How does metacognition benefit learners and learning in English and what are the implications for learning in an international school?
Part 1: In what ways has metacognition been defined?
“An unexamined life is not worth living” Socrates, from Plato’s Apology.
Some feel the concept of ‘metacognition’ encourages the kind of reflective behaviour that could benefit children beyond the classroom: it allows them to make wise and thoughtful life decisions (Flavell 1987 in Kuhn 2000). Such reflective behaviour has also been deemed by some to enrich society since the explicit teaching of metacognition entails that students are open-minded, a key component of the IB Learner Profile (IBO, 2008). If anything, students who are inclined and able to be reflective might eventually contribute more empathetically to public discourse (Kuhn, 2000). Although these are worthy social goals, they are somewhat removed from the stark intellectual consequence of Socrates’ original statement that the ‘unexamined life is not worth living’, since his reflectiveness ultimately sought to commit the thinker to the pursuit of truth over (and perhaps at the cost of) social cohesion (Taylor, 2000). While Plato deemed Socrates the ideal philosopher because he earnestly compelled his fellow citizens towards self-examination, Socrates’ mission did not turn out especially well. His desire to usurp discourse that appealed to social authority with the empowerment of personal reflection came at personal cost: those in authority saw his mission as a threat, and killed it (and him).
Our working definition of metacognition for this essay will aim to be less earnest (and contentious), although hopefully still powerful. The initial use of metacognition to define self-reflection was coined by Flavell (1978). Metacognition by that definition requires a learner to self-consciously examine his or her mental processes in order to become aware of problems, a definition echoed by Meichenbaum thirty years later when he said that people should be “aware of their own cognitive machinery and how [that] machinery works” (Meichenbaum, 1985: cited in Woolfolk, 2013). It is apparent, therefore, that there are two broad perspectives of metacognition: namely that of cognition about cognition, and that which creates a model of cognition itself (Nelson, 1996: cited in Efklides, 2011). Central to the application of these perspectives is what causes cognition to ‘fail’, and the assumption that reflective awareness by learners on such failings will lead to improved learning.
Despite the publication of these definitions, and my personal experience that teachers broadly agree that reflectiveness in learning is ideal, there exists significant misgivings about the attempt to create working models based upon the term ‘metacognition’. Weinert disapproves of the number of definitions, terms and analyses of what metacognition apparently stands for, critiquing the ‘vague’ and ‘imprecise’ working definitions of metacognition (Georghiades, 2004). Two terms taken to mean ‘metacognition’ are: metastrategies – which is both the awareness of the strategies involved in learning, and the knowledge of when best to use them; and metaknowledge, which is both the awareness of existing knowledge, as well as how that knowledge might interact with other knowledge. This complexity is a reiteration of Brown’s warning that ‘metacognition is not only a monster of obscure parentage, but a many-headed monster at that’ (Brown, 1987: cited in Georghiades, 2004). The many-headed nature of metacognition (that one term refers to several dichotomous concepts) means that the nuances of the definitions given above are often muddied. This indistinct diversity is partly the fault of researchers who have made metacognition a ‘blanket’ term used to describe too many facets of reflective cognition, sometimes terming together, as stated above, knowledge of cognitive strategies with knowledge of how to use cognitive strategies. While such definitions have become more nuanced with self-regulatory models of metacognition, the main issue has essentially been that a single term has been used to refer to both knowledge about cognition and the regulation of cognition (Brown, 1987: cited in Georghiades, 2004).
These issues of definition raise the challenge for researchers to unify nebulous mini-theoretical stances on metacognition into what may eventually constitute a more comprehensive model (Borkowski, 1984). Moreover, Nelson believes that while our current ideas about metacognition are fragmented, it would be incorrect to assume they are entirely underdeveloped (Nelson 1998: cited in Georghiades, 2004). With this in mind, the closest learning theory to the definition of metacognition used in this essay is constructivism, which states that people construct their understanding and knowledge of the world through experiences and, significantly, their reflection on those experiences. From this, the working definition of metacognition for this essay will reflect on metacognition that demonstrates the development of learning strategies relating to English literature, and to awareness of their use.
