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Metacognition

Metacognition: What’s all the fuss?

by Shirley Larkin.

What does metacognition look like? And how can we facilitate it?

Try a thought experiment. Turn your mind to think about your own memory. Is it a good memory? Can you compare it to someone else’s? Can you compare within yourself eg. I have a good memory for faces but not for names. Ask yourself how you remember best. Does it depend on what you are trying to remember. Think about short term and long term memory. Don’t conjure up a memory, just focus on memory itself. When you have had enough come back to reading.

If you did the above you have just experienced the shift in thinking we call metacognition. Metacognition is thinking about our own cognitive processes. So we turn our thoughts inward to what is in our mind rather than what is in the world.

The cognitive processes are: thinking, knowing, believing, guessing, imagining, remembering, understanding, attention, concentration, perception.

But of course we can’t see people make this shift in thinking. We can only interpret what people are thinking from what they say or what they do. So if we want to develop better metacognition in the classroom we need to provide activities that require students to shift their thinking to the meta-level. We also need to have some way of being able to see this shift happen.

We know that activities that are complex, open-ended, with no one right answer, which are novel and authentic are more likely to require this shift in thinking than simpler, familiar and repetitive tasks. We don’t need to be metacognitive all of the time. Tasks become automated for a reason eg consider reading, driving, walking. But making decisions, taking account of different perspectives, solving complex open ended problems do require a shift in thinking. We can use our metacognitive knowledge of how we think best to help us with such tasks. We can also monitor our progress and where necessary change the way we are thinking, drawing on strategies that we know have helped us in the past.

So to facilitate metacognition we first need to provide the right kinds of activities. Secondly we need to show students what metacognition is by modelling it. Thirdly we need to equip students with the language to talk about their own thinking. Fourthly we need to consider the classroom environment and turn it into a space where the focus is on good thinking rather than only good answer.

Biography: Dr. Shirley Larkin is a senior lecturer at Graduate School of Education, University of Exeter. She has researched metacognition since 1999. You can see her profile and contact information here, if you would like to get in touch:

http://socialsciences.exeter.ac.uk/education/staff/profile/index.php?web_id=shirley_larkin

Shirley researches and writes about metacognition, self-regulated learning and thinking skills extensively. For a recent publication written for primary school teachers see Metacognition, Worldviews and Religious Education.

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