This section outlines some of the metacognitive
skills that are essential for lifelong learning. Its
purpose is to guide instructors in incorporating
activities and discussions that will help learners
understand how they learn, their strengths and their
needs, and to better understand the learning
Metacognition is the process of thinking about
thinking. It is the process of developing
self-awareness and the ability to self-assess. It is
contemplation about one’s education and learning --
past, present, and future. Since adults are largely
self-determining, helping them develop metacognitive
skills is an essential element in any program
intended to increase their autonomy.
The metacognitive skills are presented as a list
without reference to level of language skills. Like
technology skills, learners’ metacognitive abilities
are rarely aligned exactly with their language
skills levels. The ability to understand and analyze
one’s own learning is especially influenced by
educational background and previous experience.
The arena of metacognition presents a special
challenge to instructors at the lowest levels, where
learners have higher-order thinking skills in place
but lack the communication skills to relay them. It
may also be difficult to convey some of the more
abstract or complex ideas like goals, strengths, and
learning styles without translation. Instructors at
the lowest levels often use visual representations
of simplified concepts and translation. It’s
important to note, too, that some of the concepts in
this section may be decidedly “foreign” to learners
in ESL/ESOL classes. For example, the concepts of
goal setting and evaluating one’s class (i.e.,
“evaluating the teacher”) may be unfamiliar to
learners, and they may actually be very
uncomfortable providing meaningful critiques.
Learners may not feel it appropriate to share
“personal” thoughts and reflective insights.
Therefore, teaching and incorporating metacognitive
skill development is an ongoing process.
Some questions that teachers might ask to activate
metacognitive skills include the following:
What did we learn today?
How will you use what we are learning outside of
Why are we practicing “X”? How will it help you?
When you are about to try something new, how do you
When you are doing something and you get stuck, what
do you do?
Do you (cook, drive, relax) the same way in every
situation? Why do we shift how we do things?
Understand “goals” and illustrate and/or describe
their own personal goals for participation in
Set goals related to working, parenting, and/or
participating in their community.
Differentiate between long and short-term goals.
Outline activities that will help them achieve their
Identify obstacles to meeting their goals.
Identify community resources and sources of support
for meeting their goals.
Develop and practice skills necessary to achieving
their personal goals. (i.e. problem-solving skills).
Report any progress toward meeting their goals
(e.g., received driver’s license, etc.).
Review and update learning goals throughout the
Revise course of action for meeting goals.
Identify and develop new strategies to achieve
Explore additional educational opportunities.
Plan a career path and develop a resume appropriate
for use in the U.S.
Learners will understand their own
Identify their previous learning experiences.
Express likes and dislikes about learning
Understand “strengths” and “weaknesses.”
Recognize learning modalities/preferences in simple
terms (e.g., see, hear, feel, do).
Self assess (using instructor-provided tool)
learning styles and preferences, strengths and
Share and explain their own learning preferences and
learning strategies to others.
Describe how one’s learning preference affects how
Recognize learning modalities/preferences in more
complex terms (e.g., visual, auditory, oral,
Identify learning styles in terms of preferred way
to take in information (concretely or abstractly)
terms of preferred way to process information
(through observation/reflection or through
Evaluate their own Learning
Express feelings about class in simple terms: I
Illustrate/describe progress toward their goals.
Monitor and assess their progress (with, and later
without, instructor guidance).
Provide feedback to instructor about
Identify achieved goals.
Determine next steps/changes to plans and
Report new needs (goals) as they arise.
Demonstrate an understanding of evaluations and
surveys (e.g., on-the-job, in school, customer
Seek additional/supplemental learning opportunities.
Learn independently of group activities/instructor