A key step to defining a more comprehensive model of metacognition is to term it as perhaps similar in structure to other types of memory (Flavell, 1987: cited in Borkowski, 1996). In doing so, metacognition could operate as a kind of knowledge. This means it could involve three kinds of knowledge as defined by cognitive psychology:
(1) declarative knowledge about yourself as a learner, the factors that influence your learning and memory, and the skills, strategies and resources needed to perform a task – knowing what to do;
(2) procedural knowledge or knowing how to use the strategies; and
(3) conditional knowledge to ensure the completion of the task – knowing when and why to apply the procedures and strategies (Bruning, et al., 2004: cited in Woolfolk, 2013).
These types of knowledge are defined by metacognitive models in different ways. It could be that a procedural metacognitive function invokes awareness and management of one’s own thinking, whereas a declarative metacognitive function involves one’s broader understanding of thinking and knowing in general (Kuhn, 2004). Applying this, the metacognitive learner is thought to be characterised by the ability to recognize, evaluate and, where needed, reconstruct existing ideas (Gunstone, 1991: cited in Georghiades, 2004). Therefore, the importance of the metacognitive learner recognising pre-existing knowledge is deemed as vital as their ability to control the processes by which they learn (Brown, 1987 et al: cited in Woolfolk, 2013). Such control can be deemed self-regulation. Self-regulation in this context should be defined as the self-directed, and at times conscious, ability to transfer cognitive ability into academic skill. Developing academic skill is an essential part of how learning is measured in schools.
Contrary to the implication that metacognition ideally requires conscious awareness, when functioning is automatic (i.e. not requiring deliberate cognitive effort), metacognitive activity can actually hamper functioning (Sternberg, 1985). Ultimately, conscious control within the realms of effective metacognition (perhaps stemming from the top-down interaction of long-term memory with working-memory) requires the development of the self as an actual agent (Georghiades, 2004). Instead of academic self-concept being shaped solely by external input (a top-down process), Sternberg has argued that metacognition may constitute a second source of input involved in forming self-concept (Sternberg, 2010). So while self-concept is formed through interaction with one’s environment and significant others, he argues that an internal metacognitive component of self-concept is also critical to its development; he states, for example, that children’s self-concept becomes more in-line with others’ perceptions of them with age. Therefore, as their metacognition becomes more discerning, their self-concept changes (becoming more discerning) as well (Sternberg, 2010). It seems the developmental factor of agency is a significant consideration of metacognition, and its increasing sophistication in the learner. Yet how far can metacognition be seen as developmental?
Developmentally, metacognition emerges early in life and is affected by social functions; it does not exist in a social vacuum. This will be developed further in the second part of this essay. As Piaget noted, “We must agree that at no level, at no stage, even in the adult, can we find a behavior or a state which is purely cognitive without affect nor a purely affective state without a cognitive element involved. There is no such thing as a purely cognitive state” (Meichenbaum, 1962: 130). Piaget called this the “hypothetico-deductive method” and believe it required people to reach the stage of formal operational thought, which did not appear until adolescence. Even so, this stage does not appear for everyone, as metacognitive strategies do not always materialise, too. Significantly, active engagement in knowledge building (in the social sphere) as contrasted to solving puzzle problems set by someone else (declarative knowledge), seems to bring on this kind of constructive thought at a much earlier age, and presumably developed metacognitive skill (Sternberg, 2010).
Finally, in response to Piaget’s stage theory, Flavell questioned the achievability of identifying clear-cut stage-like ‘cognitive metamorphoses’ during childhood and adolescence, and suggested the existence of ‘developmental trends’ during this period instead (Flavell, 1985: cited in Georghiades, 2004). Some interesting ‘development trends’ have been defined as thus: metacognitive awareness seems to be independent of intellectual ability (Swanson 1990: cited in Schraw 2016) and academic achievement (1990 Pressley et al: cited in Schraw 2016); regulatory skills might be independent or even negatively related to domain knowledge (Glenberg et al 1987); metacognitive monitoring appears to be independent of ease of comprehension (Nelson et al., 1990: cited in Schraw, 2016); and, most significant, when children are asked to solve problems, metacognitive attributions predict the use of more sophisticated strategies, regardless of IQ level (Sternberg, 2010). Ultimately, these (perhaps surprising) developmental trends suggest there is a potential utility in metacognition amongst a wider base of learners than just those who seem academic able.
