Initial Publication Date: November 21, 2008

Lexicon for Metacognition

by Jenefer Husman, Laura Wenk, Jason McGraw, Mary Anne Holmes

I. Fundamentals of Cognition (cognition, cognitive load, cognitive science, confirmation bias, prior knowledge, schema)
II. Metacognition
III. Self-Regulation(automaticity, self-talk)
IV. Learning Strategies (learning strategy; learning strategies assessment, mnemonic, retrodiction)
V. Comment on Learning Styles
VI. Epistemology (nature of science)
VII. Teaching Tactics and Tools (Bloom's Taxonomy thinking skills, concept mapping, hands-on, inquiry-based, KWL, PQ3R, reciprocal teaching, rubric, wrapper)
VIII. Motivation Affective Domain(self-efficacy, locus of control, attribution, personal agency, sphere of influence, self-determination theory, goal setting)

I. Fundamentals of Cognition


Mental processes. OED: "The action or faculty of knowing; knowledge, consciousness; acquaintance with the subject."

Cognitive Load

Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) is an instructional theory that starts from the idea that our working memory is limited with respect to the amount of information it can hold, and the number of operations it can perform on that information (Van Gerven et. al., 2003). That means a learner should be encouraged to use his or her limited working memory efficiently, especially when learning a difficult task (Van Gerven et. al., 2003). We need to recognize the role and the limitation of working memory to help develop quality instruction (Cooper, 1998).

Having to keep too many concepts in your head so that you are unable to grasp the next concept". e.g.: When they are first learning about quartz in thin section, students should not have to know how every part of the microscope works. If students are asked to learn about the Bertand lens and interference figures on top of the basics of focusing and using the polarizing lenses, they will miss the key ideas about identifying the quartz.

Cognitive Science

The interdisciplinary study of the acquisition and use of knowledge by animals or machines. (see

Confirmation Bias
A tendency to search for or interpret evidence in a way that confirms one's preconceptions, leading to statistical errors. An error of inductive inference toward confirmation of the hypothesis under study" (see

People are likely to pay attention to information that confirms what they already know.

Prior Knowledge

"People construct new knowledge and understanding based on what they already know and believe"

Information a student already knows and that instructors can build on.


A cognitive framework or concept that helps organize and interpret information. Schemas can be useful, because they allow us to take shortcuts in interpreting a vast amount of information. Reference:

An organization of ideas that is automatic and underlies concepts. For example, when we set about to identify a mineral, we have a series of steps we'll take, tests we'll perform, knowledge we bring to bear. These steps, tests, knowledge comprise a scripted plan for identification of the mineral: a mineral identification schema.

II. Metacognition

The process by which one exercises deliberate conscious control over one's own cognitive abilities

Thinking about thinking; thinking about ways that we learn

III. Self-Regulation

Students' ability to understand and control their learning.

"Thoughts and behaviors that occur efficiently without the need for conscious guidance or monitoring."

When a task becomes automatic; the task may be some study skill, approach to learning; a frequently used path to get from work to home.


"Cognitive tool whereby the student vocalizes what they are going to do and how they will do it." (see Sociodramatic Play)

Talking to oneself, aloud or silently, telling oneself the next step in a sequence of steps to perform a task.

IV. Learning Strategies

Learning Strategy
Cognitive learning strategies are goal-directed approaches and methods of thought that help students to build bridges between what they already know or have experienced and what they are trying to learn." (Weinstein et al.)

Learning Strategies Assessment


OED "device to aid the memory; a pattern of letters, ideas, or associations which assists in remembering something." 
"For example geologists use mnemonics to remember the geologic time scale and Mohs hardness scale [the girls can flirt and other queer things can do; TGCFAOQTCD]

Simple learning strategies include repeating, paraphrasing, organizing, and elaborating on the information. Elaboration includes making analogies, comparing and contrasting two similar ideas, and considering implications.


Like prediction, but in the opposite direction. "The present is the key to the past" is an example of using retrodiction.

V. Comment on Learning Styles

In attempting to describe why some people learn faster and more thoroughly than others, many have turned to the idea of learning styles. Yet, there is little agreement on what learning styles are, whether or not they are characteristics of a learner that persist beyond the specific learning task, and how we could assess learning styles.

VI. Epistemology

Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that deals with the nature and scope of knowledge. Science is a particular way of understanding the natural world. Understanding how science works allows one to easily distinguish science from non-science. Geologists construct knowledge from empirical (data) and observational research. They know what the underlying assumptions are in the construction of their studies and are in general agreement about what constitutes strong evidence.

Personal epistemology is the set of beliefs or theories that individuals hold about the nature of knowledge, what constitutes evidence, how to make and justify decisions, etc.

