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5 Tips on Promoting Metacognition for Students

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April 15th, 2021

Studies have shown that a person’s awareness of their own strengths, weaknesses, and learning abilities has an effect on their development as a learner. In fact, self-awareness can even change the structure of the brain and make it more malleable to learning.

What is Metacognition?

It’s the concept of metacognition, which was introduced by John Flavell in the 1970s. As defined here, metacognition is a person’s ability to “control thinking processes through various strategies, such as organizing, monitoring, and adapting.” 

In other words, it’s the way we’re thinking about thinking. When we are learning a new subject or activity, are we able to process the steps it will take? Do we recognize the strengths and deficiencies in our approach? 

This area of study has become an integral part of K-12 education. Students who have shown higher levels of metacognition tend to perform better in the classroom, as they are increasingly able to transfer or adapt to new contexts and tasks. 

Conversely, the lack of metacognition can lead to struggles for students in their social and intellectual progress. Thus, it’s more vital than ever for educators to address this need in schools and districts.

Strategies for Developing Metacognition with Students

The following are 5 tips on how to develop metacognition skills with your students:

  • Model it in the classroom – Teachers who model metacognitive thinking with their students are more likely to help them catch on to how it works. This could start with verbalizing the process to the class. Phrases like, “What do we know about these problems? What are some strategies I have used before that help?” can provide insight into how students should approach problem-solving.
  • Introduce the “plan, monitor, and evaluate” process – As described by Cambridge Assessment, metacognition involves the core process of learners being able to “plan, monitor, evaluate, and make changes to their own learning behaviours” (emphasis added). These steps are fundamental in successful self-reflection.
    • Plan – Students will consider how to approach the task or goal assigned by the teacher.
    • Monitor – Students will execute on their plan while tracking its progress.
    • Evaluate – Students will determine how successful their plan was in achieving the task or goal.
  • Provide opportunities or exercises to practice monitoring – As much as it’s talked about in the classroom, teachers should also follow it up with practice. Give opportunities for students to practice what they’re learning. Here are a list of activities and tools that could be used:
    • Self-assessment quizzes
    • Peer review/assessment
    • Small group discussions
    • Student-generated quiz questions
    • Reflective journal
    • Concept maps
    • Process analysis
  • Facilitate discussion among students – In addition to modeling the proper approach, it’s important to carve out space for students to talk and reflect together. Peer-to-peer interaction can feel a little more organic (and less like instruction) as students wrestle with problems aloud. This practice would also allow students to develop social and interpersonal skills as part of their metacognitive training.
  • Seek out PD and additional resources – Continue to seek out available resources or professional development around metacognition at your site. Plan time to discuss ideas or practices at the next training session. Those who feel the most equipped will be the ones who actually implement it in the classroom.


Students who can reflect and analyze their own way of thinking is vital for effective learning to take place. Educators who address the thinking that goes beyond the surface can move their students toward adopting this approach as well. As students become more familiar with the cognitive process, they will learn to break down the layers to their learning and attain greater levels of academic and social skill. 



Illuminate Education equips educators to take a data-driven approach to serving the whole child. Our solution combines comprehensive assessment, MTSS management and collaboration, and real-time dashboard tools, and puts them in the hands of educators. As a result, educators can monitor learning and growth, identify academic and social-emotional behavioral needs, and align targeted supports in order to accelerate learning for each student. 

Ready to discover your one-stop shop for your district’s educational needs? Let’s talk.

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