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Metacognition and Its Importance in the Thinking Process

Special Article

Metacognition and Its Importance in the Thinking Process

Dr. Frank Lyman

To cite this article: Lyman, F. Metacognition and Its Importance in the Thinking Process. Kagan Online Magazine, Issue #60. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. www.KaganOnline.com

A major goal in education, as well as in everyday living, is to be able to engage in meaningful conversation. We teachers realize this generally, but for various reasons can fall short of realizing the goal with students. We ask questions, sometimes at high levels. At our best we try to make the discussion center around student interests, problems relevant to their lives, and novel curiosity inducing stimuli. We use abstract terms such as analysis, inference, assumptions, evaluation, hypothesis, principles, compare/analogy, generalization, and synthesis. Depending on the students’ backgrounds and on the teacher’s allowing for maximum response through cooperative learning, levels of questioning, relevance, novelty, and understood abstract terms; for some students classroom discussion can result in meaningful conversation as a springboard to further learning.

There is a missing element that, if attended to, will increase the odds that more students will leave school on a given day having said something or heard something that will have meaning for their learning and their lives. The element is metacognition, or knowing how they know. The knowledge often missing for students—and even the teacher—is how the mind works to solve problems, analyze, infer, evaluate, hypothesize, derive principles and generalizations, compare, and synthesize. Without a concrete knowledge of the working parts of these cognitive abstractions, the terms come over to many students like the voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher. We remember that inchoate garble talk, don’t we?

With an understanding of the basic actions of the mind, students and teachers can uncover meaning in any piece of knowledge or conjecture.

One proven strategy that includes all students in meaningful conversation is to make them aware of and teach them how to use seven basic mind actions, or thinking types. These are: recall, cause and effect, similarity, difference, idea to example, example to idea, and evaluation. With an understanding of the basic actions of the mind, students and teachers can uncover meaning in any piece of knowledge or conjecture. They ask the different type questions and seek the answers individually and cooperatively. Whereas teachers can use the seven mind action icons as a reminder to ask questions of different types, true education is achieved if students have the metacognitive awareness to ask the different type questions themselves. The question is the vehicle of learning and students take charge of the discourse. The resultant pair or small group meaningful discussions are the measure of the success of this approach, known as the ThinkTrix strategy. “ThinkTrix” is a composite of Thinking Matrix because the seven types can be on one axis of the matrix grid and the focal points of the thinking on the other.

An example of the importance of metacognitive understanding is its usefulness in problem solving. Too often students are not aware of a cognitive path to solving problems. With knowledge of the basic mind actions, they begin with a clean statement of a problem, leaving out any implied cause, move to the effects of the problem to gauge its importance, probe deeply for causes, select causes that seem most likely, consider that there may be hidden causes, design a solution based on some supposed causes, pre-think the effects were this solution to be carried out, try the solution, and evaluate the efficacy of the solution. Sometimes the whole process can begin by thinking of an analogous problem. This “metastrategic” path can be flowcharted into a heuristic and thereby made indelible in students’ minds for future problem solving. Most problem analysis strategies never even mention cause and effect and the problem statements are infected with imagined causes. A statement such as, “The students aren’t listening,” is an example of such an infection in that the problem statement can lead nowhere if the causes have nothing to do with listening. The teachers’ request to “analyze” a problem is Peanuts teacher talk to students who lack a basic knowledge of how thinking works and the path to take it on. The problem solving flowchart is an example of what can be termed “metacognitive mapping,” a mind-aware version of cognitive mapping in which students label the types of thinking used on the cognitive maps.

If all students attain a metacognitive awareness of basic actions of the mind, they will be more able to understand and use the higher processes of thinking to solve problems, make decisions, inquire, and create. Along with icons representing the seven mind actions, on the wall of the classroom could be these words: “How does my mind work to answer this question or solve this problem?”

About the Author

Frank Lyman is a former elementary teacher and field based teacher educator. His achievements include invention and development with colleagues of the Think-Pair-Share cooperative discussion technique and the ThinkTrix metacognitive strategy. Frank is the author of ThinkTrix book, published by Kagan Publishing. He was an originator in 1965 of the use of cognitive mapping in the elementary classroom.

Related Resource


Tools to Teach 7 Essential Thinking Skills
Dr. Frank T. Lyman, Jr. (All Grades)
ThinkTrix empowers your students to be better thinkers and broader thinkers. ThinkTrix develops better thinkers through metacognition—thinking about their own thinking. Students learn exactly what their minds need to do for the seven core types of thinking. They are better prepared to respond correctly to test questions, write clearly, and to be more effective students in general. While metacognition may sound complicated, this book makes the process super simple for you and your students. More concise thinking is sufficient rationale for using ThinkTrix with your students. But there's another big benefit—ThinkTrix allows you and your students to think more deeply about any topic. You and your students will apply the seven types of thinking to a variety of curricula, and expand everyone's knowledge, comprehension, and creativity about the subject matter. ThinkTrix—better, broader, deeper thinking! 216 pages. Click to Learn More.