Metacognition: The Science of Thinking About Thinking

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Monday, March 7, 2022
Rodin's The Thinker statue

Metacognition: The Science of Thinking About Thinking

If you want to get better at something you have to look at how you do it with an open mind and a keen eye. Our thought processes are no different; if you want to get better at thinking your way through complex problems and learning new information, you’ll want to practice metacognition.

What Is Metacognition And Why Is It Important For Students? 

Metacognition is the process of thinking about thinking. It’s about examining how we take in and process information, and figuring out ways we can do that more efficiently. On an educational level, practicing metacognition can help students better understand what study habits and memorization skills work best for them just as it can help teachers think of ways of communicating information that are more “sticky” and easy to digest.

There are three basic aspects associated with metacognition:

  • Metacognitive knowledge: The knowledge of how cognition works. Metacognitive knowledge represents our scientific and cultural awareness of how attention, comprehension, and memory works. 
  • Metacognitive experiences: This involves our feelings and awareness of how we as individuals think. How we think through problem-solving situations, the way we recall and process memories, the strategies that are most effective for us personally when it comes to absorbing information and the habits and behaviors that inhibit us from thinking clearly.
  • Metacognitive control strategies: This is the aspect that’s most hands-on. This centers around developing techniques and strategies that can help us engage in critical thinking, memory retention, and communicate with greater clarity.

Breaking these aspects down into a simpler form, they’re essentially:

  • What We Know
  • What Works For You
  • What Can Be Done Better

Critical Thinking

One way to better understand how you think is to work on improving your critical thinking skills. Since critical thinking deals with analyzing and synthesizing complex information, you can gain some crucial insights on how you think as you work to get better at it. 

Three simple strategies to improve your critical thinking:

  • Question assumptions: interrogate your biases and train yourself not to jump to conclusions.
  • Reason through logic: emotions are very important but can sometimes cloud your ability to see things clearly. Using logic as a way to grapple with important concepts helps you see what’s there instead of what you think or want to be there.
  • Diversify thought: being able to consider other perspectives and approaches helps you get a better understanding of how YOU see things differently.

Handwrite Your Notes

Studies have shown that writing down your notes on pen and paper improves memory retention and triggers more robust brain activity than typing on a keyboard. If you want to remember something you learned, taking the time to jot it down can help etch it in your mind. Consider keeping a journal (if you don’t already do so): the act of writing down your thoughts and summarizing your day every day can build habits of self-reflection and personal analysis that can help you notice patterns of thought and behavior you address.

Another useful tool for learning and personal development is a commonplace book. The commonplace book is a kind of reading journal; instead of recording your day, you record interesting quotes, passages, and snippets of information you want to remember. This creates a bank of memories and leads to follow-up on, and also provides you with a snapshot of what was interesting to you at the time when you look back on it later. This is an old technique — the poet John Milton kept one, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle even had his legendary detective Sherlock Holmes keep a few commonplace books that he consulted during his cases. 

Meditation

Devoting 3-10 minutes a day to doing a simple meditation won’t just do wonders for alleviating stress — it can help improve your ability to concentrate and pay attention. Meditation also gives you an awareness of your “monkey mind,” the constant background chatter of stray thoughts and anxieties running through your mind that can easily distract and derail you if you’re not aware of it. Learning how to quiet your mind and focus on one thing at a time is a valuable part of your metacognition toolbox.

 

Written by Austin Brietta