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Fostering Metacognition in Comprehension

Page history last edited by Victoria Payton Ruiz 14 years, 5 months ago




Fostering Metacognition in Comprehension

Established by Victoria, Karen, & Julie



The novelist E.L. Doctorow says: 

Any book you pick up, if it’s good, is a printed circuit for your own life to flow through- so when you read a book you are engaged in the events of the mind of the writer. You are bringing your own creative faculties into sync. You are imagining the words, the sounds of the words, and you are thinking of the various characters in terms of people you’ve known- not in terms of the writer's experience, but your own.” 

-From Poimpton 1988



What is metacognition?

It is making kids aware of how they think about their own thinking.


Metacognition is... (Fischer, 1998)
  • Thinking about thinking and developing the process of solving problems and answering questions
  • An awareness of the process of how an answer is found, what strategies and type of thoughts has gone on and the previous experiences that have been used
  • The ability to take out our thinking and examine it, and put in back, rearranged if necessary
  • Thinking about thinking, rather than just remembering facts and recalling events
  • To consciously apply a process, a procedure to a problem or activity and to be aware that the result is satisfactory or otherwise. To be able to 'unpick' that strategy/those actions and to improve performance




An example of teaching without metacognition: 

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     The term metacognition was introduced by John Flavell in 1976 to refer to "the individual's own awareness of and consideration of his or her cognitive processes and strategies". Flavell argues that if we can bring the process of learning to a conscious level, we can help children to be more aware of their own thought processes and help them to gain control or mastery over the organization of their learning (Fisher, 1998). According to Fisher (1998), metacognition refers to that uniquely human capacity of people to be self-reflexive, not just to think and know, but to think about their own thinking and knowing. Flavell (Jacobs, 2004) illustrates that there are two levels of metacognition: acquiring metacognitive knowledge and the ability to produce metacognitive thinking, the later takes longer to develop. Metacognitive reflection and and the use of metacognitive strategies in comprehension are essential in empowering students, and this is accomplished by  teachers modeling and engaging students in activities that utilize, "the language of thinking" (Perkins, Jay, & Tishman, 1993).


      According to Vygotsky and his followers, we must learn ways of reading and thinking in order to contribute fully to our own culture and make sense of it. These various ways must be passed from experts to novices (i.e. parents to children in oral stories) in the context of evocative, shared activities. For Vygotsky, a book is more than simply seeing words on a page or reading a narrative that will move us or inform us, it is a highly conventionalized form of language.  


     Annevirta, Laakkonen, Kinnunen, & Vauras (2007) are quick to point out that as students enter the world of school, the growth and development of metacognitive knowledge and skills increases dramatically.  As adults, something that seems so innate to us can be taken for granted.  As educators, our task is to model metacognition in such a way that children are able to utilize it to serve themselves for their own comprehension goals and purposes.  According to Cubukcu (2008), successful comprehension does not occur automatically.  She also states that "unskilled readers can become skilled readers and learners of whole text if they are given instruction in effective strategies and are taught to monitor and check their comprehension while reading".  It is important that comprehension instruction be taught through excellent modeling in context in order to facilitate meaning-making. Cubukcu (2008) also states "the impact of the metacognitive strategy training is important in developing vocabulary and bettering reading comprehension skills". This emphasis on rich language and vocabulary acquisition will work to give children a foundation to build upon for more sophisticated metacognition comprehension skills in the future (Perkins, Jay, & Tishman, 1993).


     Authors and readers use an unspoken set of conventions in order to convey and make meaning (example: a quotation mark signals that a character is speaking). Teaching these conventions requires that a more experienced reader assists a more novice reader gain a higher level of understanding. This is an example of teaching because students are actively assisted and encouraged to grow within their own reading abilities. Think-alouds are a powerful way to teach metacognition skills because they give students the opportunity to see through the author’s eyes and construct their own meaning from the text.


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Metacognition Involves:

Activating background knowledge and making connections:

  • Background knowledge is the basis of our own way of thinking, we have to talk about what we already know in order to understand new information as we read it.
  • When we apply our background knowledge as we read, we guide students to make connections between their experiences, their knowledge about the world and the texts they read. Being able to make connections with the text is a major component of effective reading and understanding. Students are more likely to understand the characters motives, thoughts, and feelings if they have had a similar experience.

