Metacognition and SRL


Scenario A

You are a Form Five history teacher and your students are well-behaved but very passive and academically weak. Usually they sit in class quietly and when asked questions, they usually look blank or just try to find the answers from the textbook. They have difficulties understanding and they have problems when asked to interpret information or to understand the relationships among different events. One day, a group of Form Five students came and here is what they said:

We find little interest in what we are studying and it is difficult to understand all the complicated information. Usually we just try to memorize the information, but we just cannot remember all the notes even though we study hard. Information gets mixed up easily. Teachers often complain that we did not attempt the questions properly. We thought we have included the material from the notes in our answers, but the teachers did not give us marks for it. Sometimes we simply did not have time to answer all the questions.

What would you do as a teacher to help these students? How can the idea of metacognition help?

Scenario B

Leslie is a Primary Mathematics teacher and he is very serious in how well his students achieved upon daily teaching practices. No matter which topic he teaches, he used to draw students attention starting from their prior knowledge and the whole learning process is undergone via stepwise instruction.

Once something has been learnt, he will provide assignments of differential degree of difficulties and students can selectively complete those according to their self-evaluated understanding of the concepts.

Teachers' concerns: My students are very hardworking, but they do not have high order thinking and don’t know how to study and learn well. What can I do?

Scenario C


Setting: ABC Academy (self-funded post-secondary education institution), Student A (without metacognition), Student B  (with metacognition).

Student A and Student B will have German vocabulary quiz tomorrow and need to remember 3000 words in one day. Student A gets stuck on the revision of German vocabulary items while Student B sees the word pattern and do the revision efficiently. Student B is able to break the German word “Wörterbuck“into 2 parts for the ease of memorization. To Student B, Wörter(words) and buch (book) refers to a book with many words and this link to the English word “dictionary”. Now let’s see how they discuss the forthcoming German vocabulary quiz.

Student A: We will have German test tomorrow. There are many things for revision. I’m so perplexed and my mind is bombarded with the textbook content. With bunch of information in textbook, I can’t believe I can memorize it even though I study it till midnight.

Student B: Well, be positive. No one can study all lexis in one language not to mention the native speakers. You should remember that you are the one who know best where your interest and talent lies.  Just prepare a study plan based on your interest and talent and you will be fine.

Student A: I don’t know how to begin with.

Student B: You should set priority about which content to study first and find a study method which caters to your own need.

Student A: how do you set such plan for yourself?

Student B: I’m keen on analyzing the words, so I just study by breaking up the word units and this helps me in memorizing the words efficiently. Let’s say, the word “dictionary” in German is Wörterbuch. If you break it into 2 word units, Wörter (words) and buch (book) refer to a book with many words. So the combination of these word units realizes the meaning of the word "dictionary.”. Does it make sense to you?

Student A: Yes. Anything else for your study plan?

Student B: I will also buy some exercise books to assess my vocabulary learning from time to time. That’s how I monitor my own learning process.

What makes the differences between Student A & Student B?

It is how they apply the strategies in their revision to remember words better. These strategies refer to the concept of metacognition.


Metacognition plays an important role in a student's learning strategies, and refers to:

  • the conscious controlling, regulating and monitoring of all sorts of cognitive processes;
  • the process of monitoring, regulating and controlling an individual's thinking about their thinking;
  • the thinking about one's own thinking processes;
  • knowledge about executive control systems and the evaluation (of) cognitive states such as self appraisal and self management;
  • the ability to evaluate one's own comprehension and understanding of subject matter, and use that evaluation to predict how well one will perform on a task

Basic Assumptions and Principles

Metacognition comprises three related sets of skills (Flavell ,1979):

  • One must understand what skills, strategies, and resources a task requires.Metacognitive Awarenessrelates to an individual's awareness of where they are in the learning process, their knowledge about content knowledge, personal learning strategies, and what has been done and needs to be done.
  • The ability is required to monitor how well they have done on a target learning task. Metacognitive Evaluation refers to judgments made regarding one's thinking capacities and limitations as these are employed in a particular situation or as self-attributes. For example, individuals could be making a judgment on the effectiveness of their thinking and/or strategy choice.
  • One must know how and when to use these skills and strategies to ensure the task is completed successfully. Metacognitive Regulation occurs when individuals modify their thinking.

Classroom Implication and Teaching Strategies

Today, most learning theorists believe that when otherwise similar, students with better metacognitive abilities are likely to be better learners. Therefore there is a logical interest in helping students to learn metacognitive strategies.

According to Dirkes (1985), the basic metacognitive strategies are:

  • connecting new information to former knowledge;
  • selecting thinking strategies deliberately; and
  • planning, monitoring, and evaluating thinking processes.

Young children are cognitively capable of monitoring their activities on simple tasks (Kuhn, 1999). Teachers can help students to develop their metacognitive skills. Children develop metacognitive abilities through interactions with parents and teachers (Langer & Applebee, 1986).

Merlo et al. (2007) proposed an overall pedagogical design for teaching metacognitive skills:

  • an introduction, in which the student is taught explicitly about a strategy and its possible applications;
  • interactive exercises, or practical training that requires the student to use the skills learned, so that the procedures are more likely to be internalized and the student is aware of the practical use of a strategy.

The items of each exercise are:

  • a task consisting of a set of instructions, which the student uses to plan the cognitive actions he needs to carry out in order to achieve a set aim;
  • a plan of action providing a break-down of the process, specifying the individual cognitive actions for achieving the aim of the task;
  • a training area consisting of multimedia content for training;
  • an evaluation area in which the student uses the strategy on his own, supported by strategic questions reminding him of the cognitive actions to put into effect;
  • a self-monitoring area in which the student monitors the overall application of the strategy and describes any difficulties he encounters; and
  • final monitoring, consisting of a set of questions for the student’s self-evaluation of possible changes perceived as a result of the strategy training.

According to NCREL (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory):

  • Developing the plan: Questions like "What knowledge will help me doing it ?", "What should I do first ?, " Why am I reading this ?"
  • Implementing and maintaining the plan: Questions like "How am I doing ?", "How should I got further?", "What should I change since I am stuck ?"
  • Evaluating the plan: Questions like "How well did I manage ?", "What can I learn from it ? ..


Successful Examples

Further Reading

  • Dirkes, M. A. (1985). Metacognition: Students in charge of their thinking. Roeper Review, 8(2), 96-100.
  • Flavell, J.H. (1979). Metacognition and cognitive monitoring. A new area of cognitive-development inquiry. American Psychologist, 34, 906–911.
  • Kujawa, S., & Huske, L. (1995). Strategic teaching and reading project guidebook. North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL).
  • Kuhn, D. (1999). A developmental model of critical thinking. Educational researcher, 28(2), 16-46.
  • Langer, J. A., & Applebee, A. N. (1986). Reading and writing instruction: Toward a theory of teaching and learning. Review of research in education, 13, 171-194.
  • Merlo, G., Seta, L., Ottaviano, S., Chifari, A., Chiazzese, G., Allegra, M. & Todaro, G. (2007). Guiding students to acquire strategies for Web learning through Gym2Learn. In T. Bastiaens & S. Carliner (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2007 (pp. 7260-7266). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

Teaching Materials on Higher Order Thinking