Helping Students to Learn to Learn 10 Metacognitive Strategies that Make a Difference!

What is Metacognition?

Thinking about thinking... but it's more

It includes the ability to...

* Plan

* Monitor

* Evaluate

(See Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel, 2014; Farrington, Roderick, Allensworth, Nagaoka, Keyes, Johnson, & Beechum, 2012; McGuire & McGuire, 2015)

Strategy #1


Time Management & Self-Regulation

Keep a semester calendar showing major events (i.e., assignments, projects, exams, etc.)

(McGuire & McGuire, 2015)

Keep a to do list / weekly plan - Update daily as needed!!

(McGuire & McGuire, 2015; Korgan, Merrill, & Rinne, 2015)

Avoiding multi-tasking!!!!!

Learn other self-regulation strategies

To help you stay focused, avoid multi-tasking, and stick to your task and carry out your plans... (i.e., Pomodoro Technique, Eat That Frog, ABCDE Method, 5 Second Rule, etc.)

(Also see Farrington et al. 2012)

Strategy #2

Preparing / Previewing

"If you fail to prepare, you're prepared to fail."

- Mark Spitz

Select an appropriate location(s) to study

(Paul, 2014)

Prepare your mind:

* Meditation

* Deep Breathing

* Progressive Muscle Relaxation

* Visualization

* Positive Messages

(Paul, 2014)

Set study session goals

Gather all necessary materials...

(Paul, 2014)

Review to activate prior knowledge

(McGuire & McGuire, 2015; Paul, 2014)


  • Generate questions and purposes going into reading, studying, or attending class
  • Create interest/curiosity
  • Create a framework upon which to build knowledge

(McGuire & McGuire, 2015; Paul, 2014)

Strategy #3

Distributed Practice

“If learning is your goal cramming is an irrational act.” Doyle & Zakrajsek, 2013 p. 76


Distributing practice sessions across time, helps strengthen recall, can help deepen learning, and make learning last longer!

(Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, & Norman, 2010; Brown et al, 2014; Carey, 2014; Doyle & Zakrajsek, 2013; McGuire & McGuire, 2015; Paul, 2014; Weinstein & Smith, 2016).

Strategy #4

Retrieval Practice

"When we use our memories by retrieving things, we change our access” to that information, Dr. Bjork said. “What we recall becomes more recallable in the future. In a sense you are practicing what you are going to need to do later.” (Belluck, 2011)

(Belluck, 2011; Brown et al, 2014; Carey, 2014; Doyle & Zakrajsek, 2013; McGuire & McGuire, 2015; Paul, 2014; Weinstein & Smith, 2016).

Principle #5

Interleaved & Varied Practice

"Interleaving will feel harder than studying the same thing for a long time. But don’t worry - this is actually helpful to your learning!" (Weinstein & Smith, 2016)

(Brown et al, 2014, Carey, 2014; Weinstein & Smith, 2016)

Principle #6

Deep Processing

(or Elaborative Practice)

Deep Processing / Learning Principles

* Elaboration

* Differentiation

* Personalization

* Application

It boils down to making meaning... Related principles: Dual Encoding, Generating Concrete Examples, etc.

(Brown et al, 2014; Carey, 2014; Chew, 2015; Doyle & Zakrajsek, 2013; McGuire & McGuire 2014; Paul, 2016; Weinstein & Smith, 2016)

Principle #7

Generative Practice

"Generation is an attempt to answer a question or solve a problem before being shown the answer or the solution."
"GENERATION has the effect of making the mind more receptive to new learning."

(Brown et al, 2014, p. 208; see also McGuire & McGuire, 2014)

Principle #8

Self-evaluation and Calibration

"CALIBRATION is the act of aligning your judgments of what you know and don’t know with objective feedback so as to avoid being carried off by the illusions of mastery that catch many learners by surprise at test time."

This helps students avoid the "Illusion of Knowing"...

Brown et al, 2014, p. 210

Principle #9


"REFLECTION is a combination of retrieval practice and elaboration [deep processing] that adds layers to learning and strengthens skills"

(Brown et al, 2014, p. 209).

Also includes the metacognitive skills of Monitoring (reflection-in-action*, i.e., are these strategies working for me? Have I selected the right strategies for my learning goals?, etc.) and Evaluation (reflection-on-action*, i.e., How did it go? Did I learn what I need to as well as I need to? What went well? What didn't? Why?, etc.).

*See Schon, D.A. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner: Toward a new design for teaching and learning in the professions. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Principle #10

Develop a

Mastery Orientation

& Growth Mindset

A Mastery Orientation places real learning as the focus of our goals over receiving good grades (i.e., a performance orientation).

(see Schraw, 1998; Weimer, 2009)

Developing a growth mindset allows us to see that our efforts will bear fruit despite obstacles or difficulties.

(Dweck, 2006; Brown et al, 2014; Doyle & Zakrajsek, 2013; Farrington et al, 2012; Paul, 2014)

3 Questions to Consider

* How do we teach our students to apply these principles?

* How do we build these principles into our course designs?

* What about our course design or course policies encourage or discourage students from applying these metacognitive strategies?


Ambrose, S.A., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M.C., & Norman, M.K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Belluck, P. (2011). To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test. New York TImes, Jan 20, 2011. Available at


Brown, P.C., Roediger H.L, & McDaniel, M.A. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.


Carey, B. (2014). How we learn: The surprising truth about when, where, and why it happens. New York: Random House


Chew, S. (2015). How to get the most out of studying video series. Available at


Doyle, T, & Zakrajsek, T. (2013). The new science of learning: How to learn in harmony with your brain. Sterling, VA: Stylus


Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballentine Books.


Farrington, C.A., Roderick, M., Allensworth, E., Nagaoka, J., Keyes, T.S., Johnson, D.W., & Beechum, N.O., (2012). Teaching adolescents to become learners: The role of noncognitive factors in shaping school performance: A critical literature review. University of Chicago Consortium on School Research. Retrieved from


Kogon, K, Merrill, A, Rinne, L., (2015). The 5 choices: The path to extraordinary productivity. New York: Simon & Schuster.


Major, C.H,, Harris, M.S., & Zakrajsek, T. (2016). Teaching for learning: 101 Intentionally design educational activities to put students on the path to success. New York: Routledge.


McGuire, S.Y, and McGuire, S. (2015). Teach students how to learn: Strategies you can incorporate into any course to improve student metacognition, study skills, and motivation. Sterling, VA: Stylus


Paul, K. (2014). Study smarter, not harder (4th ed.). Bellingham, WA: Self-Counsel Press.


Schraw, G. (1998). Promoting general metacognitive awareness. Instructional Science, 26, 113-125.


Weimer, M. (2009, Oct 22). Mastery and performance orientations. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from


Weinstein, Y., & Smith, M. (2016). Six strategies for effective learning. retrieved from


Michael C. Johnson, Ph.D.

@michaelcjohnson on Twitter


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