·         Questioning:

  • Questions are at the heart of teaching and learning. People are driven to make sense of their world and questions allow us to gain a better understanding of the world around us. Questioning is the strategy that propels readers forward and makes them want to continue reading. Readers who think of questions while they read are more likely to continue and try to find their answers within the text. They are more likely to question the content, the author, the events, the issues, and the underlying/main ideas within the text. We need to allow students to ask questions, and encourage them to develop their questions further so that they are motivated to find their answers within the text.

·         Inferring:

  • Inferring involves drawing a conclusion or making an interpretation that is not explicitly stated in the text. Inferring relates to the notion or reading between the lines. According to the writer Susan Hall (1990), "Inferring allows reader to make their own conclusions without the direct comment of the author”.           
  • Readers use inference when they use their background knowledge, along with contextual clues, to draw a conclusion, surface a theme, predict an outcome, or arrive at a big idea.
  • If readers don’t infer while they read, they will not grasp the deeper meaning of the texts they read.

·         Visualizing:

  • Visualizing is inferring meaning through the text by creating mental pictures of the scenarios presented within the texts we read. When readers visualize the text, they are actually constructing meaning by creating mental images. When we create mental images of the scenarios within a text, we are engaging our minds in the actual reading and develop a way to filter out surrounding noise or distractions in order to maintain our focus. Teaching children to construct their own mental images when reading non-fiction helps them stop, think about, and understand the information.

·         Determining importance:

  • Importance of text is determined by our purpose for reading a specific text. When you read fiction, you focus on a character’s actions, motives, and problems that contribute to the themes. If the reader has had experiences similar to those of the main character, the reader is more likely to enjoy a richer, more fulfilling reading experience. When we read non-fiction we are reading to learn and remember information. Because we cannot remember every isolated fact, we need to focus on important information and merge that with what we already know in order to expand our knowledge of the topic. We are able to determine which ideas are most important based on the knowledge we need to gain from the text, as we read it.

·         Summarizing and synthesizing information:

  • As readers move through text they add new information to what they already know and construct meaning as they go. Summarizing is all about retelling the information and paraphrasing it in ways that are meaningful to the reader. When readers summarize, they need to sift and sort through large amounts of information to extract essential ideas and phrases that they may need to remember later. Synthesizing happens when we merge this information with our thinking and shape it into our own thoughts. When readers synthesize, they see the bigger picture as they read. Summarizing and synthesizing allows us to make sense of important information, get the gist and move along (Harvey & Goudvis, 2007).


**Watch as the teacher fosters her students' metacognition

          as they read in this guided reading lesson: 


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The teacher fosters the student' metacognition by:

  • Using the elements of a book to develop understandings about the text (i.e. Author' Note).
  • Encouraging the students to think about the author's intent and the strategies that the author uses to persuade the reader.
  • Having the students talk with their peers about their understandings.
  • Making connections across disciplines (science, habitats)--relating to prior knowledge.
  • Having the students make inferences about the text.
  • Modeling good questioning strategies for students to think about as they read (Probing and Open-ended).
  • Scaffolding the students' understandings and helping to synthesize the information that they have read and discussed.
  • Allowing the students to describe their own thinking.
  • Having the students write about what they understand about the text as they read.


Strategies for developing Metacogniton:


Think-Alouds: Exploring a Text Orally


Think-alouds show how readers think when they read and is a key element to the effective instruction of reading.  When we read, thoughts fill our mind, and we interpret the texts in ways that are meaningful to us. We might make connections to our own life or we might have a question or inference, but it is not enough to merely think these thoughts. Strategic readers address these thoughts in an inner conversation that helps them make sense of what they read and tie the reading into their own through processes. They search for the answers to their questions; they attempt to better understand the text through their connection to the characters, the events, and issues. Readers take the written word and construct meaning based on their own thoughts, knowledge, and experiences. The reader is not an unconscious patron in the act of the reading; they become part writer as well. Active readers interact with a text they read. Getting readers to think when they read, to develop an awareness of their thinking, and to actively use the knowledge they glean are the primary goals of comprehension instruction. In this way, reading shapes and even changes thinking (Wilhelm 2001).