Part 2: The utility of metacognition for learners
Now we have outlined some of definitions of metacognition and have taken a constructivist definition that emphasises that metacognition enhances learning strategies through reflection on experiences, we should turn our attention towards the utility of metacognition for learners. To do so requires an awareness of socio-cultural perspectives, since socio-cultural perspectives describe psychological development as situated in and mediated by the socio-cultural context (Vass 2007). The socio-cultural context(s) of schools have been usefully termed by Brophy as ‘modules’ that seek to relate metalearning – a term defined here as awareness of metacognition as opposed to subject knowledge – to the Western classroom context.
At time point I discern the Western context in which Brophy operates as significant since in my experience working with academically selective Chinese students internationally, school seems to be openly defined by both Chinese students and parents as entirely congruent with achieving social ambitions. This contrasts with my experience in two inner-city UK schools where a significant number of students and parents derided school as innately ineffective, and that teachers were expected to construct social worth for learning in many students.
So, Brophy’s relation of metalearning to the classroom context examines the interaction of the individual with social definitions of ‘first order’ and ‘second order’ perspectives. Primarily, he sees the school as an institution that works through a ‘first order’ perspective driven by one learning policy: the purpose of the learner is to learn intrinsically and to be defined by a desire for innate mastery. However, ‘second order’ perspectives are the (invariably diverse) social aims that students and teachers bring to the classroom context. He states, somewhat dishearteningly, that the aim of many (Western) students (and perhaps some teachers?) when presented with a task in school is to get it out of the way rather than to understand what it intends to teach you; they desire to create a comfortable, or at least satisfactory, way of coming to terms with how they perceive the school module. Fundamentally, how successfully a student approaches, and regulates, a task – that is, if they can operate with self-efficacy – depends on their ‘module’ and ‘second order’ perspective (Brophy, 1986: cited in Biggs, 1993).
Sadly, there are significant ‘second order’ perspectives that can adversely affect the self-efficacy of students, since self-efficacy functions as the confidence a person has in bringing about a specific outcome (such as a grade) (Efklides, 2011). A lack of confidence in achieving an outcome hampers deep learning, since surface learning (also termed strategic learning or achievement learning) requires less social pressure and risk. Surface learning in this context refers to a conscious approach where students aim to learn enough of a concept to pass set assessments. Deep learning in this context involves students encoding concepts to the point where they can be applied beyond examination requirements.
Deep learning requires your ‘second order’ perspective to prize intrinsic motivation, and for a self-concept willing to be vulnerable to the fear of failure. Such attributions are not, however, stable characteristics (Marton and Saljo, 1976: cited in Child, 2007). In my experience of teaching streamed ability classes, a significant number of students who achieve good grades in English literature examinations can demonstrate variable desire to learn and read literature outside an examination, even (perhaps surprisingly) in contrast to some students less able in examinations. Despite the condition for self-efficacy as determined by a constructivist definition of metacognition, schools (especially schools in the Middle East under the KHDA, an Ofsted equivalent) are very other-directed as far as nearly all students are concerned. In my current international school, the focus on achievement in examinations is overwhelming. Schools are inspected on a yearly basis with raw figures (not based on student progress) determining informal league table positions. Funding for the school is set by these results, and therefore there is a real, fiscal pressure to prize exam performance over deep learning. Since covering the curriculum is the fundamental goal of such schools, monitoring processes should presumably be then done by someone with accountability (i.e. someone else). Such a disempowering ‘second order’ perspective means that students learn to be directed by other people, and will therefore under-develop metacognition as a result (Biggs, 1993).
