This is a different sort of post than I have done until now — whereas I usually share my personal experience or way of thinking, these “study notes” will represent my attempt to objectively synthesize a topic that I’ve been learning about.

I was first introduced to the topic of metacognition by an amazing coach (who expressly does not want their name online), and it has been incredibly important for my growth as a leader.

Metacognition refers to higher order thinking that involves active control over the cognitive processes engaged in learning.

Livingston¹, 2003, p.2

In simpler terms, metacognition is being aware of our thinking as we perform specific tasks and then using this awareness to control what we are doing.

Marzano³, 1988, p.9

By dipping into the research behind it, I hope to master the topic well enough to help others grow as effectively.

The original model

Nazarieh (2016, p.61)² credits John Flavell with being the first to use the term “metacognition.”

Although I was unable to obtain original source materials from Flavell, his book, Metacognitive Aspects of Problem Solving, is quoted by Marzano:

For example, I am engaging in metacognition… if I notice that I am having more trouble learning A than B, [or] if it strikes me that I should double check C before accepting it as a fact.

Marzano³, 1988, p.9

Metacognition is described as consisting of:

  1. Metacognitive knowledge, which is “acquired knowledge about cognitive processes, knowledge that can be used to control cognitive processes” (Livingston, 2003, p.2)¹
  2. Metacognitive experiences or regulation, which refers to the “different adjustments a person makes to his/her cognitive processes to help manage and control his/her own learning.” (Nazarieh, 2016, p.61)²

In this model, acquired metacognitive knowledge concerns one of the following:

  1. Person variables. This refers to knowledge about people generally, as well as who specifically is trying to learn, and characteristics about them that may make the learning more or less effective. For example, I have metacognitive knowledge that classroom-style learning is not as effective for me as self-directed learning on my own.
  2. Task variables, or knowledge about the particular task (in isolation, or compared to other tasks) that might affect efficacy — for example, being “aware that it will take more time for you to read and comprehend a science text than it would for you to read and comprehend a novel.” (Livingston, 2003, p.2)¹
  3. Strategy variables, including knowledge about cognitive and metacognitive strategies and when they are applicable. Examples might include taking notes to improve information retention, or dividing up the task into multiple chunks of time to improve focus.

A different view on knowledge

Marzano (1988, p.13–14)³ presents a different three types of knowledge used in metacognition, credited to Paris, Lipson, and Wixson (1983):

  1. Declarative knowledge (“what”) — broadly, statements of fact. For example, the fact that Wikipedia is not a reliable source may be relevant to a learning or comprehension task.
  2. Procedural knowledge (“how”) — the actions that can be taken; e.g., for the task of growing and improving oneself, the procedural knowledge of how to ask for feedback is incredibly important.
  3. Conditional knowledge (“which”) — how to choose the best possible approach, and why it’s the best.

To exert metacognitive control over a process, then, [one] must know what facts and concepts are necessary for the task; which strategies, heuristics, or procedures are appropriate (conditional knowledge); and how to apply the selected strategy, procedure, or heuristic.

Marzano³, 1988, p.14

Nazarieh (2016, p.62–63)² refers to the same trio of declarative, procedural, and conditional knowledge, but credits it to A. L. Brown (1987) instead. I haven’t pulled the originals to determine the genesis of the idea, but they appear to agree in their descriptions.

Regulating and controlling the cognitive process

Marzano (1988, p.14–15)³ goes on to describe Paris, Lipson, and Wixson (1983)’s process for “regulating” one’s cognition, to control how one thinks and learns:

  1. Evaluation of where one currently is (e.g., in terms of understanding), and what the goal should be.
  2. Planning for how to achieve the goal.
  3. Regulation, a sort of validation check. Is progress being made? Is learning converging toward the goal, or diverging?

Improving our own way of thinking is a trial-and-error process; however, it’s clear that introspection is critical, as the basis for both the “evaluation” and the “regulation.”

Finally, it is expected that one will move repeatedly between these strategies during the learning process:

Evaluation occurs throughout an entire process and is both the beginning and the end point for a task.

Marzano³, 1988, p.14

Where to go from here

I hope to write more about the application of metacognitive thinking. In the meantime, here are some Wikipedia articles on and related to this subject matter:

[1]: Livingston, J. A. (2003). Metacognition: An Overview.

[2]: Nazarieh, Mehrdad. (2016). A Brief History of Metacognition and Principles of Metacognitive Instruction in Learning. BEST: International Journal of Humanities, Arts, Medicine and Science. 2. 61–64.

[3]: Marzano, R. J. (1988). Dimensions of thinking: A framework for curriculum and instruction. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 125 N. West St., Alexandria, VA 22314–2798.

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