This blog highlights research findings and recommendations to help schools build students’ metacognitive skills. The selection of findings is based on an extensive literature review from a policy paper called Making the abstract explicit: The role of metacognition in teaching and learning, which was commissioned by the IB Research department and conducted by Inflexion
What does the research tell us?
Research shows that metacognition is essential for students to effectively self-regulate their learning. Interventions that aim to enhance students’ metacognitive abilities are associated with improved academic performance, especially if they combine instruction in metacognitive knowledge and skills and address motivation, growth mindset, self-efficacy and emotion. Teachers should use explicit metacognitive language and instruction, ask questions rather than give answers, provide illustrative examples of metacognitive thinking, model for students and prompt students to connect their learning within and across subjects.
Top tips for supporting metacognition1
“Students are more likely to improve their future performance when they reflect on the usefulness of their initial goal”.
1. Make metacognition valued and explicit
Metacognition should be well defined in curriculum standards, targeted in assessment and a consistent aspect of professional learning. School leaders, teachers and parents should recognize the role of metacognition in developing internationally minded students, have resources and training on how to use metacognition and understand how metacognition can be assessed and evaluated in different ways.
2. Ensure students use their reflections
Reflections are most useful when the formative information generated is used to make self-regulated learning strategies more effective. Students are more likely to improve their future performance when they reflect on the usefulness of their initial goal, how they planned and how well different learning strategies worked for them (Al-Rawahi & Al-Balushi, 2015).
3. Create learning environments that foster metacognition
Schools and teachers should consider two principles that will further enable self-regulated learning and enhance students’ motivation. First, teachers should present students with consistent opportunities to set and plan long-term, proximal and personally meaningful goals. Second, teachers should emphasize student choice and personal relevance to improve motivation and engagement.
“All students … should have the confidence to know that with continued practice and support from teachers, peers and parents they will develop the skills that allow them to become lifelong learners”.
4. Parents can model metacognitive thinking and behavior
Metacognitive behaviors taught in school can be reinforced at home to enhance student ownership of learning across environments. Parents are important models in student learning.
5. All students can own their learning
Students who exhibit strong ownership over their learning also know to seek help when they are struggling with a task. Seeking help can introduce students to new learning strategies and avoid unnecessary frustration and stress. All students, regardless of how well they currently use metacognition, should have the confidence to know that with continued practice and support from teachers, peers and parents they will develop the skills that allow them to become lifelong learners.
Promoting metacognition is less about finding the perfect policy, practice or programme and more about creating a culture of teaching and learning that produces thoughtful and reflective students who are prepared and motivated to engage in independent, lifelong learning. The insights and lessons learned from the research provided in the policy paper can help teachers and school leaders take small steps toward creating a school culture and learning environments that cultivate metacognition for all learners.
 To see the complete list of recommendations, see the full policy paper.
To learn more, read the research brief or full policy paper.
This policy paper is part of a series on different aspects of social-emotional learning. Check out the other blogs which highlight research on academic resilience and growth mindset. All IB research can be found at ibo.org/research. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Al-Rawahi, N. M., & Al-Balushi, S. M. (2015). The effect of reflective science journal writing on students’ self-regulated learning strategies. International Journal of Environmental and Science Education, 10, 367–379.
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