Metacognitive literacy

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1 Introduction

Metacognitive literacy refers to various metacognitive skills that are useful to thinking and learning.

John Flavell, one of the pioneers in metacognition, firstly argues that metacognition is intentional and that it includes both monitoring and regulation. “In any kind of cognitive transaction with the human or non-human environment, a variety of information processing activities may go on. Metacognition refers, among other things, to the active monitoring and consequent regulation and orchestration of these processes in relation to the cognitive objects or data on which they bear, usually in service of some concrete goal or objective.” (Flavell, 1976: 232). [1]

Ormrod (2006)[2], according to Cooper and Stewart () [3], describes metacognition as “one’s knowledge and beliefs about one’s own cognitive processes and one’s resulting attempts to regulate those cognitive processes to maximize learning and memory”.

Successful learners and practitioners seem to be more metacognitive than others. Therefore metacognitive literacy should be an important topic in education and continuous education. Acquiring metacognitive literacy is part of "learning how to learn".

2 Teaching metacognition

Today, most learning theorists believe that when otherwise similar, students with better metacognitive abilities are likely to be better learners. Therefore there is a logical interest for instruction of metacognitive strategies. Some studies show that instruction in metacognitive strategies induced increases in learning (Scruggs, 1985).

"While there are several approaches to metacognitive instruction, the most effective involve providing the learner with both knowledge of cognitive processes and strategies (to be used as metacognitive knowledge), and experience or practice in using both cognitive and metacognitive strategies and evaluating the outcomes of their efforts (develops metacognitive regulation). Simply providing knowledge without experience or vice versa does not seem to be sufficient for the development of metacognitive control" (Livingston, 1996).

There exist attempts to teach metacognition in the abstract, but more often it seems to be tied to a domain, e.g., literacy instruction (Griffith & Ruan, 2005; Davis-Wiley & Wooten, 2015) and in particular teaching reading strategies. This topic is strongly related to note taking. “Although students are expected to be proficient note-takers at primary, secondary, and university levels across the curriculum, very few of them have actually been taught the basic skills of note - taking (Boch & Piolat, 2005)” (Davis-Wiley & Wooten: 2015) ([4]) Wilson and Bai (2008) [5] argue that “ that teachers who have a rich understanding of metacognition report that teaching students to be metacognitive requires a complex understanding of both the concept of metacognition and metacognitive thinking”. The authors also note that “despite the recognition of the role of metacognition in student success, limited research has been done to explore teachers' explicit awareness of their metacognition and their ability to think about, talk about, and write about their thinking”

As principle, it seems that metacognition only can be learned through experience. Telling students "how to thing about learning and planning to leanr" does not seem to be very effective. Results of the Wilson & Bai (2010) show that education students (MA level) are aware that metacognition is an active process that requires engagement. They also are aware of a certain number of metacognitive teaching strategies. They know that there is difference between teaching metacognitive strategies and creating assignments that could lead to use of strategies, i.e. to be metacognitive. However, the authors also pointed out that they did not directly measure what teachers actually did in their classroom and they discussed various constraints (e.g. the amount of subject matters to teach) and also that teachers may not able to implement metacognitive activities for real and would need more training.

2.1 Merlo

Merlo et al. (2007) use the overall pedagogical design of Schneider & Pressley (2007) and Brown et al., (1983) metacognitive model for the exercise. It is structured like this:

  • an introduction in which the student is taught explicitly about a strategy and its possible applications.
  • interactive exercises, or practical training requiring the student to use the skills he has learned so the procedures are more likely to be internalized and the student is aware of the practical use of a strategy. The items of each exercise are:
    • a task consisting of a set of instructions which the student uses to plan the cognitive actions he needs to carry out in order to achieve a set aim;
    • a plan of action providing a break down of the process, specifying the individual cognitive actions for achieving the aim of the task;
    • a training area consisting of multimedia content for training;
    • an evaluation area in which the student uses the strategy on his own, supported by strategic questions reminding him of the cognitive actions to put into effect;
    • a self-monitoring area in which the student monitors the overall application of the strategy and describes any difficulties he encounters..
  • final monitoring, consisting of a set of questions for the student’s self-evaluation of possible changes perceived as a result of the strategy training.

2.2 The six hats classroom strategy

The Six Thinking Hats scenario was developed by De Bono. [6].

In this role play, each participant must for a given time and in turns assume a role of thinking that is represented by a particular hat.

