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Making Sense of Inquiry: Metacognition

Dr. Shelley Robinson, Assistant Principal

An important part of inquiry-based learning is helping students to develop the ability to be metacognitive in their approach to learning. By definition, “cognition refers to the process of knowing. Meta, derived from the Greek, means ‘beyond’ or ‘from’. Metacognition, then, refers to knowing how we learn best and consciously controlling our learning…” (Foster, et al., 2002, p. 5).

Quite commonly, the work of teachers, when grappling with these metacognitive considerations in their school planning, often begins when they consider three guiding questions as a starting point to assist in self-understanding: “1. What do I find easy to learn? 2) What do I find difficult to learn? And 3) What conditions help me to learn challenging materials?”

It is important to think of “meta” being attached to other learning domains, such as the meta-affective (emotions); meta-conative (motivations); meta-kinesthetic (body); and meta-spiritual (inspirations).

Meta-questions or conversations could resemble the following (using fine arts as an example):

1. Metacognitive: What fine art strategy have I used? Is it working? If not, what alternate strategies could I use?
2. Meta-affective: What am I feeling most strongly about in this fine art learning experience? How are my feelings impacting my learning?
3. Meta-conative: What motivates me in the arts? What blocks me? How can I motivate myself?
4. Meta-spiritual: Where did the idea come from? What inspires me?
5. Meta-kinesthetic: Am I tired? How am I breathing? How is my present body experience influencing my learning in the arts? (Robinson, 2007)

Some educators incorporate a series of questions in journaling activities to help students reflexively prepare to create, before, during and after the activity. Inquiry-based learning involves considerable reflexivity, and these metacognitive teaching prompts help students to think about their learning.

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