Teachers today are often faced with the challenge of students who just “give up” at the first sign of an academic challenge. They commonly hear things like “I don’t know how to do this”, “You didn’t teach us this”, “ I can’t do this” and “I am too stupid to do this”. The student who will verbalize his/her thoughts allows the teacher to try to help him/her find success. Too often, however, students become academically frustrated and will act out in the classroom or just sit there and do nothing and say nothing. Students often lack the academic resiliency that comes from developing metacognition.

Metacognition is awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes. The ability to analyze one’s own thoughts that lead to statements like “I don’t know how to do this” and “I can’t do this” allows for students to take better control of the learning and to begin to apply the skills and knowledge they have to the situation. Often times, if we begin to ask the student questions about what he/she does know how to do, what skills he/she has that can be applied, the student is then able to begin to attend to the work. However, what has often happened in the past, is that the student has been unsuccessful in attempting to do something new, gotten a grade that felt “bad” and it has created a sense of anxiousness about being “bad” again and so it is easier to not try it than to be “bad”.

Carol Dweck’s concept of “Not Yet” has helped many educators rethink grading and the concept of grades as either “good” or “bad”. The power of the concept of not yet allows a student to be on a continuum to achieving “good” (learning) without the feeling of being “bad” (I failed again). The idea of allowing for mastery learning teaches students metacognition. Dweck’s focus is on rewarding the process of learning more than the learning itself which allows students to develop metacognition through repeated successful learning experiences.

So, how does a teacher go about teaching metacognition in the classroom? The answer to that question varies but often we just have to modify what we do, not change it entirely. For example, many teachers currently use exit tickets at the conclusion of the lesson. By simply modifying the exit ticket to include questions like: Today my learning stopped because; today I considered a question, new idea or new perspective; and today I understood and learned allows students to gain insights into the process of learning as well as the actual content learned. Asking students to ask the group the question before asking the teacher to answer allows students to all discuss the thought process and work collaboratively to enhance each person’s thinking as well help students “feel good” about their own ability to apply prior skills and knowledge to new situations.

Teachers also need to model our own metacognition strategies. How do I get ready for a think-aloud activity or a math problem? What do I do when I don’t know what to do to answer a question or begin a project? Sharing our own metacognitive strategies helps others to develop their own.

We also know that mindfulness is being taught in many schools. Mindfulness is creating a mental state that is focused on the present moment and acknowledging one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. So, if we are mindful of the present moment while we are learning, students are then able to create an awareness of how their own learning is taking place and what works to create meaning for them. Chris Was, of Kent State University, offers some strategies for having mindfulness and metacognition work together. Jostock and Rinke offer strategies on how to teach metacognition through mindfulness by promoting self-awareness and focus. The concept of having students self-identify learning styles as a first step is the first glimpse teachers get into the level of student metacognition.

As teachers, we have to begin at the beginning. Start the conversation by encouraging students to identify thoughts, feelings, and judgments about their own learning. Respond with challenges (you did very well on the last assignment we had), affirmations (it makes sense that you are feeling stressed because you have not yet done something like this) and ask them to identify a “ tool” (metacognitive strategy) from their toolbox that can reduce stress and re-establish focus (mindfulness). The extrinsic modeling of these strategies over time will allow students to develop intrinsic metacognitive strategies that develop academic resilience and allow for learning to be maximized by the student.

In addition, there are other resources for learning about the best practices in developing metacognitive strategies from sources such as Benchmark Education, the Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning and the elearning coach.

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