Metacognitive development in elementary school children and its connection to teacher's metacognition and instructional practices

Claudia Roebers, Mariëtte van Loon, Natalie Guggisberg, Martina Steiner

Theoretical background and study foci

During elementary school children learn to read, write, solve problems, they learn languages and gain knowledge in school domains such as geography, history, and science. Studying this information does not only require children to cognitively process this information, but importantly, they also need to engage in metacognition. That is, they need to know “what they know” and “what they don’t know”, and take appropriate action to further learn and achieve learning goals. Metacognitive skills allow the student to set goals and make plans for achieving these goals, that is, to become a self-regulated learner. Therefore metacognitive development seems important for cognitive development in general, including academic skills. 

Procedural metacognitive skills can be distinguished between a monitoring aspect (knowledge about cognition) and a control aspect (regulation of cognition and learning related behaviour). Developmental progression in monitoring and controlling is assumed to accelerate during the elementary school years at the individual level. Therefore, compared to adults, children tend to show poor monitoring skills and usually overestimate their knowledge. This leads to maladaptive control of learning (e.g. premature termination of study time, inefficient learning actions). Because poor metacognition seems to be one of the major causes of suboptimal achievement, identifying suitable means by which metacognitive skills and their development can be fostered and improved seems important (e.g. through the teacher and his/her instructional methods).

A multi-level approach is used in the following longitudinal project, where students’ metacognition as well as teacher’s metacognition and level of metacognitive instruction are being assessed. Thus the planned research project aims to integrate two different perspectives on children’s metacognition:

  1. The individual and its metacognitive development over time and
  2. the learning environment, shaped by the teacher and his/her metacognitive skills and his/her instructional methods

The relevance of this topic is both practical (for children’s and teacher’s education and didactics) and theoretical (investigating the factors that fuel developmental progression).


Students from 2nd and 4th grade classes and their teachers will be tested on three measurement points across 1.5 years. On each measurement point children will complete two tasks – a paired associate memory task (learning Japanese symbols) and a comprehension task (understanding texts). Children will be tested in small groups of 6-11 children per group. 

The tasks are presented on a tablet with touchscreen and headphones are used for oral instructions. For each task, data will be collected on monitoring (Judgements of Learning, Confidence Judgements and Global Judgments) and effectiveness of control (restudy selections and withdrawal of answers). Teachers fill out a questionnaire in which they provide judgements about students’ metacognition. Furthermore they will complete an adapted version of the paired associated task and the comprehension task and will be observed during giving instructions to the students.

The project is financed through the Swiss Science Foundation (Grant No. 100014_165477/1)