What is Metacognition and Why is it Essential to Writing Skills Acquisition?

An exploration of the metacognitive process and how it helps students become better learners.
What is Metacognition and Why is it Essential to Writing Skills Acquisition?

What is Metacognition and Why is it Essential to Writing Skills Acquisition?

Writing is one of the most basic skills that human beings need to master in order to communicate successfully both personally and professionally. Incorporating metacognitive skills into the writing process can give students the empowerment they need to learn and communicate effectively. 

Just what are metacognitive skills and why are they so important to student achievement and future success?

What are Metacognitive Skills?

Metacognitive skills are defined as the process of planning, monitoring, and assessing one’s thinking and learning. Additionally, it involves critical awareness of how one is learning and processing information. 

When using metacognitive skills to learn and improve writing, there are several basic steps that are normally involved. The Language Arts Journal of Michigan states that metacognition needs to be modeled, practiced, and continually discussed in order to effectively influence student achievement. Metacognition must become a habit for students when learning, including learning how to write. 

Why are Metacognition Skills Important?

Patricia Chen, a researcher at Stanford, has said many students would come to her lamenting over poor test scores. Chen discovered that many of them lacked awareness of how ill-prepared they really were after talking with the students. Hard work and effort wasn’t enough without effective learning strategies in place. In other words, they were lacking metacognitive awareness techniques.

Helping students progress in their learning in writing means implementing metacognition skills. Even children in elementary school need to learn how to learn and have a distinct awareness of their own learning. This then empowers learners to make conscious decisions regarding their learning.

The Resilient Educator lists two important ways metacognition can help student learning:

  • Students who understand the metacognition process can create their own strategies that increase student-directed learning.
  • Students who successfully implement metacognitive skills will be able to retain and effectively use knowledge.

What is the Positive Impact of Strong Metacognitive Skills in Writing?

According to the Child Mind Institute, students who incorporate self-awareness and critical thinking into their writing process develop habits that help them learn how to learn, applicable to all aspects of learning. There are several benefits when students acquire metacognitive skills. Students will:

  • Develop patience in the writing and learning process
  • Move away from a fixed mindset and reduce negative self-talk.
  • Become process and goal oriented.
  • Better manage diverse learning situations.
  • Self-regulate feelings like frustration and anxiety that may occur during writing, including those with learning disabilities.

What Will Happen if the Metacognitive Challenge Continues?

Unfortunately, many students lack the ability to critically assess their own thinking and apply these skills to the writing process. There are several ways in which poor metacognitive skills will present future challenges for both students and employers.

  • Academic – The inability to critically assess one’s thinking can affect performance in everything from a history class to even mathematics. Nearly every type of class will require students to take some sort of written exam. Even if the student is proficient in a particular subject, poor metacognitive skills can affect how well a student answers questions and presents ideas. 
  • Workplace Poor writing skills that result from limited metacognitive skills cost United States businesses approximately $396 billion. Specific ways it can hurt a business include the loss of ideas, damaging the corporate brand, lost time, and costing sales for a business. Excellent communication skills are necessary for nearly every type of professional.
  • Personal – A lack of metacognitive skills can negatively impact individuals on a personal level. Poor metacognition can affect a person’s ability to communicate effectively, prepare a resume, adequately fill out a loan application or prepare a personal ad. Written communication is a day-to-day life skill.

What Can be Done to Fix the Problem?

Teachers must take steps to incorporate metacognitive skills into their instruction and assessment. Districts must encourage this practice through training and resources. Actionable fixes to improve student metacognitive skill development in writing include the following:

  • Pre-assessments

    Students should be encouraged to consciously assess what they already know about a topic before they begin the writing process. This might include a brainstorming session or using organization techniques such as a Venn diagram. 

  • Planning

    Metacognitive skills need to be implemented during the planning phase of writing assignment. This would include asking and answering questions such as the following. What is my goal? What strategies will I need to implement to reach my goal? How much time or resources will I need? Questions elicit students to think of a process and fine tune along the way. 

  • Think Alouds

    Educators should practice and model “thinking aloud” when instructing their students. This involves teachers sharing their thinking processes that bring student learning into a deeper level of engagement. Thinking aloud can include asking questions and activating prior knowledge.

  • Concept Mapping

    Concept mapping involves showing meaningful relationships between ideas and words. When students see ideas and concepts for writing assignments in writing, they are more likely to visualize the process.

  • Reflection

    This involves looking back in order to process new experiences. A reflection process will often include prewriting, role-playing, and collaborative troubleshooting to help students become more thoroughly engaged in the writing process. As a result, this also reinforces that writing is an iterative undertaking. 

  • Diverse Assessments

    These might include self-assessment, peer/group assessment and teacher assessment. Self-assessments and peer assessments offer students opportunities to share their writing with different audience types and receive feedback in a variety of forms. Most importantly, it allows students to think about their own learning and the learning of their peers.

  • Learning Goals and Success Criteria

    In addition to diverse assessments, learning goals and success criteria can provide students with concrete measures of success. This allows students to track their learning progress incrementally and make changes when needed to accomplish a learning goal. 

In short, writing is both a means of learning and a way to exhibit learning. The better students can understand how they best develop writing skills and communicate through writing can set them up for success in their academic, career, and personal lives. Tools that reinforce students to reflect, edit, re-write, and take initiative in their writing are what students need today.  

Carl Mascarenhas