Assessing metacognitive skills

Start date: 12 oktober 2009

Anouk Donker-Bergstra

long term/indirect policy relevant


Summary of the project

Metacognitive skills are important for life long learning. Acquiring these skills can be considered a way for students ‘learning to learn’. However, students are not able to develop these skills all by themselves and teachers play an important role in helping them acquiring these skills. For teachers, to determine the focus of their teaching, it is necessary to know their students level of metacognition in order to adapt their instruction. Therefore, assessing metacognition in students is important for teachers. Assessing metacognition can be operationalized by assessing students’ use of learning strategies. Questionnaires are frequently used to do so. They are criticized, however, because their low correlations with achievement data, which leads to questioning their validity.

We try to solve this issue by adding questions regarding perceived task difficulty and student characteristics. Low correlation between strategy use and achievement is not necessarily an issue of validity. By relating strategy use directly to achievement the assumption is made that strategies will always improve achievement as they are always needed. However, this is not the case as good students have no need for application of strategies, and will perform well on achievement tests, causing low correlations. Furthermore, low achieving students might despite using strategies still perform low on academic tasks, will also will lead to low correlations. Applying learning strategies to improve academic performance will only work for students faced with learning tasks in their zone of proximal development. Added to this, a prerequisite is students ability to monitor their learning, i.e., so recognize situations where strategies are needed.

Therefore, we developed a questionnaire which takes both aspects into account. It includes items regarding students monitoring ability and perceived task difficulty and a scale with items regarding strategy use. Scores on strategy use need to be interpreted in combination with scores on monitoring and together they are informative on students’ metacognition.

The well-known and frequently used questionnaires to measure metacognition and self-regulated learning (i.e.: Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire, Learning and Study Strategies Inventory, and Metacognitive Awareness Inventory) have been adapted and integrated into a new questionnaire, suitable for measuring metacognition in young children (grade 4 to 6). The original items were translated and linked to the domain of reading comprehension, to make them online instead of offline and more clear-cut linked to an assignment instead of stated more general and abstract. In this way, there is no time-bias in answering the items and the items are easier to interpret, as it is very hard for young children to recall what they ‘in general’ do when, for instance, reading a text.

Selection of items for the questionnaire was based on the models of Zimmerman and Boekaerts so items cover all phases (forethought, performance and reflection) and different types of strategies (cognitive, metacognitive and motivational). This resulted in a questionnaire to be used parallel to reading comprehension lessons. The information provided by the students is indicative for their use of metacognition

Current status of the project:

The instrument is pilot tested and fall 2011 large scale data collection will take place.


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