Another consideration is that the learning of metacognitive strategies is in itself not enough for effective transfer of metacognitive knowledge from one context to another. It should be noted that at least one study suggests that metacognitive strategy training does not necessarily change metamemory (Brown, 1978). Metamemory, as stated earlier, is not only self-knowledge of memory capabilities, but also the processes involved in monitoring memory. Flavell had questioned earlier whether metamemory is a correlate of, or even a prerequisite for, successful strategy transfer (Flavell, 1977: cited in Borkowski et al., 1984). It was then argued that metacognition is tied more closely to strategy maintenance and generalisation than to memory performance itself per say (Borkowski et al., 1984). In order words, metacognition may enhance procedural knowledge more closely than declarative knowledge. Moreover, Kuhn postulates that efforts to induce change directly at the (external) performance level have only limited success, as indicated by failures of a newly acquired strategy to transfer to new materials or context. As has been observed in my teaching experience, children rarely generalised newly learned strategies to transfer tasks (Brown et al., 1977: cited in Georghiades, 2004). For example, paragraph level analysis of literary texts is a skill practised in my current school on a weekly basis. Explicit in the marking rubric for such paragraphs are the use of linguistic signposts to demonstrate progression in an argument. However, students are observed to often fail to use these in paragraphs of analysis for other humanities subjects such as geography and history, despite being provided with resources. One possible explanation for this is that there is a failure in the metacognitive knowledge of the learner about the actual value of strategies in general, in this case the value of methods used to construct coherent analysis. There also could be a failure in specific knowledge about the efficacy of the instructed strategy. While the students might be able to use linguistic signposts in one context (the English classroom), they have perhaps not been duly conceptualised enough to transfer to another context (the history classroom) (Borkowski, et al 1984). So, while strategy training may appear successful, if nothing has been done to influence – perhaps to scaffold – the meta-level of the thought (and to encourage the desire for deep learning) the new behaviour will quickly disappear once the instructional context is withdrawn and individuals resume meta-level management of their own behaviour (Kuhn, 2004).
Finally, an epistemological consideration about the utility of metacognition is the question of the extent to which meta-level awareness of knowledge affects knowledge itself. Knowledge acquisition strategies are invariably themselves transformed (and hopefully refined) in the course of their continued application. Some studies point to the critical role of metacognitive and metastrategic processes in regulating knowledge acquisition (Kuhn, 2000). Metastrategic in this context means not only an awareness of learning strategies that might be used in a given situation, but also an awareness of when to use these strategies. After being motivated to use metastrategic knowledge, some students experience more learning experiences which might empower them to be persistent and show engagement in their learning processes (Karlen, 2004). Therefore, students who experience success using metacognitive strategies are more likely to incorporate them in their ‘second order’ perspectives, which in turn would bring them a step closer to the ‘first order’ perspective of learning. Knowing this, any potential utility of metacognition in an international school must surely seek need to build a base of (publicly?) successful metacognitive experiences amongst its learners. Quite simply, as this essay will argue in its fourth section, activation of metacognition does not lead to immediate success, or even fluency. It likely invokes the opposite as cognitive processes become more conscious and less automatic. Such difficulty in cognition would not likely feel internally successful to novice learners, and so therefore publicly shared successful metacognitive experiences (such as students and myself working collaboratively through difficulties when modelling paragraphs of analysis) are essential for encouraging learners to preserve metacognitive ambitions.
Part 3: How should we consider metacognition in an affective subject such as English?
As noted above, the affective aspects of learning should be a significant consideration in the utility of metacognition. However, some models have sought to define the process of writing as complex problem solving (Flower and Hayes, 1980: cited in Vass, 2007), leaving little room for consideration of interpersonal and affective aspects. Affect is considered by most contemporary theories to be postcognitive, that is, to occur only after considerable cognitive operations have already been accomplished. Yet a number of experimental results on preferences, attitudes, impression formation, and decision making in writing suggest that affective judgments may be fairly independent of, and precede in time, the sorts of perceptual and cognitive operations commonly assumed to be the basis of these affective judgments (Zajonc, 1980). Wisely, if somewhat sardonically, Zajonc also states that outside the classroom, people do not get married or divorced, commit murder or suicide, or lay down their lives for freedom (or always vote for presidents) upon a detailed cognitive analysis of the pros and cons of their actions (Zajonc, 1980). Any understanding of how interpretation is created must surely avoid underplaying the influence of affect in models of cognition.
