According to the Thesaurus of ERIC Descriptors (Houston, 1995), metacognition is "knowledge or beliefs about factors affecting one's own cognitive activities; also reflection on a monitoring of one's own cognitive processes, such as memory or comprehension" (p. 190).
Students who think metacognitively are aware of their own thinking processes, have effective strategies to achieve their learning goals, and make conscious choices about how they are going to learn. They use executive control mechanisms to monitor their learning and adjust their strategies when they are not being as effective or successful as they would like.
Paris, Cross, and Lipson (1984) describe three aspects of this self-control of strategies for learning. They suggest that thinkers need to possess declarative knowledge, the ability to describe some thinking strategies; procedural knowledge, knowledge of how to use the selected strategy; and conditional knowledge, knowledge of when to use it.
Swartz and Perkins (1989) distinguish four levels of thought that are increasingly metacognitive:
Even young children can be taught to monitor and adjust their learning. Pascarella and Pflaum (1981) showed that low-achieving primary age readers could learn when to focus on words they did not know and when to just skip over unknown words if the words did not affect the overall meaning. Paris, Cross, and Lipson (1984) developed a program called Informed Strategies for Learning, which showed some measurable gains for students who developed an awareness about their own thinking and learning.