Developing A Culture of Metacognition – The Art of Teaching How to Think


As the world economy shifts away from manufacturing jobs and towards more creative jobs, there’s a consensus among parents, educators, politicians and business leaders that it is crucial students complete their K-12 education with the ability to identify and solve complex problems, think critically about information, work effectively in teams and communicate clearly about their thinking.

That is why we as educators must focus on the 4 C’s of 21st Century Learning: Critical Thinking Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity

A number of conditions support the development of a metacognitive classroom environment. Learning environments that are knowledge-centered and learner-centered, and that take into account the role of assessment in learning, lay the foundation for a reflective classroom. “Knowledge-centered” classrooms focus on meaningful, powerful, nontrivial activities.

When students are asked to engage in activities that build on their previous knowledge, challenge them with complex tasks, and require active sense-making, they are more likely to see the utility of being reflective and strategic learners. In such classrooms, students need access to procedural knowledge—How are you going to do this and be successful?—as well as conditional knowledge—When is this going to be useful to you?

When having a “Learner-centered” classroom take into account students’ current knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs. If teaching is conceived as constructing a bridge between the subject matter and the student, learner-centered teachers keep a constant eye on both ends of the bridge.

Metacognitive activities that ask students to reflect on what they know, care about and are able to do not only help learners develop an awareness of themselves, but also give learner-centered teachers valuable information for their instruction.

It is important for teachers to give students opportunities to reflect on their learning because it is often difficult for them to realize what they are doing both when they succeed and when they fail. Providing clear constructive feedback is a critical strategy for students to receive in developing their Metacognitive abilities.

For example, if a student writes two essays and gets an “A” on one of them and a “C” on the other, he might not understand what he did on the “A” essay that was different from the “C” essay. Thus, it is important for the teacher to assist the student in reflecting on his own performance by providing timely and personal feedback.

Without this assistance, he will not know how to improve. Metacognition involves taking what we learn in one situation and transforming it into a level of understanding that is much more likely to transfer to another situation.

Developing a culture of metacognition in the classroom—where students are encouraged to develop this kind of awareness—begins with making the purpose of learning activities and the goals for performance clear to students. When students are given feedback with the purpose of redirecting and revising their work rather than simply to assign a grade, they have the opportunity to revisit their work with a greater understanding.

When a teacher provides clear expectations in terms of how she evaluates student work and provides models and examples that give students a sense of the goals they are striving for, students are empowered to take on more responsibility and ownership in their learning. They key to high-quality work is no longer a mystery; expectations and goals are clear. Students are also more motivated to succeed when they can see concrete pathways to improvement.

As teachers, we need to think about how to help students become thoughtful learners in our classrooms. We need to put practices in our classroom which will provide at first the guidance on how followed by the activities and tasks to practice these skills.

If you are interested in this topic you may want to consider the following Teach n’ Kids Learn (TKL) Self-Paced online professional development courses.

  1. Increasing Student Engagement Planning Outside the Box
  2. 21st Century Learning and the 4Cs (Grades K-12)
  3. Differentiated Instruction Driven by Assessments (Foundations)
  4. Creating Learning Classrooms for Today’s Students (Grades K-12)