Academically Ignored: Metacognition and the Classroom

Metacognition, often described as the process, “thinking about thinking,” plays a major role in academic performance, but few are familiar with the term.

I’ll use an example to help you quickly understand what metacognition looks like in action. A dichotomy between two students underscores its influence over academic outcomes.

Imagine Jonny and Blake, two 8th grader students who rarely earn A’s in their classes, help one another study for a history test. The two try out a new memorization technique that one of them recently heard about. Then comes the test, and both students score an A+, a personal shock and major boost to each other their GPAs.

Then the next test rolls around. Jonny remembers that study technique that helped earn him his recent A+, and dives right into it. Blake, however, goes back to his old study techniques — never connecting the dots between his recent A+ and the study technique that proceeded it.

Jonny recognized the value of the technique and quickly implemented it into his continued study routine. Blake, on the other hand, neglected to consider the technique. And so, Jonny earns his second A+, and Blake comes up much short.

Jonny’s ability to recognize what does and doesn’t work, relative to Blake’s, will continuously help him outperform in the classroom. Ask yourself: is that fair?

These metacognitive faculties can be taught and developed— academic coaches, tutors, and great teachers ensure of it. But the western curricular paradigm largely eschews the concept of teaching students how to be students.

The study technique that guided Jonny into the 4.0 club, could have been taught to their entire class. Furthermore, follow-up coursework could have cemented the technique into every student’s mind — helping connect the dots with a hammer and ensuring that they never splinter.

If taught formally, could Blake have followed the same path to a 4.0 as Jonny did naturally? How many students in their class could’ve realized superior academic achievement if only their curriculum helped even the playing field for what is ultimately a malleable skill?