Metacognition and Learning

  • January 30, 2019

Artists and academics toss the term ‘meta’ through discussions and lectures to mean a greater outside perspective of looking in. Television, theatre, and now children’s books call attention to an awareness of the audience, the limitations of the craft and restrictions of the genre that affect both the participants within the art and the audience. One need look no further than Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggy story ‘We Are In a Book’ or ‘Be Quiet!’ by Ryan T Higgins to see an explanation of ‘meta’ and its framing of how we see the world by looking at what restraints limit the created environment.

Metacognition means an awareness of how we think, plan and assess our own performance and learning. Namely, are we aware of our own thought processes and learning; do we know how we think about thinking?  

Extracting our thought process from learning and giving it a hard look may not be the cup of tea Saturday afternoon you had planned, but it sheds light on how we can learn and maximize the information that we need to take in.  

But why does it matter? Metacognition gives us the tools to go beyond a list of what we need to learn and instead it frames information for us to identify HOW we can learn. This practice gives us a greater awareness of our own process for internalizing information and it allows us the freedom to adapt what we should know to our own style of learning. It also requires us to face our own brain and evaluate the ways in the past where learning was meaningful to us and the lessons we learned actually stuck with us. In short, we need to think about the ways that we learn.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself or your students to help them become better about thinking about thinking:

  1. What should I do first?
  2. Is anything confusing to me?
  3. Can I explain what I’ve learned?
  4. Should I ask for extra help?
  5. Why did I get this answer wrong?
  6. Can I apply this in different contexts?
  7. How can I do better next time?

Providing students a forum to asks these questions builds their resilience and gives them space to know how they can improve. It does not limit them to what they know and what they don’t know; instead, it builds a bridge for them to identify how to access what they want to know. This also improves a students’ ability to self-regulate and improve the way they learn, which, for those of us who want learning to always be a part of our lives, is a huge bonus!


Deborah Hurtado has a Bachelor’s in English from UCLA and has been Director at Davidson Tutoring for 10 years. Her ongoing goal with Davidson Tutoring students, herself and her own children is to foster a passion for learning that continues beyond degrees or school walls.


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