 In the classroom, think-alouds support readers as they read harder texts in preparation for the level of texts they begin to face in upper elementary and middle school. A reader has to know the underlying conventions of a text in order to keep the meanings afloat. Comprehension cannot take place if we are not aware of the feelings that the author is trying to convey through the text. Think-alouds allow all students to hear how others decipher and make sense of all these text clues in order to recognize and adopt these strategies as their own. So, a think-aloud of reading is creating a record, either through writing or talking aloud, of the strategic decision making and interpretive processes of going through a text, reporting everything the reader is aware of, noticing, doing, seeing, felling, asking, and understanding as they read. A think-aloud involves talking about the strategies you have developed based on the content of the text you are reading. Think-alouds are not exact reproductions of a person’s actual thinking about reading because no one can thoroughly and accurately capture all of what they see in their own mind. For these reasons, a think-aloud has sometimes been described as a way “to track the trail of a porpoise” because it allows us to infer what is happening below the surface of the text in order to get to the true meaning behind the text.  This analogy is not completely accurate, however, because being able to read well is a highly complex activity.          



Think-alouds can help teachers to…


  • Deepen their own awareness of the processes of reading.
  • Develop a heightened awareness of the strategic and interpretive processes in order to model these strategies to the children within their classes.
  • See the good/bad habits students develop as they read, which also helps the teacher assess the students' reading abilities in order to plan instruction within the students’ “zone of proximal development”.
  • Understand what part of the texts confuse readers and why; assess students’ uses of strategies; diagnose and address specific problems before they become habitual.
  • Support readers abilities identify their own problems and learn to monitor their own comprehension.


Think-alouds can be used to model…


  • General processes, of reading, such as: predicting, monitoring, and summarizing
  • Task specific processes, such as: understanding symbolism, irony or bar graphs
  • Text specific processes, such as: understanding the structure of an argument and evaluating its effectiveness



Ways to conduct think-alouds:


  • Teacher conducts while students listen
  • Teacher conducts with the help of students
  • Students conduct as a large group while the teacher and other students monitor and assist in discussion
  • Students conduct in small group while the teacher and other students monitor and assist in discussion
  • Individual student conducts while the other students monitor and assist in discussion
  • Students conduct individually while they compare their interpretations with the student presenter
  • Students conduct orally, in writing, on overhead, with post it notes, or in journal


Think-alouds help students to… (Wilhelm, 2001)


  • Understand that reading should make sense!
  • Move beyond literal decoding to comprehending the global meanings of texts
  • Learn how to read by using a multitude of different strategies
  • Use particular strategies when reading particular types of text
  • Share ways of reading: 
    • When sharing with peers and teachers students see that reading is an enjoyable social pursuit through which they can relate to one another about texts and ideas
  • Learn about themselves and their own reading and thinking (Wilhelm, 2001)


     The use of metacognitive strategies helps students to "think about their thinking" before, during and after they read. The following link is an article describing the achievment of vocabulary in third grade students using metacognitive strategies. The implementation and the strategies are listed: http://www.readingrockets.org/article/21160.





*Ideas/Activities as to how to teach metacognition:


    Concrete Experience:












The Reading Salad

 Since metacognition is being able to read and think at the same time, you demonstrate this by making a "reading salad". "Thinking" is represented by lettuce and the "text" is represented by tomatoes. When reading a book, you have two students stand on either side of you, each holding a green and red bowl. When you are reading the "text" a red card in placed in the red salad bowl. When you stop reading and "think" out loud, a green card is placed in the green salad bowl. This continues until you are finished reading. The cards are then dumped into a large salad bowl and mixed together to make a "reading salad".



Metacognition Diagram

     Like the "reading salad," the Metacognition Diagram is another way to explain metacognition. In her book Comprehension Connections, Tanny (2008) uses this Venn diagram to help students understand what happens when you read and think at the same time.


Thinking Bubble Template


     By enlarging the above template and cutting out the center circle, one student becomes the "thinker" as the other student reads the "text" out loud. The thinker is encouraged to "yell out" their thinking as the other student is reading the book.





     According to Fisher (1998), meta-teaching occurs when metacognitive discussion is built into the lesson plan. This is based on the premis that talking about our learning helps improve learning, when such talk includes the metacognitive discussion. Having children teach others, such as reciprocal teaching, peer or cross-age tutoring helps to promote metacognition. According to Papaleontiou-Louca (2003) teachers must be prepared to let students teach others, for this strategy seems to be in many ways beneficial to the learners; apart from the collaboration that is fostered, students usually become more aware of others' thinking, as well as more aware of their own thinking.


