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Reading With Metacognition

The importance of metacognitive reading strategies

Your child will not do well in college unless he can read with metacognition. It’s the final step in reading proficiency and the ultimate reading skill. It’s what separates excellent readers from mediocre readers. And it is the difference between average grades and excellent grades.

However, getting to reading with metacognition is a long journey. It’s takes years to master. Here we discuss what metacognition is and what it takes to read with metacognition.

What Is Metacognition in Reading?

The simplest definitions of metacognition are “thinking about one’s thinking” or “knowing about knowing.” Metacognition refers to the process of considering and regulating one’s own learning. In reading this means the reader can think critically about her own understanding as she goes. She is aware of her own cognitive experience.

The keys are knowing about knowing and then doing something about that knowledge. A metacognition example is when reading a text asking yourself am I understanding this or should I go back and read prior paragraphs or chapters so this will make more sense?  The first part is knowledge of cognition. The second part, is regulation of cognition to maximize learning. Metacognition refers to both.

Deep Understanding

A key aspect of reading comprehension is deep understanding. Deep understanding goes beyond literal comprehension and factual knowledge. It’s about putting information in context, connecting it to prior knowledge, interpreting, analyzing and contrasting it to previously held understanding with a view to revising that understanding.

The key point about deep understanding is that once you truly and deeply understand something, you are in position to do something positive with that understanding. Things like:

  • create or design
  • generalize or reflect
  • theorize or hypothesize
  • criticize or think critically about its implications
  • distill to promote better understanding for others

Of course, deep understanding is a major career and life skill, particularly in todays knowledge economy.  It takes deep understanding to make improvements or recommend a change of course. Deep understanding requires metacognition.

If a child is reading with metacognition and deep understanding, his learning is performing at the highest level. It is no surprise that metacognition is now a key focal point of the Common Core State Standards.

Metacognition Reading Strategies

A student needs to learn how to use metacognitive strategies to develop a deep understanding of the text. It’s skill that includes the following elements:

  • Planning
  • Active reading strategies
  • Fix up strategies

Planning – What Do I Need To Know?

Metacognition is not going to develop until a child is “leaning forward” with reading, until she is engaged and motivated to improve her literacy skills and attack each text with a plan, motivated and engaged.

Planning in this context means assessing knowledge before reading, having a strategy for filling in gaps and where relevant, selecting the right text to read. Questions might be: What don’t I know?  What do I need from this text?

metacognitive reading strategiesActive Reading Strategies – Am I Understanding This?

This is active thinking while reading. Literal reading comprehension is not enough. A good reader is making connections to prior knowledge or earlier parts of the text, she is making inferences, and predictions on where the writer is going. While reading.

Metacognitive reading strategies are about taking charge of reading, monitoring comprehension while reading. Students that read with metacognition constantly ask themselves “Do I understand what I just read?” or “What is the main point here?” It requires constant attention and a questioning mindset.  And ultimately, it means being able to determine the relevance of new information, to put it in the right context.

Fix Up Strategies – Should I Read This Page Again?

Sometimes while reading, the text does not make sense. In these cases, metacognition reading strategies such as slowing down to fit the difficulty of the text or circling back to earlier in the book for context might help. This “fixing up” of problems found during reading is a key example of metacognition proficiency.

Not surprisingly, metacognitive skills require an enormous amount of reading practice. Many high schoolers do not get to practice metacognitive reading strategies because they were not able to master fundamental reading skills that make thinking while reading  and metacognition possible.

Gemm Learning builds reading automaticity to free up mindspace for comprehension and metacognition.

How To Improve Metacognition In Reading

Metacognitive skills will improve with practice. But there are two foundational skills that must be in place before that practice can truly start:

  1. The ability to think while reading
  2. A motivated, lean forward attitude to reading

Think While Reading — Needs To Be Automatic

Many struggling readers are unable to think while reading because the act of decoding, sounding out words, takes up too much concentration. In elementary school, this decoding effort can crowd out even literal comprehension.

Over time, decoding skills do improve.  However, many high school students do not get to the level of reading automaticity needed to free up mind-space for reading comprehension with metacognition.

Lean Forward Attitude To Reading — Needs To Be Rewarding

For many people, reading is a lifelong passion. This is because they read effortlessly and they get a great deal out of every book.  They understand it perfectly, and the content makes them think, takes them to far away places, or entertains them. They find reading rewarding.

If you are not able to read with comprehension, reading is not rewarding. If decoding is inefficient or vocabulary or language understanding is compromised, reading is a chore, possibly a source of humiliation, definitely not a joy. These struggling readers find it hard to lean forward into reading. Their default position is more avoidance than engagement. They will only slowly develop metacognitive strategies, if ever.

How To Help Your Child Become A Metacognitive Reader

Reading skills develop in a sequence that is hard to change. Your child cannot become a metacognitive reader until he masters the skills lower in the pyramid.

  • Mastering cognitive skills that make reading easier — phonological awareness, attention, working memory, language processing.
  • Reading fluency — the ability to read at natural language speed, with inflection, is only possible if a child is reading with automaticity, effortlessly. Truly fluent readers can think while reading.
  • Reading comprehension — this makes reading rewarding. Once a child is reading effortlessly, instruction on vocabulary, grammar, etc.,  can quickly improve comprehension. From that point, there is every chance he will become an enthusiastic lean forward reader who will practice metacognitive reading strategies.
  • Reading with metacognition – the ultimate reading skill.

metacognition in reading pyramidAt each level there are reading programs and reading strategies that can help accelerate natural reading growth.

Early on, in the cognitive skill phase, phonics and language processing programs that develop phonemic awareness are the most helpful.

Once reading is fluent, the emphasis can move to exercises that exercise inferential thinking and abstract reasoning in a while-reading context, reading practice and finding those just right books that can ignite a lifelong love of reading.

This creates a foundation for reading comprehension. Then a student can start practicing and honing metacognition while reading.

The sooner a child can master the skills lower in the pyramid, the sooner he can being to develop metacognitive reading strategies, which take years of practice to perfect.

Fast ForWord For Metacognition

Our reading programs are comprehensive, with exercises at each stage of the pyramid. Initially, the focus is mastery of cognitive skills and decoding automaticity, reading fluency. Our reading comprehension programs in the Fast ForWord reading series prepares your child for metacognitive reading skills using exercises that require thinking while reading.

The program uses simple tasks to exercise thinking and analyzing while reading.  For instance, it will ask students at a 2nd grade level, while reading, is the word apple a fruit, a vegetable or an object?  Later on, it will ask a 5th grade level reader to fill in missing words in sentences and then paragraphs, which require the active metacognitive strategy of identifying the main idea in any text.

This develops an active reading approach, always thinking and adjusting while reading, the definition of metacognition in reading.

reading with metacognition



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“We were thrilled to find out that his reading went up almost 5 grade levels in the four months he did Gemm. We can see his reading comprehension in particular is much stronger. Even he is noticing the difference. We recommend you to everyone we know.”

Joshua H.

Parent of 11th grader