Simply put, "metacognition" is thinking about our thinking. This ability is essential to critical thinking because of its role in evaluating the success of current approaches and the extent to which they can be improved. In research literature, this process is called "self-regulated learning."  

"Critical thinkers are willing to question the justifiability of their own ideas, brave enough to risk being wrong, and wise enough to realize that much can be learned from errors and failed solutions" (p. xiv).

Nelson (2005)

Metacognition is often described in terms of both, metacognitive knowledge and metacognitive regulation, making it one of the principle constructs in the literature on self-regulated learning.

Metacognitive Knowledge

Describes anything one knows about thinking, especially one's own. Can be described in terms of:

  • Declarative knowledge - Knowledge about one's self as a learner and what can influence one's performance.

  • Procedural knowledge - Skills, heuristics, and strategies. Knowledge about how to do things.

  • Conditional knowledge - Knowledge about when and in what conditions certain knowledge is useful.

Metacognitive Regulation

The process of managing one's own learning, and includes planning, monitoring, and evaluating.

Metacognitive Skills

Reflection - Assessing one's own thoughts, actions or work.

As the doorway to deep learning, reflection in any form is crucial for students to continually improve their own critical thinking habits. Learn More

To allow for genuine reflection, you must provide a structured opportunity for it to happen. A reflection notebook can be a place where students make written connections between course content and the rest of their lives.

Feedback - Eliciting and evaluating responses from others to what we say or do.

Verbal and written feedback can enrich the thinking of all involved, whether the feedback is teacher-to-student, student-to-teacher, and student-to-student.  Learn More

Engage students right when you see they are integrating their own interests with course material. In these moments, help them feel safe to be uncertain, and to explore their own doubts and questions.

Featured Teaching Strategies

Think-Pair-Share - A simple, brief technique to energize any classroom in as little as 2-minutes. Students think about the question, pair with a peer to share thoughts, and then receive feedback as a class. Learn More

Learning Portfolios - A purposeful collection of student work and student reflection upon that work to stimulate individualized learning and teacher-student dialogue.
Learn More

Using a purposeful collection of student work and student reflection upon that work to stimulate metacognition and critical thinking.

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Halpern's Framework for Teaching Critical Thinking

Develop Critical Thinking Attitude
Critical Thinking Skills Training
Use Skills in New Contexts

Metacognitive Skills


Teaching Strategies

Think Pair Share
Learning Portfolios


Nelson, J. (2005). Cultivating judgment: A sourcebook for teaching critical thinking. Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press.
Schraw, G. (2001). Promoting general metacognitive awareness. In Hartman, H.J. (Ed.) Metacognition in Learning and Instruction. The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Serra, M.J. & Mecalfe, J. (2009). Effective implementation of metacognition. In Hacker, D.J., Dunlosky, J., & Graesser, A.C. (Eds.) Handbook of Metacognition in Education. New York: Routledge.