Metacognition is often described as the process of thinking about thinking. It is a term that has found itself at the forefront of discussions around education in recent years and, as students, our teachers and tutors will often provide us with tasks or resources that will support or encourage this process of reflection on our own learning. However, having a solid understanding of the principles behind it and some of our own strategies for using it can help to ensure that, as learners, we can see the benefits in our own academic development regardless of the educational context.
Metacognition can be divided into two areas. The first is knowledge and understanding of cognitive processes and the ways in which we learn new things. Whilst this might include learning about the psychology behind certain educational processes or the science related to the ways in which information is processed and stored by learners, it can also be much more simple than this. Taking time to reflect upon the tasks that you find easy or hard, looking at the ways different topics or areas of study may be connected or identifying what the motivation for completing the learning is, all support this process of understanding. As a learner, you might ask yourself questions such as; why did I find that task easy? Or, how does this information build upon what I learned last time?
The second is the ways we can use this understanding to regulate our learning experiences or adapt them to ensure their effectiveness. Again, there are many simple ways by which we can incorporate strategies for regulation into our study. An easy way to think about how we might do this is to identify the planning, monitoring and evaluation of the learning we complete.
Planning is something students often find challenging, but understanding the ways that the process can be considered metacognitive is actually a great way to bring focus to your plans. In this way, planning should be seen as ensuring that you have the appropriate knowledge, skills and resources to complete a task effectively. Knowledge organisers are a great way to begin as they will offer an overview of all of the information you should understand. Identifying a list of success criteria for the task is also a great way to ensure that you are focused on using the appropriate skills. From here, you can then begin to refine how you can bring the two together.
Building in opportunities to consider your own understanding of and achievement in relation to a task is an effective way to make sure that your performance is the best it can be. Before you begin a new task or area of study, identify what you already know about it and then come back to this regularly in order to monitor your progress. This will help identify any support you might require and ensure that your learning remains on track.
Having strategies to evaluate your learning and the work you are producing is a vital part of the metacognitive process. Coming back to the initial intentions and reflecting upon your achievements in relation to these will not only allow you to recognise any successes but also support in the planning for your next steps. Remember, when evaluating your learning, as well as considering the work that you have produced, it is always useful to reflect upon the processes you used when producing it as this will highlight what you did or didn’t find useful.
From here, you can then start the planning process all again!