Metacognition - A View From The Classroom

Last week I wrote about metacognition, or the ability to think about your thinking. But, as I suggested, it means more than that.  It means, “ … there is an active component that you have control over your thinking and can adjust your behavior.” In other words, you have the ability to:

  • plan how to approach a learning task
  • know what works and what doesn’t work for you and select the most appropriate strategy for a particular task
  • monitor your own comprehension while reading
  • have a strategy to fix errors when comprehension breaks down
  • evaluate your progress on a task

 This week I’d like to explore what this looks like in real classrooms.  Of course, I expect you will have other examples from your schools and classrooms, and my hope is that you will share them on IndistarConnect so other members will benefit from your experience and good practices.

 As I stated last week, supporting the development of metacognitive skills begins at the earliest ages.  I’m going to begin in grade one and give credit to two outstanding educators, Mary Browning Schulman and Carleen DaCruz Payne, who are the authors of an excellent resource, Guided Reading: Making It Work (Scholastic, 2000).  The authors present classroom conversations between teachers and students in small guided-reading groups. 

One example from the book that addresses the first bullet above - plan how to approach a learning task - highlights the importance of young readers using pictures to support their emergent reading skills. The teacher begins by reminding the students that they should look at and talk about the pictures before reading the story.  The teacher has modeled this strategy numerous times and is now encouraging the students to talk about the story as they look through the book. In the example, they are reading a second version of the Little Red Hen. The teacher is asking them to look through this version and describe what they remember about the story.  In this way, the students will engage their background knowledge using vocabulary that will likely be in this version, and they will be predicting what will happen in this story. This approach provides the support necessary for a successful reading and, more importantly, helps establish a pattern of planning for reading that will be useful throughout school and life.

How might this same strategy - plan how to approach a learning task – look for upper elementary, middle, or high school students?  There are numerous teaching techniques used to accomplish the same goal for older students. A few examples include:

  • K-W-L (Ogle)
  • Survey Technique (Aukerman)
  • Question-Answer Relationships (QARs) (Raphael)

 The Survey Technique is well documented and frequently used.  It may go by different names or be embedded in other techniques (The S in SQ3R, PReP, ReQuest).  The technique provides students a strategy for previewing a textbook in preparation for a successful reading.   Typically it has six components:

  1. Analyze the title of the chapter and consider what it might be about and what you already know about the topic.
  2. Analyze the subtitles throughout the chapter to gain an understanding of what will be presented.  These subtitles can also be turned into questions to help guide the reading.
  3. Analyze any visuals.  These can include pictures, charts, graphs, etc.  Engaging in discussions about the information presented in these visuals can provide the teacher valuable information about each student’s ability to interpret this information.
  4. Read and discuss the introductory paragraph(s) to see if the ideas generated in steps 1-3 fit with this information.
  5. Read and discuss the concluding paragraph(s) to confirm what has been gleaned from the previous steps.
  6. Identify the main idea of the chapter with the whole-class, a group, or individually.

While this technique places more responsibility in the student’s hands, the teacher still has major responsibility for introducing it (and the others listed above) through direct instruction and modeling until responsibility is transferred to the student. These techniques help build the metacognitive skills necessary for successful independent learning.

Contrast these approaches with techniques for presenting information that require intensive work by the teacher but do not explicitly assist the student to become more metacognitive.  These might include the development of graphic organizers, study guides, or idea mapping.  Each of these techniques, and others like them, are valuable tools to help students understand content and should be incorporated into lesson planning.  However, these techniques require the teacher to do all the hard metacognitive work.   I am suggesting that much of the teacher’s energy and planning needs to be used to engage students in developing their metacognitive skills.

 I am sure you are familiar with the Chinese proverb:

           Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.

           Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.


Likewise, if we teach our students to think about their thinking and independently plan, monitor, adjust, and evaluate their own progress, we help them develop into successful life-long learners. 


Schulman, M. B., & Payne, C. D. (2000). Guided Reading: Making It Work . New York. Scholastic Professional Books.

E-mail me when people leave their comments –

Paul Axtell

With more than thirty years of experience helping organizations and individuals be more effective, Paul Axtell has honed his insights in executive offices and training programs for everyone from office staff and line workers to managers and team leaders.

A large focus of his work is how to run effective and productive meetings—to turn them from something people dread into useful, productive sessions with trackable results.

Paul is the author of multiple books, including Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations, Being Remarkable, and Ten Powerful Things to Say to Your Kids. He can be reached at <a href=""></a> and via email at
Find me on:

You need to be a member of indistarconnect to add comments!

Join indistarconnect


This reply was deleted.

For You.

You are busy, the world is big, and the amount of information in it is bigger. So we thought we would create a place where you can find useful, relevant, and interesting information that is also relevant to your work and the indicators of effective practice you have come to know and love. One place.

Use the information for your own personal development, even better, use it with your team!