Nature of Science or NOS - Scientists share certain basic beliefs and attitudes about what science is and how scientists work. The NOS literature often looks at one's differentiation of scientists' ideas from evidence and hypotheses and theories. There are other aspects of epistemology, such as one's understanding of the inherent uncertainty of scientific knowledge, and one's understanding of the reasons for scientific controversies and the ways that scientists go about resolving them. Geologists construct knowledge from empirical and observational research. They know what the underlying assumptions are in the construction of their studies and are in general agreement about what constitutes strong evidence. Cleland, Carol E. (2002). "Methodological and Epistemic Differences Between Historical Science and Experimental Science," Philosophy of Science 69, pp. 474-496

VII. Teaching Tactics and Tools

Bloom's Taxonomy Thinking Skills 
"A multi-tiered model of classifying thinking with six level of increasing complexity." Google Bloom Taxonomy Revised (revision uses verbs instead of nouns).
A classification scheme of six levels of learning from simple (remembering) to complex (creating).

Concept Mapping

Concept-Mapping is a tool for assisting and enhancing many of the types of thinking and learning that we are required to do at university. To do a Map, write the main idea in the centre of the page -- it may be a word, a phrase, or a couple of juxtaposed ideas, for example -- then place related ideas on branches that radiate from this central idea. also has instructions on how to connect a map.

Concept Mapping is having your students sketch out all of the ideas and pieces of some central concept. The hydrologic cycle is an example of a concept map.


Instruction using open-ended, student-centered, activities.

Students often design and direct their own tasks. Students make observations, develop hypotheses about phenomena, and devise tests to investigate their hypotheses. They share responsibility within the group and with the instructor for answering questions, and use a scientific approach to solving problems.


National Science Education Standards: Scientific inquiry refers to the diverse ways in which scientists study the natural world and propose explanations based on the evidence derived from their work. Inquiry also refers to the activities of students in which they develop knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas, as well as an understanding of how scientists study the natural world.(p. 23)

Inquiry-based instruction is providing students with a mini-research project. They may ask their own question, or the instructor might provide the question, but the answer is not yet known. Students use their own resources to find a suitable answer or solution, and justify their answers based on evidence.


KWL (Know, Want to learn, and have Learned) - An instructional technique created by Ogle (1986). Teachers activate students' prior knowledge by asking them what they already Know; then students (collaborating as a classroom unit or within small groups) set goals specifying what they Want to learn; and after reading, students discuss what they have Learned. Students apply higher-order thinking strategies which help them construct meaning from what they read and help them monitor their progress toward their goals. A worksheet is given to every student that includes columns for each of these activities.


A reading Study Strategy which requires students to "Preview; Question, Read, Reflect, Recite, Review" 
Teaching the PQ4R

Reciprocal Teaching

A way of conducting groups that foster improved reading comprehension. In small groups, members take turns leading a discussion about an article, video, or other materials they need to understand. Facilitation of the group rotates such that each member takes a turn leading the group through the processes of questioning, summarizing, clarifying, and (if applicable) predicting. These processes become internalized as a result of modeling and practicing with feedback from the group. Brown, A. L. (1997) Transforming Schools Into Communities of Thinking and Learning About Serious Matters. American Psychologist Vol. 52, No. 4, 399-413

In geology, you might want students to read and interpret difficult texts. You can have them work in small groups reading sections together. The first student begins the discussion by asking a question and ends by summarize it. Other students find places that need clarification, etc.


A scoring scale used to assess student performance along a task-specific set of criteria.

Instructors use rubrics whenever they grade an assignment: it is merely the set of criteria used to assign a grade. When we grade a written paper, for example, we might assign 10 points for spelling and grammar, 60 points for content, and 30 points for appropriate references. In our minds, we have an idea of what type of content will earn all 60 points: a rubric brings this out of your mind and onto a piece of paper, allowing the instructor to articulate expectations for the assignment

For example, for content: is their an introduction, middle, and conclusion? Does the discussion make scientific sense? Did the student bring in information from the class? The first might garner ~10 of the 60 assigned to content; the second might be 40 points (and how will those be distributed?); the third, another 10 points. Once this is articulated by the instructor, it can be shared with the students so that they live up to our expectations.


A device (a survey, a series of questions) to aid students in assessing their performance on an exam or assignment. A student might be asked what grade did s/he expect; did they achieve the grade expected, and why or why not? In addition, a student might be asked what study strategies were used and to rate the effectiveness of each.

VIII. Motivation and the Affective Domain


Locus of Control
Attribution "reason people give for why things happen"
Personal Agency
Sphere of Influence
Self-Determination Theory
Goal Setting