Ed Nufer, in [ a blog post] (retrieved March 2016), summarizes the roles that we reproduce in slighly altered and shortened form:

  • The White Hat role offers the facts. It is neutral, objective and practical. It provides an inventory of the best information known without advocating for solutions or positions.
  • The Yellow Hat employs a sunny, positive affect to advocate for a particular position/action but always justifies the proposed action with supporting evidence. In short, this hat advocates for taking informed action.
  • The Black Hat employs a cautious and at times negative role in order to challenge proposed positions and actions. This role also challenges arguments to be supported by evidence. It seeks to generate evidence-based explanations for why certain proposals may not work or be counter-productive.
  • The Red Hat’s role promotes expression of felt emotion—positive, negative, or apathy—without any need to justify the expressed position with evidence. It is not compatible with rational and critical thinking. However, such thinking exists and may ultimately undermine an evidence-based decision. It therefore must be brought into the open.
  • The Green Hat role is provocative. It questions assumptions and strives to promote creative thinking that leads to unprecedented ideas or possibly redefines the challenge in a new way. Since there is role play, it enables a presenter to stretch and present an idea or perspective that he or she might feel too inhibited to offer if trepidation exists about being judged personally for so-doing.

The Blue Hat is the control hat. It is reflective and introspective as it looks to ensure that the energy and contributions of all of the other hats are indeed enlisted in addressing a challenge. In group work, it synthesizes the awareness that grows from discussions and summarizes progress for other participants. When used by an individual working alone, assuming the role of the Blue Hat offers a check on whether the individual has actually employed the modes of all the hats in order to understand a challenge well.

This scenario works under the condition that participants contribute from thinking in their role (and stick to it). It can be played in variants.

Nuhfer E. and Pavelich (2001) [7] argue that if some develops the ability to play and use all six roles, one can enter higher stages of adult development. “All involve the obtaining of relevant evidence, weighing of contradictory evidence, addressing affective influences, developing empathy with others oppositional viewpoints, and understanding the influences of one’s own bias and feelings on a decision.”

2.3 Novak's concept maps

Novak and Gowin (1984) [8] advocate hierarchical concept maps

2.4 Blakey and Spence

Blakey and Spence (1990) describe techniques that facilitate metacognition, or "thinking about thinking." Citing the educational value of student-owned learning, the authors suggest that thinking about one's own behavior is the first step towards directing that behavior and learning how to learn. The strategies they discuss as a means to developing metacognition include: "identifying 'what you know' and 'what you don't know'"; "talking about thinking"; "keeping a journal"; "planning and self-regulation"; "debriefing the thinking process"; and "self-evaluation."

2.5 Good strategy user and good information processor

Pressley et al. (1987) [9] defined the concept of a good strategy user (GSU). Good strategy users

  • are reflective.
  • employ efficient procedures (i.e., strategies) to accomplish complex, novel tasks.
  • understand that strategic actions often require deliberate effort, online monitoring, and potential revision

“In short, our original model emphasized the interaction of strategic, knowledge-base, and motivational components in determining cognitive performance.” (Pressley, Borkowski & Schneider, 1987:858)

Pressley, Borowski and Schneider [10] presented a revised good information processor model. Good information processors (GIPs):

  • plan their thinking and behavior,
  • monitor their performances,
  • have superior short-term memory capacity,
  • automatize use of strategies and other information processing components,
  • possess extensive knowledge about important concepts, knowledge used appropriately.
  • are appropriately confident,
  • believe self-improvement is possible and desirable.
  • live their lives so to encourage development of information processing capabilities.
  • are ‘selected’ into environments promoting processing competence.

Since instruction in good information processing a requires focus on all these characteristics, it takes time to teach and to learn. “There is no magic formula or quick fix to produce good information processing. The complexities of efficient, mature processing require years to develop. An emphasis on nonstrategic knowledge alone, strategies alone, metacognition alone, or motivation alone will not teach the next generation of children to read, write, and problem solve better than past generations.” (Pressley et al. 1989: 886). The authors emphasize that important contents and corresponding strategies should be taught throughout the curriculum, starting in preschool. In particular, educators should:

  • Emphasize important literary, scientific, and cultural knowledge.
  • Teach strategies in ways that promote good information processing (e.g. memorization, reading comprehensions, composition, and problem-solving strategies). Strategy instruction includes 11 elements not summarized here.
  • Motivate acquisition and use of important conceptual information and strategies
  • Encourage general tendencies supporting good information processing (e.g. performance monitoring, processing reflectively, planning fo cognitive actions,...)

2.6 Paris and Winograd

Paris & Winograd, P. (1990).[11] identify major trategies to guide learning. Direct explanation tells learners, what the strategy is, whey they should learn it, how to use it, when and where to use it and how to evaluate its use. Scaffolded instruction provides the learner with just enough support and guidance to achieve goals that are beyond unassisted efforts (p. 34). It includes six components: enlist the learner's interest (recuitment), reduce the size of the task, keep the learner in pursuit of the task, control frustration, demonstrate. Cognitive coaching refers to combinations of direct explanation and scaffolded instruction. The forth approach is cooperative learning since it can trigger metacognitive processes when cognitive conflicts have to be negotiated.