To help understand why affect has been separated from models of cognition Bruner reminds us that the separation and classification of cognition and emotion can be traced back to the theological debates around faith and reason, both seen as forms of knowing in Classical Greece. Due to the overemphasis on reason and logical thinking, the role of emotions – or the emotional “mode of organising experience” has been largely disregarded in mainstream psychological or neuroscientific research on cognition (Bruner, 1986: cited in Phelps, 2005). Western developmental theories have actually conceptualised emotion as a lesser function with characteristically harmful effects on rational thinking, which is reflected in the consequent disregard or even conscious elimination of emotions from the study of cognitive functioning or cognitive development (Donaldson, 1996: cited in Vass, 2007).
However, there are clearly facets of metacognition in the learning of English (i.e. metacognitive experiences) that can have an affective character (Efklides, 2006: cited in Efklides, 2011). One of the problems students face when reading poetry, for example, is that they focus too much on “making sense” of the poem (Harker, 1994: cited in Wood, 2008).
I recently taught a series of lessons as a bridge to Sixth Form literature with some students who have expressed difficulty with poetry. A student at my international school, Albert (pseudonym), has particularly expressed disquiet with the ambiguity of structurally and semantically ambiguous modernist poetry. In the NATE (National Association for the Teaching of English) published guide to teaching literature at Key Stage 5, Snapper explicitly recommends that students begin a literature course by comparing their responses to modernist poems and paintings, and reflecting on how they respond. As Albert and his peers demonstrated, while students are able to respond to paintings with affective responses (to talk freely about what they ‘like’ about them, discounting or even enjoying the confusion of their ambiguity), they often painfully struggle to respond to modernist poetry. They find themselves unable to respond to language that is purposefully vague or ambiguous in meaning. Some of their previously successful (if unsubtle) metacognitive strategies (such as applying acronyms that consider poetic terms) seem blocked by this affective confusion. The notion of free play, a literary concept from Derrida, states that this state of being confused is an inevitable philosophical state of post-modernist being, and that readers should embrace the removal of a fixed central point of meaning. The question for us is, how can readers draw on their affective responses to help them understand literature that is deliberately ambiguous? (Snapper et al., 2009). Since affective and cognitive processes cannot be easily teased apart, drawing clear distinctions between the two can be counterproductive. However, it could be useful to discern affective-based strategies from other more general comprehension strategies such as rereading or paraphrasing (Wood, 2008). Albert was much more able to respond to modernist poetry when he was guided to focus on the ‘how’ of the poem, rather than the ‘what’, and this allowed him to embrace the affective unease that such poetry intended to evoke. Without a social acceptance of the difficulty that literature provokes, students might build a series of unsuccessful encounters with literature. This lack of success will perhaps hamper frank reflection on learning experiences, and therefore will lead to less inclination for students like Albert to think metacognitively and adapt existing strategies. Why would Albert, a teenager still developing a coherent self-image, want to reflect on what might seem like invariable personal failure?
This problematic regulation of affect links to a vast “misconceptions” literature (a general review is provided in Wandersee et al., 1994: cited in Bereiter, 2010). This research has demonstrated time and again that students (like Albert) are able to pass school tests (as he was able to do with an A grade at Key Stage 4), yet he lacked the productive knowledge (and the metacognitive strategies) to analyse modernist poetry. Developing an aesthetic awareness that appreciation of affective confusion in poetic form can match appreciation of ambiguity in meaning is one useful metacognitive strategy. Ambiguity in meaning has been observed as an issue even for undergraduate students, suggesting that it is possible, although clearly not desirable, to functionally pass A-Level literature without awareness of how to regulate metacognitive affect (Karlen, 2004). It would seem that all students, even those currently successful, should be interested in developing metacognitive strategies if they are to become empowered learners.
