The SoTL Advocate

Supporting efforts to make public the reflection and study of teaching and learning at Illinois State University and beyond…


Application of SoTL: Strategies to Encourage Metacognition in the Classroom

Written by Jen Friberg, SoTL Scholar-Mentor, Illinois State University

Metacog pic

Recently, I have been doing a good deal of reading about various evidence-based strategies to teach for metacognitive understanding in my graduate and undergraduate courses, knowing that when students are explicitly “thinking about their thinking,” they have the capacity to learn more, extend learning beyond the classroom, and integrate information across contexts more easily.

In 2012, Kimberly Tanner published a paper titled: Promoting Student Metacognition. Within this paper, Tanner reviews strategies for explicit teaching of metacognitive strategies to build a culture of “thinking about thinking” within her biology classes. She posits that thinking like a professional requires students to be metacognitive, making teaching about thinking arguably as important as teaching specific course content.

In terms of specific strategies, Tanner provides “sample self-questions to promote student metacognition about learning” (p. 115). She categorizes these into three categories (planning, monitoring, and evaluation) across four specific contexts (class session, active learning task/homework assignment, quiz/exam, and overall course) for a total of 51 specific questions that students can ask themselves to evaluate their learning processes. These include:

  • What resources do I need to complete the task at hand? How will I make sure I have them?
  • What do I most want to learn in this course?
  • Can I distinguish important information from details? If not, how will I figure this out?
  • To what extent am I taking advantage of all the learning supports available to me?
  • Which of my confusions have I clarified? How was I able to get them clarified?
  • How did the ideas of today’s class session relate to previous class sessions?
  • What have I learned about how I learn in this course that I could use in my future courses? In my career?

The utility of providing these questions to students for their use is undeniable, but we cannot be certain that students will take the opportunity to become more metacognitive on their own. Tanner advocates for sharing these questions with students AND embedding them into existing assignments and learning opportunities to build a habit of reflection, which can lead to more routine thinking about learning.

It is with a more explicit intention to directly encourage metacognitive thought that Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison wrote the text Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding and Independence for All Learners in 2011. Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison advocate for having students think about their own thinking through the implementation of thinking routines to make thinking more “visible” as part of the learning process. The suggest different levels of routines to drive different sorts of thinking: introducing/exploring ideas, synthesizing/organizing ideas, and digging deeper into ideas. All in all, 21 different strategies for classroom use are described, including:

  • See-Think-Wonder (p. 55): A strategy for introducing and exploring information that has students asking themselves three questions when observing a new object/artifact — What do you see? What do you think is going on? What does it make you wonder?
  • Connect-Extend-Challenge (p. 132): A strategy for encouraging synthesis and organization of ideas that asks student to consider what they have just read/seen/heard, then ask themselves: how are the ideas and information presented connected to what you already knew? what new ideas did you get that extended or broadened your thinking in new directions? What challenges or puzzles have come up in your mind from the ideas and information presented?
  • Circle of Viewpoints (p. 171): A strategy to digger deeper into ideas that requires students to consider different perspectives that could be present of affected by a given topic by considering the following: 1) I am thinking of [name of the event/issue] from ______ point of view, 2) I think [describe topic form your viewpoint] because _______, and 3) A question/concern I have from this viewpoint is ________ .

Do you think these strategies could be useful in your teaching context? When working with your students in academic, clinical, or outside the classroom/clinic situations, what strategies are you using to encourage metacognition? Have you studied these strategies in any way? We’d love to hear more in the comments below!

Blog References:

Ritchhart, R., Church, M., & Morrison, K. (2011). Making thinking visible: How to promote engagement, understanding, and independence for all learners. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco.

Tanner, K. D. (2012). Promoting student metacognition. CBE – Life Sciences Education, 11, 113-120.