Metacognition: Critical Start for Literacy Instruction

Tasha Vice bio pic

Tasha Vice, Ph.D.

Tasha Vice studied at Eastern New Mexico University, where she received a M.Ed. in Secondary Education and M.A. in English. She continued to study Curriculum and Instruction at Texas Tech University, where she earned a Ph.D. with an emphasis in Language and Literacy.  Currently, she is an Associate Professor of Reading and Education at South Plains College, where she teaches Developmental Reading as well as Integrated Reading and Writing. In addition, she instructs Learning Frameworks courses with a focus on cognitive neuroscience and psychological theories of learning. Her research interests include content literacy, critical literacy, and cognitive or metacognitive factors related to reading success. She can be reached by e-mail at

Core literacy skills are necessary for success. Yet, students lack the reading skills for literacy (ACT, 2011). Improving literacy is the responsibility in all content areas. However, colleges rely on developmental education to address the needs of literacy students (Boylan, 2001; NADE, 2011). Many developmental students believe they don’t need literacy improvement (Vice, 2013) and are resistant to learning (Lesley, 2001; Lesley, 2004). How can faculty help these students succeed?

Direct and explicit instruction of cognitive and affective strategies, content knowledge, and contextual skills are key. Responsive pedagogy addresses some components:

  • Advising, counseling, and support systems (NADE, 2011),
  • Opportunities to deconstruct negative feelings about learning (Lesley, 2001),
  • Activities to reconstruct or develop literacy identities (Gee, 2002),
  • Self-analysis of skill and attitude over time (Moje, 2008),
  • Social, emotional, cultural, and ideological contexts in the classroom (Chiu-hui and Cody, 2010).

Each of these is important, but none solely guarantees success. To increase success, educators should introduce metacognition, thinking about thinking (Flavell, 1979). Accurate metacognition is required to maintain focus, attention, motivation, and self-efficacy (Conley, 2005). Metacognition also includes a personal understanding of one’s performance and persistence (Conley, 2007).

Developmental students’ inaccurate perceptions are rooted in their personal beliefs about their abilities (Lesley, 2004). Dweck (2006) argues those students who believe their skills and abilities cannot change suffer from a fixed mindset. Students with a fixed mindset lack motivation for learning and cannot cope with failure. Students with growth mindset and who believe they can change are likely to embrace learning. Instructing students on the concept of mindsets can help them reduce resistance and embrace change as literacy learners.

“A growth mindset is telling yourself or someone else that you can do anything, no matter the challenge, with time, attention, and practice.” (Literacy Student, Fall 2015)

Duckworth (2016) argues that grit (persistence and perseverance) is the only determining factor of success. Students should reflect on their failures and develop plans to monitor, regulate, and direct their own thinking. Challenging students to go through these processes can help them increase their grit and succeed.

“Set up your mind. Believe. Make your brain work! Tell your mind ‘never give up’. Don’t let falling down, someone, or something affect you!” (Literacy Student, Fall 2015)

Mindsets theory provides insight into students’ inaccurate perceptions and may help them focus on growth while grit helps students to understand and persist as they perform literacy tasks.

“Metacognition is important because it helps us be successful! When we have a growth mindset, we are ready to grow and accept mistakes. With grit, we get through it and learn new things even if we fail. This helped me believe in myself, and I think I can do it!” (Literacy Student, Fall 2015)

As a critical starting point for literacy instruction, educators should explore practices and investigate the possibilities of using Mindsets and Grit theories that address students’ metacognition.


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