Metacognition Matters

“One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing.” Who is credited for saying this?


Metacognition is often said to be "thinking about thinking," and it empowers students in their learning.
Metacognition is often said to be “thinking about thinking,” and it empowers students in their learning.

I thank Socrates for making me feel philosophical and smart as I read the article, “What Is Metacognition?” by Michael E. Martinez (2006), because as I began to read about metacognition in the classroom, I realized that I really had no clue what it should look like.

Furthermore, I realized that by me making this self-evaluation of my lack of knowledge, I was actually engaging in the process of metacognition, something that would have made Socrates proud.

Martinez offers four categories of metacognition: metamemory, metacomprehension, problem solving, and critical thinking. Martinez sums these up as being “the monitoring and control of thought” (p. 696).

Metamemory and metacomprehension are both knowing how much you know or do not know, knowing that you can remember nine of the first twelve periodic elements, or knowing that you just read a page of your science book but that you really didn’t comprehend the main idea, for example.

Problem solving is defined by Martinez as “what you do when you don’t know what you’re doing…continuously generating possibilities, weighing those options, exploring subsets of those options, and evaluating the results.” You must constantly “appraise and rework plans,” and he cites scientific research and teaching as examples.

Last, Martinez defines critical thinking as evaluating the “quality” of ideas and asking if they “make sense,” such as looking for evidence to back claims (p.697).

One important point Martinez makes is that metacognition is something strong learners do all the time, and learning to think in this way, empowers struggling learners to have more success with their learning. For example, a student may not realize that he is not understanding what he is reading; this leads to ignorance. But a student who has strategies to gage his understanding and to help cement key ideas in his mind, can learn.

For this reason, Martinez stresses that teachers develop in their students metacognition skills. Teachers need to model metacognitive thinking with students through think-alouds, place students into situations in which they can practice metacognition, and facilitate group discussions in which students can build metacognition with peers. It can even be used to self-regulate when students are taught to set goals and encourage themselves to stay focused.

I see metacognition relating to the larger trend of inquiry-based learning and the depth of knowledge required by the Common Core as critical thinking, problem solving, and being able to explain your thinking are key elements of these trends.

How do you foster metacognition in your classroom?

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