Metacognition – thinking about thinking – has been widely studied as a vehicle for increased student engagement in the learning process. Students that are aware of their strengths and weaknesses as learners, writers, readers, test-takers, and group members will be more likely to actively monitor their learning strategies and determine their readiness for particular tasks. Activities that support metacognition reflect on two critical areas: a student’s understanding of their own learning processes and a student’s sense of purpose and belonging. Key elements of metacognition include asking open-ended questions, being curious about one’s experience, and seeing the self as not just the subject, but as the object of study. In the context of what Baxter Magolda and others call “self authorship," a lifelong process that resonates strongly during the college years, metacognition is absolutely essential to student and human development. 

Metacognition may also play a pivotal role in developing a more equitable campus. Dr. Sandra McGuire visited the CU campus as part of the Office of Diversity Equity and Community Engagement’s inclusive excellence project, and ran workshops on metacognition as a learning process and how it can impact motivation. If students sense that faculty are interested in their process and invested in their growth throughout the semester, they are more likely to visit office hours and continue developing that relationship.

Metacognitive reflections embedded in course activities allow students to evaluate their learning immediately following the activities themselves. Feedback from student reflections also gives instructors the opportunity to revise activities to optimize the instructions and provide prompts to guide students at points where misunderstanding is common. It’s inquiry-based learning at its most personal. 

Further Reading & Resources:

Baxter Magolda, Marcia B.;  “Self Authorship: The foundation for twenty-first-century education.”  New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2007, 109

Bransford, John D., Ann L. Brown and Rodney R. Cocking (eds). “How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School.” Washington D.C.: National Academy Press. 

McGuire, S.Y. “Teach Students How to Learn: Strategies You Can Incorporate into Any Course to Improve Student Metacognition, Study Skills, and Motivation.” Sterling, VA: Stylus

Tanner, K. “Promoting Student Metacognition.” CBE Life Sciences Education; 11(2): 113-120.

Zhao, N.; Wardeska, J.G.; McGuire, S.Y.; Cook, E. “Metacognition: An Effective Tool to Promote Success in College Science Learning.” Journal of College Science Teaching, 43, 49.