Paired Readings and Reader's Theater


     Using the setting of Reader's Theater can provide rich discussion before and after reading for metacognitive strategies. In the context of Reader's Theater, students can be encouraged to think about their own thought process and comprehension of the text. Teachers can help students activate background knowledge before paired readings, and background knowledge can enhance fluency and motivation to learn parts for reader's theater activities. Students can make inferences and predict what they think might happen next in the story based upon what they previously read to each other. Additonally, students can ask each other questions about characters in the stories and summarize the story in their own words.


Links to Reader's Theatre Scripts:


Paraphrasing and Elaborating Students' Ideas


     Teachers can help students to organize their thoughts by paraphrasing what they are saying, extending their ideas, and putting their thoughts in some order. Teachers can say, for example: " What you're telling me is...". Students can learn gradually how to organize their thoughts for themselves and enhance their level of thinking (Papaleontiou-Louca, 2003).


Quotes about Thinking to Get Kids TALKING:


      *Post these quotes in your classroom as you investigate metacognition. These are fun ideas that can be used to open or close a lesson. Have children read the quote, think about it and talk about what it means.

  • "Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it." -Henry Ford
  • "No brain is stronger than its weakest think."  -Thomas L. Masson
  • "Learning without thought is labor lost." -Confucius
  • "A library is thought in cold storage." -Herbert Samuel
  • "Thinking is only a process of talking to yourself."  -unknown
  • "A moment's thinking is an hour in words." –Thomas Hood
  • "Readers are plentiful, thinkers are rare." -Harriet Marinuau

     *Not only will these quotes get students to start thinking, but talking to each other creates a more bonded classroom, where everyone feels their time to speak is important.*


     The following is a link to a document containing mentor texts for teaching comprehension strategies from Jennifer Allen: 


Helpful Links

Teaching Practices that foster Metacognition


Strategies and Lessons


Read About Best Practices in Metacognitive strategies 


Metacognition Games
& Parent Tips










Strategies for Developing Metacognitive Behaviors 


How to Teach Metacognitive Reading Strategies


Book Sorting


Creative Problem-Solving with Ezra Jack Keats

Doodle Splash-Combines drawing with analytical thinking. The student draws a picture related to a text, summarizes the text, explains his/her doodle, then writes about the connection between the doodle and the text.

Biocube-This tool helps students to outline information they have read from a biography/ autobiography so that they can synthesize what they have learned.

Comic Creator-Students can compose their own comic strips for a variety of contexts such as: pre-writing, pre- and postreading activities, and response to literature.

Flip Book-Students can choose from 9 different layouts of flip books that they can use to take notes while reading, collect facts, or create a question and answer booklet.

What's in the Bag?-A game that fosters students' ability to determine what is in a bag based on the clues given. This will relate to their ability to look for clues in a story in order to make inferences.





Abromitis, B. (1994). The role of metacognition in reading comprehension: Implications for instruction. Literacy Research Report, 19, (1-31).


Allen, J. (2006). Becoming a literacy leader. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.


Annevirta, T., Laakkonen, E., Kinnunen, R., & Vauras, M. (2007). Developmental dynamics of metacognitive knowledge and text comprehension skill in      the first primary school years. Metacognition Learning, 2, 21-39.


Cubukcu, F. (2008). Enhancing vocabulary development and reading comprehension through metacognitive strategies. Issues in Educational Research,      18(1), 1-11.


Dowhower, S.L. (1999). Supporting a strategic stance in the classroom: A comprehension framework for helping teachers help students to be      strategic.The Reading Teacher, 52(7): 672-683.


Fisher, R.(1998). Thinking about Thinking: Developing metacognition in children. Early Child Development and Care, 141:1-15.     


Harvey, S. & Goudvis, A. (2007). Strategies that work: teaching comprehension for understanding and engagement. 2nd Ed. Portland:Stenhouse.


Jacobs, Geralyn M. (2004). A Classroom investigation of the growth of metacognitive awareness in kindergarten children through the writing process. Early      Childhood Education Journal, 32(1): 17-23.


McGregor, Tanny. (2008) Comprehension connections: Bridges to strategic reading, Portsmouth:. Heinemann.


Papaleontiou-Louca, E. (2003). The Concept and Instruction of Metacognition. Teacher Development, 7(1).


Perkins, D., Jay, E., & Tishman, S. (1993). New conceptions of of thinking; From ontology to education. Educational Psychologist., 28, 67-85.


Reading Resource.Net LLC. (2009). Retrieved from http://www.readingresource.net/strategiesforreadingcomprehension.html


Wilhelm, Jeffery D. PhD. (2001). Improving comprehension with think-aloud strategies. New York: Scholastic.





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