Part 4: What are some considerations when leaners aim to develop metacognition?
So, despite the apparent usefulness of metacognition, Gourgey asserts that students do not welcome instruction on metacognitive skills. On the contrary, they (and some teachers) may actively resist it.
In my experience teaching in international contexts, the need to develop metacognition is approached cynically. Fundamentally, this seems to be caused when the nuances of metacognitive experience are defined by the school as merely a series of learning verbs (such as analyse, refine, evaluate). Some learners, as a result, come to vociferously equate metacognition more with top-down marketing drives rather than an empowering constructivist strategy to enhance learning and thought.
So, indeed, when students have become used to and have been rewarded over the years for passive and rather mindless learning, they will not jump at the chance to take a more thoughtful or mindful approach to what they are doing, especially if they live busy and full lives. Therefore, the teacher’s greatest challenge is to interest the students in the first place in metacognitive strategies (Gourgey: cited in Sternberg 1998), especially if using metacognitive strategies risks affecting the ‘second order’ perspective of students in the form of self-concept. Due to the institutional nature of schooling, any school-based community of practice will naturally hold aversions to full engagement, preferring instead to form ‘second order’ perspectives that preserve a reserved learning identity that does not risk judgement of self-concept (Wenger, 1999).
Sternberg asserts that learning the knowledge of metacognitive procedures is at least as important as knowledge of the information to which these procedures are applied (Sternberg, 1998). However, this is contentious, as in my experience there is an underplaying of declarative knowledge in the British education system. I have seen the effects that an overemphasis on teaching procedural knowledge can bring, most notably when observing interview lessons where students enthusiastically attempt to teach each other half-understood declarative knowledge. Students are engaged, and feel that they understand the knowledge as they invariably affirm this with each other. However, without expert monitoring, misconceptions go unchallenged. So, although some research indicates that increased strategy use results from explicit instruction focused on comprehension strategy, the importance of declarative knowledge in metacognition should not be understated (Borkowski, 1984: cited in Wood, 2008). Interestingly, there seems to be no advantage in collaborative learning (a pedagogy promoted by Hattie’s meta-analyses (2011) that supposedly enhanced procedural knowledge) for improving factual knowledge – perhaps the dominant aspect of declarative knowledge. As always, collaborative learning requires judicious application. However, the students in the collaborative learning condition in some research experienced greater task enjoyment and were consequently more engaged and motivated (Burke et al., 2008).
Success in this model could interest students in the worthwhileness of metacognition, especially as the conceptualisation of effort and the perceptions of effort is regulated by the metacognitive experiences of students (Efklides et al., 2006). That is, if metacognition is too difficult to enact, students are unlikely to engage in it. To nuance this further, the necessity of failure in terms of forming a complete (or, indeed, any) interpretation of literature, and the temptation of a person to attribute failure to bad luck rather than a necessary part of the academic process, also affects the use of metacognition (Biggs, 1993). The balance for the learner is to not become demotivated whilst still reflecting frankly on their (invariably incomplete, sometimes problematic, yet ultimately fruitful) metacognitive experiences.
Key to an idealised conceptualisation of difficulty in metacognition, then, is to promote an occasional lack of fluency as actually ideal when forming interpretations. Learners often have a faulty mental model of how they learn and remember – they prize the idea that successful learning is always fluent. Two distinct biases are: the foresight bias – to remember the work completed was easy once it was known (Bjork, 2005: cited in Bjork, 2013); and the stability bias, which is to act as though one’s memory will not change in future (Bjork, 2013). Indeed, even the physicality of learning can affect perceptions of its effectiveness, since words presented at a louder volume were incorrectly rated as more memorable in some research (Rhodes and Castel, 2009: cited in Bjork, 2013). Being open with students about these biases, and encouraging a culture of shared accepting, and indeed seeking, of difficulty, seems essential in developing metacognition.
