By Nathalie Arbour, Remedial Teacher, Lanaudière Learning Support Services, and Adaptive Services Advisor, Collège de Saint-Jérôme
What is Metacognition?
Metacognition is a process that relates to the knowledge that we have of our own strategies and the control that we are able to exert over these strategies in order to solve problems more efficiently. Metacognition is a high-level executive function that draws on our ability to reflect on what we know in order to understand how we function and assess our approach to learning. It is one of the best predictors of school success (Dévolvé, 2005).
When students need to learn new concepts, solve problems, make connections or create relationships between ideas and concepts, they engage unconsciously in an inner dialogue. At this stage, as students perform these task, they require self-control and self-regulation in order to re-use and adjust their learning strategies consciously.
Yet we know that, for students with learning disabilities (LDs), this process may not come naturally; it may need to be taught explicitly. Unfortunately, the skill of engaging in an inner dialogue is often overlooked, in spite of the fact that it is very useful and fruitful in learning situations.
Assistive Technology and the Development of Metacognition
Students who use assistive technology must develop their metacognitive skills in order to become autonomous and effective and reach their full potential. Assistive technology fosters the development of metacognition because it encourages reflection by offering feedback on the work accomplished.
For example, when text-to-speech software provides auditory feedback or when word prediction is used to improve syntax, students must learn to stop as soon as they encounter an error or a suggestion is made. Students must ask questions about the differences between what they just heard, the choices being presented, and what they really intended to say. If necessary, they must then make adjustments, using familiar strategies to improve the sentence.
In this example, students must deliberately become aware of what they know, how to proceed, and what can be done to solve the problem. It should be noted that metacognition is not a linear process. A student may follow a particular procedure or strategy and then loop back again, if necessary, in order to make additional adjustments.
Explicit Instruction of Metacognition
In order to be effective learners, students must develop an inner dialogue.. For some students, this strategy will come naturally, but it is not necessarily used by all students. Students must therefore develop this awareness in order to become active learners when using assistive technology.
Explicit instruction is an effective instructional strategy for this. First, the educator can model the process, one-on-one, by “thinking out loud”. Students can then begin to apply the procedures on their own through a guided session that offers feedback and corrections on the spot. The key is to actively engage students so that they can more fully integrate what they are being shown.
Second, the educator can model this strategy for the whole class, in order to stimulate the use of inner dialogue; this skill can also be developed by drawing on the differences among the students. By asking all students to express their thoughts out loud, students with LDs can hear the inner dialogue of students with strong metacognitive skills and begin to develop and use these skills on their own.
Applying Metacognition to Assistive Technology
Word Prediction Software
For students with LDs that impact writing, there may be challenges moving between the thought process and expressing those thoughts in writing. Word prediction software assists in the writing process by anticipating the correct word after typing only a few characters; predictions are based on spelling, syntax and frequency or recent use. Additionally, word prediction software can assist with predicting phrases, grammar, word usage, and capitalization.
Some examples of word prediction software include Word Q, Co-writer, Speak Q (integrates multiple technologies), Typing Assistant, TextHelp Read & Write Gold, Kurzweil and ClaroRead.
Here is an example of Read & Write (I am going to find a better example – this one is a bit blurry):
Some word processing programs will offer visual cues when mistakes have been made, for example, the revision/correction function in Word.
However, whenever there is an error, students should be encouraged to take the time to stop and think about the suggested changes. Students should refer back to the grammar strategies covered in class, in order to make the right choices. This is a valuable strategy to prevent additional potential errors. Only the author has the ability to make this judgment; the software is not able to assess what the author intended to write.
Strategies for Awareness and the Development of Inner Dialogue
To stimulate and develop inner dialogue consciously, students must first understand themselves and how they learn; there is more than one way to develop this skill.
Here are a few ways that educators can support the development of metacognitive skills:
- During explicit instruction, encourage your students to listen to their inner voice and to share their thoughts out loud. You may want to collect the best “thoughts” and display them to help students whose inner dialogue is less well-developed. You can then encourage your students to consult these thoughts when they feel stuck.
- Have your students keep a journal of their thoughts and of the strategies they use when completing a task. Then, have students share their thoughts and strategies with a group to determine which strategies were the most effective for understanding the steps and methods the task required. This encourages students to become aware of their inner dialogues.
- Having your students work in pairs is also effective. Pair-work enables students to ask questions and to question the procedures used in a task. This method also leads to immediate awareness and feedback on the steps to follow to solve a problem.
- Peer learning is another effective tool. For peer learning, pair up a student who is comfortable sharing his/her thoughts with a student who is less comfortable. Here are a few examples of thought processes that can be used:
- When I use this method to solve a problem, I write down what I did in sequence, so that I can remember each step.
- I think that this is where I made a mistake.
- I should use this strategy instead of that strategy to get back on track.
- If I work this way, I will be able to solve the problem more efficiently.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Metacognition
Consistent with the principles of UDL, AT lends itself to teaching concepts to all students, whether or not they have LDs. In the classroom, we often see that when AT is a natural part of the instructional day, all students are engaged and motivated to learn.
For students with LDs who are using AT, their learning activities can be performed using the guided practices seen in class. In this way, and by practising daily, students can become more independent in their use of the AT.
Essentially, metacognition, when combined with AT, can become a useful skill for all students!
Related Resources on the LD@school Website:
Dévolvé, N. (2005). Tous les élèves peuvent apprendre : Aspects psychologiques et ergonomiques des apprentissages scolaires. Ed. Hachette Éducation.
Nathalie Arbour has a Bachelor’s degree in academic and social adaptation and a minor in orthopedagogy. She also has a Bachelor of Education degree (Preschool/Primary). Twenty years of her career were dedicated to the Repentigny, Quebec school board, Commission scolaire des affluents. There, she acquired experience as a teacher in academic adaptation classrooms and regular classrooms and in orthopedagogy. During the past two years, she has worked more specifically as an educational consultant and as an orthopedagogical consultant. Since 2012, she has been a consultant in adapted services at Collège de Saint-Jérôme, specializing primarily in learning disorders, attention deficit disorder, and assistive technologies. In this capacity, she supports students presenting with disabilities; provides training on assistive technologies; and gives lectures on these topics. Nathalie also has a private practice in orthopedagogy, working with a broad spectrum of students from the primary level to the college level.