Developing Metacognitive Monitoring Skills

By Nathan Burns


How can learners monitor and evaluate their progress throughout tasks? Nathan Burns offers some tips in his latest article on metacognition.

Welcome back to the third article in this series on metacognition. If you haven’t read the first article in this series on metacognitive theory then it will be well worth your while reading that. The more you understand the theory behind metacognition, the more you will understand the strategies that are covered in this article.

The purpose of this article is to put some ‘meat on the bones’ of how metacognition can be introduced into the classroom, maximising impact for student learning and minimising the amount of additional work that you need to do. The focus here will be on metacognitive monitoring – an individual’s ability to consider the progress that they are making on a task, and whether they are heading in the right direction. In essence, metacognitive monitoring is the process of evaluating during a task, to ensure that the task is completed as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Content Checklists

The first strategy is the idea of a content checklist. This list could be produced by yourself as the teacher, in collaboration with students, or led completely by individual or groups of students. The purpose of the list is to include everything that must be included within the perfect response to a question, task or problem. Through identifying all of the required factors, students can then tick them off the list as they go through completing their work.

Through ensuring that students are ticking these off as they go, it will mean that students do not get to the end of their work and suddenly realise that they have missed out a considerable number of points that they ought to have included within their work. Furthermore, through having this list, students will be able to identify which factors they need to include and ensure that they are included within their response to the task at suitable points, rather than shoe-horning them in at the end or including a final paragraph nailing some of these points, but at a place in their response where it perhaps does not make a huge amount of sense.

This is a hugely easy to use strategy, and even led by you, will only add on a couple of minutes to task planning at very most (and less if students make the lists themselves, too!).

Key Questions

Similar to the previous strategy, this one focusses on breaking down a larger question or task into smaller chunks. Rather than identifying key information that ought to be included in a response, however, this strategy focusses on breaking down a larger question or task into smaller bitesize questions.

Once again, these questions could be written by you, in collaboration with students, or led by individual students or groups of students instead. It may actually be that you show students how to break down a larger question into smaller, bitesize questions too, as a form of modelling to students, so that they can see how an expert would go about the task.

By breaking down the task, students can then work their way through each of the sub-questions or tasks that they have, ticking each one off in turn. Once again, this ensures that students do include everything in their final response as required, and don’t miss anything out. It can also help to ensure that students order their responses in a sensible manner, rather than just remembering right at the end that they ought to include something. Either way, it is an easy way to ensure that students break down a task in a suitable manner and also ensure that they do complete all sections of a given task or question.

Flow Map

This is a strategy that will likely already be in place in your classroom. The focus with this strategy is once again to break down a question or task, but this time to place in chronological order the steps which must be taken to complete the task successfully.

One thing that you will often find with students is that they have difficulty in knowing the way in which they should complete a task. Even if students are aware of each of the components of a successful answer/competition of a task, they can struggle with knowing how to go about actually completing the task.

Once again, these flow maps – placing the steps in a chronological order – could be produced by you, you with students, or students alone. However, this is probably one of the more helpful strategies to design with students. Model to students what stages they should be completing the task in and explain why.

Perhaps once you have done this once, the second time you could do it with student input, and the third time students could do it in groups or individually. As with all of these strategies, there are scaffolds that we eventually want to remove, so going through a ‘I Do, We Do, You Do’ method is a very successful way of doing this.

The benefit of this strategy is that we are removing a load from students when they are completing an answer. Rather than students having to consider the content requirements and task requirements, they can instead just focus on the former – more than enough for students to be doing. This also helps students with monitoring, as they will be going through each stage, and in the correct order, too. No more getting to the end of a task and discovering that key points have been missed or that they have approached it in the incorrect manner!

Warning Signs

The last strategy is perhaps my favourite of the four, and it definitely supports content learning more than the other strategies. The focus here is on developing a list of things that students should NOT have in their answer/task response, building upon misconceptions.

For example, if a student were faced with a mathematical task involving the perimeter or area of a shape, they should under no circumstances get a negative length (this is impossible). Equally, if measurements are in cm, then an answer where the answer is in km seems very unlikely and should make you doubt yourself and double check what you have done.

Therefore, this strategy provides students with things that should they come up in their answer, they need to instantly re-evaluate, as they have likely gone wrong. Often, students will not be aware of an issue with their approach, until they get a final answer/write-up which just ‘doesn’t make sense’. Through using this method, these issues should be spotted far sooner.

With reference to producing this list, I find that it is often best to develop it with students. Additionally, it is a strategy best used towards the end of content teaching, where students are strong with the content being tested, and are most likely to be able to draw out common mistakes/misconceptions that they shouldn’t find in their answers/responses. Through developing this list with students, we are focussing in on non-examples, significantly improving students’ subject knowledge, and helping to develop their schema of a topic.

So, those are the top four strategies to help develop the metacognitive monitoring abilities of students. Consider how amazing it would be to have a class of students who active check their work as they go, rather than just stumbling through to an answer or response, and then needing to start again because it is ‘obviously wrong’. Try out one, two, or even all of these strategies, and see which work best for you, your subject, and your students.


You can read more articles by Nathan Burns here.


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