The process of seeking difficulty by tackling ‘too difficult’ tasks will, however, lead to inevitable misconceptions. Many educators, though, have had reservations about defining students’ non-canonical beliefs in such tasks as “misconceptions”. They point out that they often reflect imaginative attempts to make sense of something which exists outside their schemas, yet still has “explanatory coherence” (Scardamalia et al., 2003). Therefore, metacognition is not something to be entirely ‘taught’ to the learner in an ‘outside-in’ process, but rather is a skill that can be helped to develop in a ‘inside-out’ manner (Georghiades, 2001). Other factors seem far more important in the development of creative expertise, such as pursuing paths of inquiry that others ignore or dread, taking intellectual risks, persevering in the face of obstacles, and so on (Sternberg et al., 1996: cited in Burke et al., 2008). Sternberg states that deliberate practice and expertise may interact bidirectionally, and that deliberate practice leads to expertise. Such expertise leads to satisfaction, and therefore more deliberate practice. However, the initial deliberate practice needs to modelled as sometimes difficult and problematic, and that satisfaction in expertise must necessarily be preceded by difficulty. It is the difficulty, not the satisfaction, that should be embraced (Sternberg, 1998). Joseph embraced such difficulty in metacognitively reflective writing conferences with his creative writing students, acknowledging that they often contained awkward moments when his questioning actually confused students who were looking for a quick fix rather than a guided metacognitive experience (Joseph, 2003). Such guided metacognitive experiences are asserted as essential by Lemov in his recent text on teaching reading in American charter schools. He states that we must compel all students to approach texts that are ‘too difficult’ and lead to a failure of interpretation. Through this, we therefore provide them with successful experiences of tackling difficulty with metacognitive success. While too heavily embroiled in New Criticism – a literary theory which emphasises the desire to analyse a text outside of its cultural context, and which therefore contentiously downplays declarative knowledge – and without a rigorous reference to recent reading research, Lemov’s assertion that we need students to accept a lack of fluency as part of learning seems key to developing fruitful metacognitive experiences (Lemov et al., 2016).
Finally, key for the development of a successful identity as a metacognitive learner is an effective relationship between the teacher and the student; it can’t be taken for sure that students become successful self-regulated learners on their own (Bjork et al., 2013: cited in Karlen, 2004). Finding out that the student is not exerting effort – perhaps though negative attributions and perception of metacognition – is frustrating for the teacher (who can become disheartened with the student and his or her behaviour) with consequences for both the teacher and the student’s self-regulation (Efklides, 2011).
Interestingly, Sternberg loosely classified teachers into three groups depending on the extent to which they take students’ metacognitive functioning into account, which, in essence, perhaps also represented the teachers’ own metacognitive functioning (Sternberg et al., 1998). Since it is more than possible that teachers can pass through the British education system as surface learners operating mostly on external performance factors, such teachers will themselves require a development of their ‘second order’ perspectives to move towards deep learning. Perhaps for students to construct effective ‘second order’ perspectives of learning, they require constructivist experiences that extend beyond, but are supported through, the classroom.
Teaching approaches that are constructivist and metacognitively orientated depend on learners having trust in their teachers. In general, the outcomes of research have been encouraging: metacognition can be promoted and will facilitate conceptual change even if it remains fragile and artificial until perceived by students as meeting their short-goals (White et al., 1989: cited in Georghiades, 2004). Therefore, it is ideal that metacognitive strategies are occasionally applied in a short-term fashion for students in order for them to experience easy gains if they are likely to be used in a more profound fashion later.
Ultimately, making students interested in metacognition requires us to ask the wider, more profound question of self-regulated learning: How do learners become masters of their own learning process? (Zimmerman, 2008). Giving learners the time, and the motivation, to make mistakes is key. Without giving educators time to learn themselves, for them to share experiences of difficulty in learning with the learners, and without allowing learners to explore and adapt their ‘second order’ perspectives, what chance do learners have to master their own learning processes? To interest learners in metacognition, the institution of education must also (through time and space to reflect) nurture the interests of the educators.
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