Nurturing Metacognition Through Explicit Instruction at ISSP

Education - Saigon/HCMC: Feb. 19, 2020

So, what is Metacognition and Why nurture it?

What does the research say?

How can educators and parents nurture Metacognition?

How has ISSP taken steps to nurture metacognition?

The world is changing at a faster pace than it has ever changed before. As our generation faced and as the generation before us, the generation that comes after us will be tasked with new jobs, challenges and problems to solve. As parents and educators, we strive to prepare our children for the future. However, the question arises, how can we prepare students for a future that we have not yet conceived? 

How do you prepare for jobs that do not exist yet? 

To answer this, we can focus on what we do know.

We do know that we need to prepare children to be self-aware and to self-regulate when faced with challenges, especially unexpected ones. Preparing children for the 21st century means giving them the skills to tackle what the future may bring. To do this, they need to have the ability to think about their thinking - or in other words, think metacognitively. 

So, what is Metacognition and Why nurture it?

After being coined by Flavell (1979) as “thinking about thinking”, metacognition has become an important research topic among educational and cognitive researchers. Metacognition has been broken into two schools of thought - knowledge of cognition and regulation of cognition.

Knowledge of Cognition can be thought of as what learners know about learning. This includes:

- Declarative Knowledge: one could think of this as personal schema or personal awareness of knowledge and experiences. This part of metacognition is not always accurate as it is subjective and based on one’s own perception of understanding and skills. ( E.g. Remembering mathematical procedures is difficult for me. )

- Procedural knowledge: this includes understanding the task, challenge or problem faced including content - what do I know and what do I need to know? Which is related to self-confidence as well as perceived difficulty. (E.g. The mathematical procedure today is complex.) 

- Conditional knowledge: this refers to the ability to use or adapt specific strategies to challenges or tasks. (E.g. I can use a graphic organizer to lay out the steps needed to carry out the mathematical producere.) 


Regulation of Cognition can be thought of as what learners do about learning and how they regulate their thinking. This includes:

- Planning: During this phase, children think about the goal or desired outcome, consider an approach and strategies to use. Students might consider, ‘What am I being asked to do?’ ‘Which strategies will I use?’ ‘Are there any strategies that I have used before that might be useful?’

- Monitoring: During this phase, children carry out the approach and monitor progress, stopping to consider effectiveness. Children may decide to make changes accordingly if not proven effective. Students might consider: ‘Is the strategy that I am using working?’ ‘Do I need to try something different?’

- Evaluating: During this phase, students determine how successful the strategy they used was in helping them to achieve their learning goals. Students may consider: ‘How well have I done?’ ‘What went well?’ ‘What did not go so well’ ‘What would be even better’ ‘What could be improved or done differently next time?’ ‘What other situations could this approach or strategy be applicable?’ 

Throughout the regulation of cognition, reflection plays a fundamental role in student success. 

Understanding the metacognitive continuum mentioned above is an important tool in nurturing metacognitive thinking. Once parents or teachers have identified where children are on the metacognitive continuum, they can plan their support accordingly.

What does the research say? 

Flavell was not the first, nor the last, to study metacognitive processes. As summarized by Durrington Research School (2019), in more recent research by Kruger (1999) and Dunning et al (2003) both found evidence that individuals with poor metacognitive skills performed academically lower than their peers. This could be accredited to their more metacognitively aware peers who may have avoided persevering in unproductive strategies (Tanner, 2012) and were equipped to devise more productive and efficient learning strategies. Moreover, studies by Veenman et al (2006) claim that metacognitive skills significantly contributed to performance, accounting for 17% of the variance in learning outcomes compared to only 10% for intelligence.

As a result of research into metacognition, we now understand the importance of nurturing effective metacognitive behaviours in all children starting in early years. Thinking about one’s own thinking plays an important role in improved and long lasting learning because it helps students make greater sense of their life experiences and start achieving at higher levels. When outcomes or solutions are not obvious, students improve their ability to consider choices and evaluate options. They can identify what helps them as individual learners as well as target key areas of growth. Because children can rely on reflective practices to recognize specific gaps in knowledge, children develop a more proactive ‘how can I’ mindset rather than a negative ‘I can’t’ mindset when faced with frustration. All in all, students develop abilities to reflect on, monitor, and evaluate learning strategies, becoming more self-reliant, flexible, and productive. 

Beyond Academics

Metacognition is not just simply preparing students to be future problem solvers and critical thinkers, but also to be emotionally cognitive. More and more studiesare showing evidence that students who are taught metacognitive strategies are more resilient and more successful, both in and out of academic settings. Thinking about thinking provides tools to reflect and grow in emotional and social spheres because children are able to reflect on mindset, personal experiences, how others may feel, and ways to make connections both academically and socially. 


Students, who have gained awareness of emotional states, are able to answer important questions such as: 

- How do my feelings and experiences affect my views on life? My own happiness?
- How can I live happily?
- How can I be a respectful global citizen?
- How can I feel good about my actions and influence?

By contemplating reflections, students begin to develop empathy and understanding of varying perspectives. Or in the words of Tamara Rosier, “Thinking about our thinking creates perspective — perspective that leaves room for change.”

How can educators and parents nurture Metacognition?

- Talk about how the brain works: children need to understand that our brains are always growing. 

- Nurture growth mindset: children need to believe that they can achieve the goals set.

- Remain open-minded: children learn and grow differently. It doesn't matter where children are in the learning process, but that they are cycling through it. We all know how to walk, perhaps you learned before I did, but still the outcome is the same. 

- Praise the process, not the outcome: challenge children to explain their thinking behind the doing. We often focus on mistakes and weaknesses. But if we shift what we are focusing on as mentors, educators and parents, then so will our children. Praise trial and improvement. The more strategies and methods we try, the more we know ourselves as learners and people. This also builds empathy. Children no longer expect to get everything the first time or expect peers to know all of the answers. 

- Remain solution-focused: create a shift in thinking, how can I tackle this? ‘What worked?’ ‘What didn’t work?’ ‘How can I apply this to other situations?’

- Model through ‘think alouds’: show children how you are a meta-thinker. Narrate your thinking as you find solutions or tackle a task. 

- Set Goals - SMART or SMARTER goals are a useful strategy in guiding children through the goal setting process. 


How has ISSP taken steps to nurture metacognition?

At ISSP, we have developed a long term plan to promote metacognition through explicit teaching grounded in our philosophy of education and models of inquiry. Though some researchers have found signs of metacognition in children as young as 3, research shows that children tend to “peak” between ages 12 and 15. Combining this research with Piaget’s stages of cognitive development, ISSP has designed units of inquiry where students are given real-world learning through questioning, metacognitive strategies, understanding, reflection and regulation of cognition. In early and primary years, it is important to model and guide children through metacognitive thinking processes so when they reach 12-15, they are prepared to become independent metacognitive thinkers. 


More, now than ever, our students face an ever increasingly competitive global world — but by promoting metacognition through explicit instruction, students can develop the ability to self-regulate, understand and relate personal experience to the world, as well as think empathically, we can give them the tools to a successful future. 

Written by Ms. Danielle Harris, Elementary teacher at ISSP
Image source: International School Saigon Pearl