Smiling young boy rests his chin on his hands at a desk while he thinks about what he will draw on a blank page with the colored pencils next to him.

Meta-cognition is a key ingredient in becoming a lifelong learner. Meta-cognition is the awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes or the ability to reflect on one’s learning and thinking. It helps students use compensatory strategies, generalize learning, and seek help when needed.

Students need meta-cognitive skills in order to self-advocate and feel a sense of control.

It is possible to craft a very specific, measurable IEP goal for teaching meta-cognition. Below are a variety of meta-cognitive goals that can get you started.


Sample IEP Goals

  • Thomas will ask for clarification in at least 3 out of 5 sets of ambiguous directions.
  • Jorge will accurately rate his reading fluency, as measured by no greater than .5 deviation from the teacher’s appraisal on the Multidimensional Fluency Scale.
  • Maddie will name and demonstrate at least 3 strategies she can use for editing an essay.
  • Jada will independently state her learning strengths and weaknesses based on her standardized testing.

You may introduce meta-cognitive strategies to your students by telling the story of The Tortoise and the Hare (or, you can show a little animation [1]).

Discuss how the tortoise knew himself, how he worked best and thought about the big picture, while the hare did not consider these important ramifications and paid dearly for that lack of insight. Similarly, your students need to think about their thinking and the 'Big Picture' in order to be successful. In this article, you will find concrete ways to teach your students skills to engage in meta-cognitive thinking to enhance their learning. You will also find suggestions for activities and tools for teaching, such as role-plays, rating scales, and video feedback.


Teaching About Learning Profiles of Strengths and Weaknesses

Students with dyslexia or specific learning disabilities (SLD) have 'peaks and valleys' profiles of strengths and weaknesses. Indeed, these profiles are part of the definitions and diagnostic determinants of dyslexia and SLD. It is helpful to know your students’ profiles of strengths and weaknesses in order to support their learning through accommodations, which level the playing field for our students with dyslexia and SLD. You can find specific tips in our Study Tips To Better Your Success At Learning article. Next, discuss these strengths and weaknesses with your students. Conclude by talking about interests. All of these aspects factor into your students’ learning, so building awareness of them can spur a giant leap in your teaching and your students’ ability to think about their thinking. For specific scripts that you can use to help your students explore the way they learn see "Teaching Self-Advocacy to your Child" [2].


Teaching About Problem Solving

If you try something and it does not work, will you continue to do it the same way, again and again? The answer is no. However, some students get stuck in the rut of doing something the same way again and again because they do not have strong meta-cognitive skills for problem solving. The basic steps that students need to learn are as follows:

  • Identifying and describing the problem,
  • Observation/Documenting specific data,
  • Developing a hypothesis and possible solutions,
  • Talking about the problem with the parties that are involved, and
  • Determining if a resolution was achieved and whether further action is required.

And then, if further action is required, we begin the process again. Most people take these steps for granted. Nonetheless, many students with dyslexia need explicit instruction and practice to develop the requisite problem-solving skills required for self-advocacy and meta-cognitive thinking. We would also advocate that the typically-developing students in your classroom would also benefit from improving their meta-cognitive skills. It is often helpful to apply the above sequence to fictitious, academically-based scenarios before moving on to personal challenges.


Teaching about Strategies

Your students need to have a “toolbox” of strategies that work for their best way of learning new information. You may wish to review your students’ current learning strategies and then review a “menu” of new strategies to see which ones seem like possibilities. Then, your students should be encouraged to experiment with these strategies in a sort of “learning laboratory.” You can help your students to evaluate the effectiveness of each strategy using the sequence above. Lavish praise on them for trying a new way of learning, even if it is not “successful.” We know that some of the best inventions came from “failure.” Then, encourage them to move on to a more suitable tool for the task at hand.

A key strategy for all learning is understanding how to locate information in the textbook. For example, many students ignore titles, headings, the table of contents, and chapter organizers. These should be emphasized along with the index and boldface words. In the Information Age, students need guidance for how to effectively research on the Internet, and instruction on which types of sources are suitable for a paper. Again, see our Study Tips To Better Your Success At Learning article for more reading comprehension strategies.


Tools: Video Feedback

One of the most effective ways to teach self-monitoring skills and self-appraisal skills (i.e., improve meta-cognitive thinking) for oral reading or presentations is to provide immediate video feedback to students. Initially, so much energy is concentrated on completing the task that students have very few resources left to simultaneously evaluate their accuracy and effectiveness. What worked? What didn’t work? An easy way to provide this feedback is with a web-camera (built in or mounted on the computer) or a Flip Video Camera that plugs directly into the computer and is ready for viewing (no USB cables or transferring of files required). A web-camera is most effective for tasks that are stationary, while a Flip Video Camera is excellent for tasks that require movement around the room (you can either hold the camera or utilize the mini tripod that comes with it). You will probably want to try combining video feedback with a rating scale, as described in the following section. And, you will need to model effective strategies for self-evaluation (see steps above).


Tools: Customized Rating Scales

Rating scales help you and the students evaluate performance and track progress. Generally, a numerical value is assigned to a specific qualitative description. You can quickly formulate your own rating scale for many different tasks, such as following written directions, drafting a paragraph, editing, giving oral presentations, and reading orally. Your rating scale can be as simple as "did not use a topic sentence" (rated as a 1) and "used a topic sentence" (rated as a 2), or it can be as complex as the oral fluency scale below. Your students can design a scale. The important thing is to have your students evaluate themselves and then compare that score with your own rating. Given video feedback and specific examples, your students will develop their ability to self-monitor and self-evaluate effective skills and strategies.


Tools: Role-plays

Once your students have selected a real-life situation to problem solve, it is useful to have them role-play the interaction with you. They will pretend that you are the person (e.g., teacher, parent, staff person, peer) whom they need to address. You can try giving the "easy" or "helpful" response, then redo the role-play with more resistance or "push-back." This will give your students the opportunity to plan out their wording, use assertiveness, and get feedback from someone with whom they are comfortable. You will want to make sure that your students are using assertive word choice, eye contact, loudness/diction, and posture during this role-play. An excellent way to improve these skills (as well as your students’ self-awareness) is to provide video feedback and allow your student opportunity to self-evaluate, reflect, and then make changes.

Last, it is very important to group students with others who will foster a positive learning situation. Assigning roles can be helpful. Knowing your students’ strengths and weaknesses will help you better assign these roles. This can be daunting if you are a middle school or high school teacher who is seeing over a hundred students each day. It will pay off, though. Teaching your students to ‘think about their thinking’ will go a long way into making them lifelong learners, which really is our goal as educators. Your students’ success starts here!


It is possible to craft very specific, measurable IEP goals for teaching meta-cognition.
Smiling young boy rests his chin on his hands at a desk while he thinks.