Source: Blakey, E., & Spence, S. (1990). Developing metacognition. Syracuse, NY: ERIC Clearinghouse on Information Resources. [ED327218]
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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:
1. Connecting new information to former knowledge.
2. Selecting thinking strategies deliberately.
3. Planning, monitoring, and evaluating thinking processes. (Dirkes,
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
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
1. 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
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Debriefing the thinking process.
Closure activities focus student discussion on thinking processes to
develop awareness of strategies that can be applied to other learning
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.
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
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
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.
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This digest was prepared with funding from the Office of Educational
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no. RI88062008. The opinions expressed in this report do not
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