How do I use metacognition in the classroom

Metacognition: a way to improve teaching and learning processes

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In this article, Michel Grangeat from the University of Grenoble Alpes in France shares some of his knowledge about metacognition as a means of improving teaching and learning processes.

Introduction to Metacognition

Metacognition is a way of anticipating, monitoring, controlling and evaluating thought processes. In school, it relies on the student's knowledge of what is to be learned and achieved, what is an accurate and workable strategy, and how far he or she has progressed.

The ability to control one's own learning behavior increases the sense of responsibility and motivation. In addition, by reducing the workload, it enables teachers to devote time to the specific needs of students i.e. H. To respond to particularly poor or high-performing students or to those who cope with tasks difficult and those who find it easy.

Cognition and brain

Cognition is a combination of three systems in the brain that are not necessarily equally fast and effective.

The first system is fast, effective and efficient: it relies on immediate perception to solve a problem. If the situation is relatively stable, system 1 is sufficient and allows us to save energy for other tasks.

The second system is slow, logical and labor-intensive: it reflects the situation, identifies the main factors of a new problem and looks for a suitable solution. System 2 is energy consuming as it requires attention and perseverance.

The third system prevents the other systems from automatically reacting with methods and links that are no longer up-to-date. In other words: System 3 prevents System 1 from reacting too quickly to the question and prevents System 2 from making insufficient conclusions.

As we can see, System 3 is very valuable in school! System 3 is based on metacognition.

Metacognition requires resources

First, we have to realize that learning is a long and non-linear process. Some overwhelmed students believe that learning is automatic and does not require effort. Unfortunately, the way high-performing students behave in class often reinforces this misunderstanding.

Second, we need to know the specifics of the task at hand. It is obvious that reasoning involves different methods and constructs in each subject, sometimes at different levels within the same subject, even when teachers use the same words. Without a clear understanding of what is expected of them, overwhelmed students tend to activate System 1 too quickly, resulting in an inaccurate understanding of the problem.

Third, a number of strategies must be available to cope with the problem, guide the research, or accomplish the task at hand, be it a mere exercise or a complex project. For example, there are several ways to memorize a lesson or text, but they may be unknown to low-skilled students. Often times, they believe that they have to write the text many times or read it right before bed, right before class, etc.

Students' ideas about learning are never entirely wrong, but they are often not entirely accurate either. Therefore, they should have the opportunity to discuss these questions with their teachers.

Metacognition is not a general principle, but is linked to certain activities

General knowledge about cognition is no longer considered sufficient to improve learning, as cognition is always tied to very specific content and tasks.

Accordingly, it would be a waste of time to teach students how to memorize, simulate, or understand something. There is always only one specific problem and the metacognition has to be adapted to it.

When dealing with a problem, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is this problem similar or different from the usual problems?
  • What is special about this problem?
  • How do I overcome the inherent difficulties?
  • How do I know if my chosen strategy is effective?
  • How do I know if I will be able to cope with exactly this task?

The only general practice that has been described as relevant according to the latest research is to create a motivating classroom environment. Students need to be encouraged to ask questions, respond, even if unsure, to comment on and accept their classmates' work. Therefore, the students 'metacognition depends on the teachers' prior reflection on how they structure and facilitate the interaction in the classroom.


Michel Grangeat is a retired professor of education whose research aims to better understand the processes that characterize professional activity and development in education.