2.7 High-leverage instructional standards

One can formulate pedagogic tactics to favour meta-cognitive thinking.

for example, The US state of Nevada formulated five high-leverage instructional standards (Chang et al., 2012):

  1. New Learning is Connected to Prior Learning and Experience
  2. Learning Tasks have High Cognitive Demand for Diverse Learners
  3. Students Engage in Meaning-Making through Discourse and Other Strategies
  4. Students Engage in Metacognitive Activity to Increase Understanding of and Responsibility for Their Own Learning
  5. Assessment is Integrated into Instruction

These integrate instructional principles that are well documented in the literature and proven to increase learning. Metacognitive activities, according to the autors, has two components: Metacognitive knowledge “incorporates knowledge about learning strategies, including why to use strategies, when to use strategies, and how to use strategies (Kuhn & Dean, 2004[12]; Schraw et al., 2006 [13]).”. Metacognitive regulation is the act of monitoring one's own cognition and acting on it, including revising learning goals and evaluation the monitoring process itself.

3 Teaching specific metacognitive strategies

3.1 The Sticky Note Strategy for reading

Davis-Wiley & Wooten describe a successful strategy used with teachers in training.

The graduate students participating in the research study were instructed that they would take notes in their textbooks by using sticky notes to record their comments and then adhere the sticky notes to the page which relates to their comments. Students were informed that their sticky note comments would not necessarily be summaries about the text but would include questions, connections, thoughts, ideas, and reactions. This method would be used in lieu of their typical manner of note-taking (i.e., highlighting, writing in the page margins), when reading assigned articles and books. [...] The results of this study do strongly reflect and also corroborate the research of Rosenblatt and support her mantra of enabling the reader to personally react to text, and thus, expand the reader’s personal strategies for deriving meaning from text. In the present research study, the student subjects were truly able to utilize this sticky note approach to interact with text, over the duration of an entire semester, so that they could better use and adapt it to meet their own personal learning styles. By extension, they will be able to model it for the students in their own classrooms.

4 Inventories and assessment

4.1 Metacognitive Awareness Inventor (MAI)

4.2 CRESST self-assessment questionnaires

According to Neil and Abedi (1996) (retrieved March 2016), Metacognition is viewed as consisting of and measured as:

  • Awareness
  • Cognitive Strategy
  • Planning
  • Self-Checking

Another variant adds

  • self-efficacy

Questionnaires items for various variants

  • Items of the 1996 CRESST CRESST self-assessment questionnaire 1996 which should be administered immediately after a test or learning activity. According to the authors, it is robust for 12 graders and older.

5 Links

6 Bibliography


  1. Flavell, J. H. (1976). Metacognitive aspects of problem solving. In L. B. Resnick (Ed.), The nature of intelligence (pp.231-236). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum
  2. Ormrod, J.E. (2006) Educational Psychology:Developing Learners.(5th ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ:Pearson Education, Inc.
  3. Cooper, S.S. & Steward, P.W. (2006). Metacognitive Development in Professional Educators, Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Northern Rocky Mountain Educational Research Association, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, October 2005 and at the annual convention of the American Educational Research Association in San Francisco, April 2006.
  4. Davis-Wiley, P., & Wooten, D. Enhancing Metacognitive Literacy: A Research Study Using Sticky Notes in the Classroom, American International Journal of Contemporary Research, Vol. 5, No. 4; August 2015
  5. Wilson, N. S., & Bai, H. (2010). The relationships and impact of teachers’ metacognitive knowledge and pedagogical understandings of metacognition. Metacognition and Learning, 5(3), 269-288.
  6. De Bono, E. (1989). Six thinking hats. London: Penguin
  7. Nuhfer E. and Pavelich M. (2001). Levels of thinking and educational outcomes. National Teaching and Learning Forum 11 (1) 9-11.
  8. Novak, J. D., & Gowin, D. B. (1984). Learning how to learn. Cambridge University Press.
  9. Pressley, M., Borkowski, J. G., & Schneider, W. (1987). Cognitive strategies: Good strategy users coordinate metacognition and knowledge.
  10. Pressley, Michael; John G. Borkwski, Wolfgang Schneider, Good information processing: What it is and how education can promote it, International Journal of Educational Research, Volume 13, Issue 8, 1989, Pages 857-867, ISSN 0883-0355, (,
  11. Paris, S. G., & Winograd, P. (1990). How metacognition can promote academic learning and instruction. Dimensions of thinking and cognitive instruction, 1, 15-51.
  12. Kuhn, D., & Dean Jr, D. (2004). Metacognition: A bridge between cognitive psychology and educational practice. Theory into Practice, 43(4), 268–273.
  13. Schraw, G., & Moshman, D. (1995). Metacognitive theories. Educational psychology review, 7(4), 351–371.


  • Nuhfer E. and Pavelich M. (2001). Levels of thinking and educational outcomes. National Teaching and Learning Forum 11 (1) 9-11.