Metacognition is thinking about thinking, but it also encompasses the “regulation of these thoughts – the ability to change them.”  It includes the processes to plan, monitor, and assess understanding and performance.  Flavell first identified  the term in 1979, and it has increased in importance in education. His study concluded that “ . . . metacognition plays an important role in oral communication of information, oral persuasion, oral comprehension, reading comprehension, writing, language acquisition, attention, memory, problem solving, social cognition, and various types of self-control and self-instruction.”  When students learn how to think about their thinking, they become aware of their strengths and weaknesses as learners. 

Metacognition has three phases: planning, monitoring, and evaluation. Teachers can assist the students in the planning phase by asking questions.  “Questioning is one of the most effective ways to get students involved in the delivery of the lesson.”  Questioning can promote student engagement as they think about a lesson’s content.  It can also provide the teacher with feedback regarding the effectiveness of a lesson. 

During the monitoring phase, students can ask themselves what they’ve learned and what they still need to learn. The teacher’s role during this phase is to check with the students to ascertain if their approach to the task is working. 

Finally, evaluation is a crucial step for students to reflect on what they have learned and what they would like to learn. “Because metacognition is an awareness of one’s own thoughts, and as such is not directly observable, it is often measured by self-report.” The teacher’s role in this phase is to provide evaluation in the form of an assignment or test. 

Studies have shown that metacognition has a positive effect on learning. Students applying metacognitive strategies to learning tasks outperform those who do not.” The message is clear: thinking about thinking is part of an excellent learning strategy. 

Laura Maniglia