Learning Through Metacognition: Concept And Strategies
“Education is the methodical creation of the habit of thinking”— “The Art of Thinking” by Ernest Dimnet,1928. A guided process to Understand, Plan, Start, Review (UPS and R); can gradually lead the learner to independent learning wherein s(he) is ready to take control and ownership of his/her learning.
~by Abhilasha Pandey | Educationist
The teaching process is stormed by a multitude of ideas and scientific developments during past few decades. Ideas such as student-centered learning to parent involvement, deep learning to skill education, spiral teaching to peer learning have added unique shades to the arena. Another dimension is to encourage Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTs) or Critical and Analytical skills as per Bloom’s Taxonomy. A teacher is expected to ensure all of the above; or at least as much as humanely possible and then some more.
While neuroscientific research insists on student centered learning; the onus of learning has still not shifted from teacher to student. This creates a lacuna that neither of the teaching learning techniques, despite experimental evidences of its effectiveness; or highest standards of implementation; can fill. Learners, no matter how advanced; remain miserably unsuccessful at independent learning; perplexed when presented with problems involving critical or analytical skills, unless practiced before. And by corollary teachers continue to be blamed and hence stressed. What are we missing?
Nothing mars performance as guilt – FOMO (fear of missing out) – in this new context, is missing one odd child, his/her area of weakness; not being able to take appropriate action, and witnessing the child consistently falling on the wrong side of learning curves. The thought of that one learner haunts the teacher, even though we know that it is humanely impossible for one teacher to cater to areas of weakness, conceptual gaps, and learning goals of each one of the 40 students in our class.
And yet, damage control is possible.
A popular adage in Hindi translates as “you can push the horse to the pond; but you can’t make it drink.” A horse would drink only when it thinks that it needs to drink. Not to equate human mind with horse, but the point to take home is, we are ruled by our thought process. Every action is preceded by a brain activity that understands the need for that activity, plans the activity and then starts. The UPS, “UNDERSTAND, PLAN, START” sequence is responsible for processing information, which consequentially determines whether an activity is worth undertaking. A cost benefit analysis is done at mental level in every brain. And here in comes the key skill that is the single most determining factor ensuring the transformation of a classroom learning paradigm. A learner truly, eagerly learns, when he/she sees the need to learn. The true shift from teacher centered learning to learner centered learning occurs when the learner is able to ponder over the following three questions:
- What am I learning today?
- Why am I learning this topic/concept?
- How is it going to benefit me?
Or in other words, the learner begins to think about his thinking/learning process; i.e. rises above the levels of cognition and begins his journey in to the realm of Metacognition. The teacher like a shepherd needs to guide the learner to metacognition, let the need be felt, and then the learning will happen; smoothly.
What is metacognition? How do we guide students to practice it? Before taking the plunge in to mesmerizing depths of metacognition, let’s take a moment to understand the multidimensional ramifications of this remarkable skill. Metacognition has been defined as ‘the knowledge about and regulation of one’s cognitive activities in learning process’ (Flavell, 1979). It involves skills that enable learners to understand and monitor their learning process. There are three aspects of the metacognitive process: declarative, procedural and conditional (Schraw and Moshman, 1995). Declarative knowledge refers to knowledge about one’s learning process, and recognizing factors that determine one’s performance. Procedural knowledge is about strategizing one’s learning process, using strategies sequentially and effectively to maximize learning. Conditional knowledge refers to when and why of learning process. It enables learners to analyze cost benefit ratio, ponder over resource allocation and choose the strategies suitable for various tasks.
Metacognition helps a student control their learning by choosing what to learn, when to learn, how to learn and to self-regulate one’s cognitive process, thereby determining the trajectory of learning curve.
Metacognition therefore helps a student control their learning by choosing what to learn, when to learn, how to learn and to self-regulate one’s cognitive process, thereby determining the trajectory of learning curve.
The science behind it…
Prefrontal cortex is the area of brain responsible for systematic planning, decision making and also metacognition. It conveys signals to nucleus acumbens in basal forebrain. Nucleus acumbens forms the reward circuit of brain; which releases the neurotransmitter Dopamine. Dopamine is also involved in motivation, attention and memory; which are three critical components of the learning process; besides metacognition. Metacognition therefore ensures that this circuit of nucleus acumbens is activated thereby bringing the remaining components in to play. Critical factor however is the development of metacognitive skills. Tough task. However, the exponential levels of achievements obtained through the implementation of metacognition, justify the input costs of development of these skills as part of classroom teaching strategy. An initial resource input can go a long way in helping students become independent learners.
Here are a few strategies to inculcate metacognition in young learners:
- Introduce the idea of metacognition to students. The idea can be introduced to middle and high school learners by directly defining followed by examples; or to young learners through a story or activity. Presenting brain as the school bus/their favourite car, and themselves as the driver; can metaphorically present the idea that they need to take control of the driving.
- For every lesson, the first class should be about setting goals, either in form of queries raised by the learners; followed by teacher’s statement “lets see if we can find out,” or problems put forth by the teacher, that a learner should be able to solve at the end of lesson.
- Repeat the idea of metacognition as often as possible to drive home the significance of taking control and responsibility of their own learning.
- With every step of the learning process, guide learners to assess how close they are to clarifying their initial queries; or solving the problems given to them.
- At the end of discussion, give learners time to analyse the information, develop their theories and use them to solve problems.
- As students present their version of the solution, encourage them to focus on procedure; the thought process that led to the solution including and stressing the mistakes made on the way. Every mistake is a milestone and a significant step of learning process.
- Let them review their process if they fail to come at expected solution. Using indirect prompts to steer them towards erroneous steps rather than providing the answers directly. Besides ability and desire to learn; a belief in one’s ability is the next important factor that ensures successful learning.
- Catch and appreciate students being metacognitive. Exemplifying and celebrating builds an aura of encouragement.
- Encourage students to share their stories of metacognition.
- Facilitate metacognitive thinking through real life or fictional situations; family or national issues; self or vicarious incidence, where a metacognitive thinking process would have provided better results.
A guided process involving Understand, Plan, Start, Review (UPS and R); can gradually lead the learner to an independent learning wherein s(he) is ready to take control and ownership of his/her learning. It must however be remembered that research on metacognition, though nascent, has provided multiple strategies. The list above is indicative and not exhaustive.
Abhilasha Pandey is a keen learner and an educationist. She is a teacher for past 14 years. She has been working with Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS) since 2014. She is currently posted at KV, INS Shivaji, Lonavala. An avid reader, she is interested in Educational Psychology, Pedagogy, and Neuroscientific research pertaining to teaching-learning.