Thursday, November 19, 2015

Beyond Bloom's: Metacognition

We talk about Bloom's taxonomy a lot at school, in particular when discussing student work for our annual tech audit.  Having had these conversations with our Grade 4 and 5 teachers this week, I wanted to dig a bit deeper to what comes beyond the Creating level of Bloom's - I wanted to think more about metacognition.

In the PYP metacognition is one of the Thinking Skills (Approaches to Learning) and is defined in the following way:

Analysing one's own and other's thought processes; thinking about how one thinks and how one learns.

Metacognition is also an essential part of the concept of reflection, where we ask the question "How do we know?" This concept was chosen because it challenges students to look at evidence when drawing conclusions. In Making the PYP Happen it states:

It challenges the students to examine their evidence, methods and conclusions. In doing so, it extends their thinking into the higher order of metacognition, begins to acquaint them with what it means to know in different disciplines, and encourages them to be rigorous in examining evidence for potential bias or other inaccuracy.

I'm interested to read what David A. Sousa writes about reflection and metacognition, which he sees as being very different.  Reflection is looking back at something after it has happened, for example how a problem was solved, and then thinking about whether there was a better way to do it, or how it could be changed next time.  He writes that metacognition is different because the thinking happens while learning - during, not after.

When we talk about the lower levels of Bloom's, for example remembering, I notice we often put automaticity into this lower level.  This refers to a skill that has already been mastered, so it can be performed without almost any thought.  The example I always think about here is driving a car.  To start with you have to think about everything, but later you can drive automatically.  However is this really a lower level skill?  As we are driving we are constantly looking, assessing, making split-second decisions, monitoring what other road users are doing and so on.  Sousa feels that automaticity is actually a complement to higher-order thinking, that leads to the successful accomplishment of tasks.

Metacognition is difficult for young children.  This is because metacognition happens in the brain's prefrontal cortex, and it is not until 5th or 6th grade that students' frontal lobes are sufficiently developed so that they can understand what learning strategies will be effective for them.  However Sousa writes that studies of older students who learn about and use metacognitive strategies show greater academic achievement than students who do not.

Photo Credit: WOScholar via Compfight cc


  1. I find this post very interesting. It makes sense automaticity would be considered a higher order of thinking when you explain it here in your post. I am going to ponder this a bit.
    I am wondering however how much younger students can internalize metacognitive strategies at young ages when they are explicitly taught and guided through metacognitive practice.
    I am first-grade teacher in Ohio. I teach in a student-driven classroom. Students are taught and given the responsibility to design their learning. Part of this is through reflection where students are asked to share WHAT they learned not what they did. With practiced these first graders begin to speak, "Today I learned if you .... you can ..."
    Am I leading this too much, are they parroting me or are they truly learning to be metacognitive?

  2. Thanks for your comments Deb. Developing metacognition is really important because we want our students to be self-aware and able to make thoughtful decisions. I have been reading more about metacognition and the theory of mind, which refers to our ability to reflect on ourselves (self-consciousness). It sounds as if this is what you are developing in your first graders. I found a good publication about metacognition in young children in pdf form which I am sharing here:

  3. Thanks or sharing your thoaughts regarding metacognition and its implication in the students' reflection, but no there are no sources or cited authors :(

    1. Dear Giannina, thanks for reaching out regarding this post. I attended a TEDx presentation by Dr Sousa and wrote several blog posts based on this. You can also reference the book: Brain-Friendly Assessments by David A. Sousa. With regard to the text in orange - this is a direct quote from our curriculum framework document "Making the PYP Happen" which is published by the IBO. If you work in a PYP school you will have access to the Online Curriculum Centre where it can be downloaded - I think it is only available to teachers working in PYP schools.