of a metacognitive environment, teachers monitor and apply their knowledge, deliberately modeling metacognitive behavior to assist students in becoming aware of their own thinking.
Metacognitive strategies are already in teachers' repertoires. We must become alert to these strategies, and consciously model them for students.
Problem-solving and research activities in all subjects provide opportunities for developing metacognitive strategies. Teachers need to focus student attention on how tasks are accomplished. Process goals, in addition to content goals, must be established and evaluated with students so they discover that understanding and transferring thinking processes improves learning.
In this rapidly changing world, the challenge of teaching is to help students develop skills which will not become obsolete. Metacognitive strategies are essential for the twenty-first century. They will enable students to successfully cope with new situations. Teachers and school library media specialists capitalize on their talents as well as access a wealth of resources that will create a metacognitive environment which fosters the development of good thinkers who are successful problem-solvers and lifelong learners.
Dirkes, M. Ann. (1985, November). "Metacognition: Students in charge of their thinking." Roeper Review, 8(2), 96-100. EJ 329 760.
Heller, Mary F. (1986, February). "How do you know what you know? Metacognitive modeling in the content areas." Journal of Reading, 29, 415-421. EJ 329 408.
Palinscar, A. S.; Ogle, D. S.; Jones, B. F.; Carr, E. G.; & Ransom, K. (1986). Teaching reading as thinking. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Scruggs, Thomas E.; Mastropieri, M. A.; Monson, J.; & Jorgenson, C. (1985, Fall). "Maximizing what gifted students can learn: Recent findings of learning strategy research." Gifted Child Quarterly, 29(4), 181-185. EJ 333 116.
Biggs, John B. (1987). Student approaches to learning and studying. Hawthorne, Victoria, Australia: Australian Council for Educational Research. ED 308 201.
Dirkes, M. Ann. (1988, December). Self-directed thinking in the curriculum. Roeper Review, 11(2), 92-94. EJ 387 276.
Marzano, Robert J.; Brandt, Ronald S.; Hughes, Carolyn Sue; Jones, Beau Fly; Presseisen, Barbara Z.; Rankin, Stuart C.; & Suhor, Charles. (1988). Dimensions of thinking: A framework for curriculum and instruction. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. ED 294 222.
"Thinkers and readers (Secondary perspectives). (1990, March). Journal of Reading, 33(6)," 460-62. EJ 405 093.
This digest originally appeared as "Thinking for the Future," by Elaine Blakey and Sheila Spence, in Emergency Librarian, 17(5), May-June 1990, 11-14. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.
ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced and disseminated, but please acknowledge your source. This publication was prepared with funding from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under Contract No. RI88062007. The opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the Department of Education.
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.