Metacognition – The ‘secret’ to learning and problem-solving …

You don’t have to be ‘good in English but bad in Math’, or ‘good in Science but lousy in History or Literature’, or ‘good in Chinese but lousy in English’. It doesn’t have to be a one-or-the-other kind of thing. Every subject has its own way of learning and thinking about, but you can only discover it if you bring yourself one level up – think about the thinking itself, and think about how you learn. You can only learn how to learn if you think about learning. You can only learn how to think if you think about thinking.

Thinking about thinking has another name: metacognition, which formed the basis of my minor research work completed in 2011 at the NIE. A lot of research into metacognition centers around mathematical problem-solving, although metacognition can be applied equally well to other subjects. So for the purpose of illustration here, I will use math as the basis for our discussion about metacognition.

What is Metacognition?

In its simplest form, metacognition can be described as thinking about thinking (Wellman, 1985). Flavell (1976) has stated some examples of what constitutes metacognition:

I am engaging in metacognition if I notice that I am having more trouble learning A than B; if it strikes me that I should double-check C before accepting it as a fact; (…)if I become aware that I am not sure what the experimenter really wants me to do; if I sense I had better make a note of D because I may forget I; if I think to ask someone about E to see if I have it right. (p. 232).

The above sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Yes, you may have been practising metacognition sub-consciously, all your life, without realising it has a formal name, or without realising how important it is to learning and thinking.

Research in metacognition has examined various forms of cognitive processes by building on Flavell’s initial notion of metacognition as the monitoring, regulation and arrangement of thinking processes to achieve specified goals (Gama, 2004).

For example, Brown (1987) argues that metacognition consists of two components: knowledge of cognition, and regulation of cognition. The former involves being aware of one’s cognitive abilities through self-reflection while the latter pertains to mental activities such as monitoring and controlling one’s thinking processes in the course of learning or problem-solving. According to Brown, although these two types of metacognition are distinct from one another, they are usually used together in the same cognitive process as one type often utilises the service of the other (Gama, 2004).



Note: The above paragraphs are adapted from my minor research paper, Examining Supports for Metacognition in Singaporean Lower Secondary Mathematics Textbooks, NIE, 2011. All rights reserved.

Related links:

(1) Metacognition and problem-solving;

(2) Metacognition enhances learning;

(3) Is Metacognition part of the Singapore Math curriculum?



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