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Summarized by Cindy Perras, M.Ed., OCT
Educational Consultant, LDAO

"Efficient learners use metacognitive strategies but students with learning disabilities tend to lack the skills to direct their own learning. However, once they learn the metacognitive strategies that efficient learners use, students with learning disabilities can apply them in many situations.”

(Lerner and Kline, 2006, p. 184)


In order to be effective learners, students must not only use their memory and the language skills they have internalized, they must also develop their own way of learning. Students who “learn to learn” gain control of their learning process and gradually develop the ability to master their mental processes more effectively. A student’s inner language is what enables him/her to develop the high-level cognitive skills associated with metacognition.

According to Pierre Paul Gagné et al. (2009):

“Metacognition enables students to be more active in their learning, i.e., to mobilize all of their resources in order to have successful learning experiences. In order to do this, they must know how they learn and be aware of the steps that are followed and the means that are used to acquire knowledge, solve problems, and perform tasks.” [Unofficial translation]

According to the LD Online Glossary (2014), metacognition is the process of "thinking about thinking." For example, good readers use metacognition before reading when they clarify their purpose for reading and preview the text.

So in other words, metacognition is the understanding and awareness of one's own mental or cognitive processes. Here are some examples of metacognition:

  • A student learns about what things help him or her to remember facts, names, and events.
  • A student learns about his or her own style of learning.
  • A student learns about which strategies are most effective for solving problems.

Students become increasingly autonomous in their learning as they become aware of their strengths and weaknesses and understand that being successful depends on the effort they make and the strategies they implement. Their ability to regulate their cognitive processes increases accordingly and their self-image improves. Students with LDS can improve their learning capacity through the use of metacognitive strategies.

According to a number of research studies (Brown et al., 1983, Paris et Lindauer, 1982, Paris et al., 1988 ainsi que Persely et al., 1985), when students are able to manage their own performance on a task, they perform better and their learning is more meaningful than when they are not able to manage it.

To paraphrase Edgar Morin (2014), metacognition involves thinking and reflecting before, during, and after a learning task. Metacognition starts when students think about the strategies they will use to perform a task. Metacognition happens when they choose the most effective strategies and decide for themselves whether the outcome of these strategies meets the standards. The time taken to teach a variety of strategies is very important because students must choose strategies for each task they perform.

Implementing Metacognitive Strategies

According to the Inclusive Schools Network (2014), “Metacognitive strategies refers to methods used to help students understand the way they learn; in other words, it means processes designed for students to 'think' about their 'thinking'.” Teachers who use metacognitive strategies can positively impact students who have learning disabilities by helping them to develop an appropriate plan for learning information, which can be memorized and eventually routine. As students become aware of how they learn, they will use these processes to efficiently acquire new information, and consequently, become more independent thinkers. Click here to access the Inclusive Schools Network article on metacognitive strategies.

Many metacognitive strategies are appropriate for use in the classroom, for students with and without LDs, including:

  • Think-Alouds (for reading comprehenshion and problem solving)
  • Organizational Tools (such as checklists, rubrics, etc. for solving word problems)
  • Explicit Teacher Modelling (for math instruction)

In the Info Brief, “Learning How to Learn” (The National Collaborative on Workplace and Disability for Youth [NCWD/Youth], 2014), educators are provided with practical suggestions on strategic learning, compensatory techniques, cognitive and metacoginitve strategies, and literacy programs and learning strategies. Table II illustrates the cognitive and metacognitive strategies.

Chart outlining types of cognitive learning strategies and supports

Chart 1 - Types of Learning Strategies and Supports - Cognitive

Click here to access the chart as a PDF.

Metacognitive principles

Types of Learning Strategies and Supports - Metacognitive

Click here to access the document as a PDF.

Printable LD@school Resources

Student worksheet #2This student worksheet encourages students to reflect on what they know, what they want to know, how they will find out, and what they have learned when learning about a new topic. Click here to download the student worksheet PDF.

Student Worksheet #1 PDFThis student worksheet that encourages students to reflect on what they know, what they want to know, how they will find out, and what they still need to learn when learning about a new topic. Click here to download the student worksheet PDF.

Sample Strategy Evaluation Matrix to help choose a metacognitive strategyThis Sample Strategy Evaluation Matrix provides educators with a variety of metacognitive strategies that can be used in the classroom. The chart identifies how to use the strategy, when to use the strategy, and describes what it is used for. Click here to access the Sample Strategy Evaluation Matrix.

Additional Resources

LD@school has created a summary which explores the use of metacognitive strategies in mathematics. Click here to open the LD@School research summary on Verbalization in Math Problem Solving.

LD Online is self-described as a leading website on learning disabilities and ADHD. Click here to access the LD Online website.

Click here to read an article on how metacognitive strategy instruction enhances reading comprehension.

Questia.com is an online journal search engine. Click here to read an excerpt of the article on Metacognitive Strategies for Students with Learning Disabilities. Note: the full article may be accessed by registering for a free trial membership.


Gagné, P. Leblanc, N., Rousseau, A. (2009). Apprendre …une question de stratégies  : Développer les habiletés liées aux fonctions exécutives. Montreal: Les Éditions de la Chenelière.

Fogarty, R. (1994). How to teach for metacognition. Palatine, IL: IRI/Skylight Publishing.

LD Online Glossary (2014). Retrieved July 10, 2014. Accessedfrom http://www.ldonline.org/glossary#M

Learning How to Learn: Successful Transition Models for Educators Working with Youth with Learning Disabilities (2014). Retrieved July 10, 2014 from http://www.ncwd-youth.info/information-brief/learning-how-to-learn

Lerner, J., & Kline, F. (2006). Learning disabilities and related disorders: Characteristics and teaching strategies (10th Ed). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Pohlman, C. Adaptation by Côté, C. (2011). Aider l’élève en difficulté d’apprentissage : Guide pratique pour les parents et les enseignants. Montreal: Les Éditions de la Chenelière.

Winebrenner, S. Adaptation by Demers, D. (2008). Enseigner aux élèves en difficulté en classe régulière. Montreal: Les Éditions de la Chenelière.