What Exactly Is Metacognition? Part 2

In this blog we’re taking a look at some of the key insights on metacognition from Four-Dimensional Education:
 The Competencies Learners Need to Succeed,” by Charles Fadel, Bernie Trilling, and Maya Bialik. In Part 1 the authors defined metacognition and highlighted the challenges students face when transferring metacognitive awareness from one task to another.

Here we take a closer look at how teachers can support the transfer of competencies across disciplines. The answer to successful transfer, it seems, relies on the teacher’s approach. Why then do our students struggle? The authors describe how:

Traditional methods for improving students’ learning strategies often focus on prescribed procedures (note-taking, self-testing, scheduling, etc.) and typically result in initial motivation and some short-term improvement, but ultimately a reversion to old habits happens. While these tactics may work in the short term (e.g., to cram for an exam), once the context changes, successful transfer of these methods is less likely to occur. More strategic methods that focus on metacognition for deeper learning— such as developing a growth mindset (discussed later), setting and monitoring one’s learning goals, and growing one’s capacity to persist despite difficulties—have been shown to result in more permanent learning gains.

Therefore, in order to secure the deepest gains of metacognition, teachers must use strategies that promote deeper learning and connect to a student’s own learning goals. The authors have unknowingly given the perfect description and justification of the SMARTS curriculum! Teaching strategies that promote metacognition in order to help students achieve their goals is at the heart of the SMARTS curriculum.

And why should teachers spend the time and energy it takes to teach strategies that access metacognition on such a deep level? The authors relate the benefits of metacognition as follows:

Students who have higher levels of self-efficacy (more confidence in their ability to achieve their goals) are more likely to engage in metacognition and, in turn, are more likely to perform at higher levels.

Once again, this perfectly describes our goals for SMARTS students. When students develop a nuanced understanding of their strengths and challenges, and when teachers guide them through applying this knowledge to the obstacles they face at school, they will succeed both in school and in life.

If you are looking for an in-depth read on the role that metacognition and strategy instruction play in preparing students for success in the 21st century, I strongly encourage this book. And if you are looking for a curriculum that will help you teach these skills, then SMARTS is for you!

  • Elizabeth Ross, M.A., SMARTS Media Manager


Charles Fadel is founder of the Center for Curriculum Redesign, Bernie Trilling is founder of 21st Century Learning Advisors and Maya Bialik is researcher at CCR.