8 Metacognition

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Metacognition means “thinking about thinking,” How do you apply this skill to your academic writing habits? By thinking about what works and what doesn’t work for you as a writer, and reflecting on what you have learned after each writing assignment, you can improve your academic writing skills. Being aware of how you are learning, and what strategies work well for you, can help you succeed in all of your courses.

Consider the following lists of questions from one of the ENGL 099 texts:

Reflecting as a Writer

As a writer, reflecting will help you pay attention to your progress, your struggles, your strengths, and your weaknesses. Additionally, by considering different assignments and tasks (in this class and across classes) you will be more likely to transfer your learning and find similarities across assignments that help you to be more prepared and more confident.

To be useful, any reflective or metacognitive assignment should be something you take your time with. You should try to consider specific details when you’re thinking about a project, so that you notice things about yourself:

  • What habits are you relying on or developing? Are they good or bad habits? What do these do for your writing process? Why? How?
  • How are you able to apply class lessons to work when you’re outside of class?
  • What kinds of similarities or differences can you recognize among writing assignments?
  • How have you improved since the last assignment? How are you growing as a writer?
  • Are you fully understanding the texts that you read? How do you know? How are you able to apply them to your writing?
  • ​​What is your writing process? How does that process affect your writing overall?
  • Where and when do you feel “stuck” as a writer?

Once you start recognizing patterns, hiccups, problems, solutions, and good questions to ask yourself, you’ll be more involved in your learning – and you’ll be better prepared to tackle more challenging assignments. Remember: learning takes time. Everyone has to struggle through difficult tasks. What matters in the end is that we can look back and see how we were able to conquer those challenges – what tools we used and what strategies we employed.


Activity A ~ Metacognition & Reflection on a Past Assignment

Think about an assignment from your past that was challenging for you. It doesn’t matter if you felt you completed a successful or unsuccessful final product; instead, consider why the assignment was difficult.

1. Make a list of the struggles you had. Why was this particular assignment hard?

  • What was the nature of the assignment? Is that part of the reason you struggled? Why?
  • What materials were being covered? How did you respond or react to that?
  • How did you manage your time and other classwork to make time to work on the assignment?
  • Did you put in a lot of effort?
  • Were you unable to get engaged?

2. Which of these factors had an impact on your ability to complete the assignment?

3. Now consider: which of these factors do you have the most control over? How can you overcome similar struggles should you face them during this semester?

4. Write a reflection (a detailed, personal response) on what you’ve learned about yourself from answering these questions. What should you watch out for when you have another challenging assignment? What will help you succeed?


Actviity B ~ Resilience: Read & Reflect

Read “How Resilient Are You?” from The New York Times.

  1. Discuss the questions at the end of the article with your partners.
  2. Write a short composition to give advice to others facing difficult situations.


For more information about strategies for success in college, watch “How to Get the Most Out of Studying: Part 1 of 5, ‘Beliefs That Make You Fail… Or Succeed‘” by Stephen Chew from Samford University. At about minute 4:00, Professor Chew explains more about metacognition.

The Reflecting as a Writer portion of this chapter, and the Metacognition activity, were adapted from “Metacognition” from Engaging Texts: An Introduction to College Reading and Writing.


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ENGLISH 087: Academic Advanced Writing Copyright © 2020 by Nancy Hutchison is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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