ERIC Identifier: ED376427
Publication Date: 1994-00-00
Author: Collins, Norma Decker
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Reading English and Communication Bloomington IN.
Metacognition and Reading To Learn. ERIC Digest.
Researchers consistently posit that metacognition plays an important role in
reading. Metacognition has been defined as "having knowledge (cognition) and
having understanding, control over, and appropriate use of that knowledge" (Tei
& Stewart, 1985). Thus, it involves both the conscious awareness and the
conscious control of one's learning. In this digest, the implications of
metacognition will be discussed as it relates to an important type of
learning--reading to learn.
In a summary of research on metacognition from the Center for the Study of
Reading at the University of Illinois, Armbruster et al (1983) present reading
to learn from a metacognitive perspective as it relates to four variables:
texts, tasks, strategies, and learner characteristics.
The first variable, text, refers to the textual features of learning
materials which influence comprehension and memory. Factors such as arrangement
of ideas in texts, vocabulary, syntax, clarity of author's intentions, and
reader's interest and familiarity with a text all have an effect on students'
learning. Salient findings from the research include three basic points: (1)
text structures influence learning even if the learner is unaware of their
effect; (2) knowledge of the effect of text structures on learning is dependent
on age and ability; and (3) a reader can optimize learning by becoming aware of
text structures and the resultant effect they have on learning.
Knowledge of text structure is critical for reading to learn; it is requisite
for efficient use of study time. By detecting the organizational patterns or
structures of texts, students can observe how authors arrange ideas and
determine which kinds of structures are used to interrelate ideas. In her
research, Muth (1987) addresses text structures used most frequently in
informational or expository materials found in content area textbooks. She
presents three strategies designed to help students read and comprehend
informational texts. These include hierarchical summaries, conceptual maps, and
thematic organizers designed to raise students' awareness of structures of text.
(See also Harris, 1990; DiGisi, 1992.)
Armbruster's (1983) research suggests that younger and less mature readers do
not concentrate on textual features because they are not aware of the impact
text structures have on learning. Researchers contend that knowledge of the
effect of text structures on learning is prerequisite to conscious control of
strategies. Teachers need to instruct students to use text structure to enhance
Another area of research in the development of metacognition of text features
is related to the recognition of inadequacies in prose. (For a treatment of this
problem, see the 1989 ERIC Digest "Content Area Textbooks: Friends or Foes.")
Ambiguous words or confusions within the text affect cognitive processing.
Experienced readers will adjust their reading rate for anomalous texts and may
return to an inconsistent sentence or passage several times, comparing what they
know with what is written in the text. Older and more fluent readers are more
aware of text inconsistencies and can judge whether or not their comprehension
is altered because of such inconsistencies. Strategies suggested by Tei and
Stewart (1985) will help students identify internal inconsistencies and deal
with them appropriately.
Another variable of metacognition in reading to learn pertains to the task
that the reader is required to perform. For example, locating a specific detail
in a text requires a different process than that needed to write a critical
analysis of the text. As with other facets of metacognition, mature and immature
learners differ with respect to their knowledge of, and ability to control, task
Fundamental to any task in reading is the derivation of meaning from the
text. In order for learning to occur, students must be aware that the purpose of
reading is to construct meaning. The reader must learn how to adapt reading
behavior to specific tasks.
A related index of metacognitive development with regard to the task is the
reader's ability to accurately predict his or her performance on the task. For
young readers, this may be quite difficult, but with age and reading experience,
readers begin to pick up cues which give them information about how well they
have performed; these are important variables in metacognition of reading.
An additional category of metacognitive knowledge and control involves
knowing how to remedy comprehension failures. It is not enough to be aware of
one's understanding or failure to understand--a learner must be able to
self-regulate his or her reading process in order to read for comprehension. The
reader needs knowledge about metacognition strategies.
Researchers cite two different categories of strategies: "fix-up" strategies
to resolve comprehension failures and studying strategies to enhance storage and
retrieval when comprehension failure is not necessarily an issue (Armbruster,
1983). Tei and Stewart (1985) discuss several strategies for improving
comprehension. These include forming a mental image, rereading, adjusting the
rate of reading, searching the text to identify unknown words, and predicting
meaning that lies ahead.
Research indicates that readers use many strategies, but that a distinction
exists between good readers and poor readers. Good readers tend to use the most
effective strategy that leads to a thorough processing of the text. The research
also supports that readers can be taught to develop self-awareness and control
Study strategies are important in reading to learn and can be applied to
enhance text processing. Common studying strategies include underlining,
outlining, notetaking, summarizing, and self-questioning. Many of these
strategies are complex and best handled by older and more experienced readers.
Various studies have reported improved performance by middle school, junior
high, and high school students who were trained to use specific studying
strategies (see for example, Gertz, 1994; Langer & Neal, 1987).
The decision a teacher makes about teaching metacognitive skills will be
based on what serves his or her students best. Applying some of the strategies
suggested by Schmitt and Hopkins (1993) may be appropriate when working with
younger, inexperienced readers. The two researchers describe how to incorporate
comprehension strategies into basal reading instruction to promote metacognition
before, during, and after reading.
A final category of metacognition in reading to learn is the awareness of the
learner of his or her own characteristics--such as background knowledge, degree
of interest, skills, and deficiencies--and of how these affect learning. Again,
the reader must be able to take that awareness and translate it into a change in
reading behavior. Research suggests that successful students tend to relate
information in texts to previous knowledge; less successful students showed
little tendency to use their knowledge to clarify the text at hand.
Thus, learner characteristics, like texts, tasks, and strategies, are age and
experience dependent. The development of metacognition appears to be linked to
proficiency in learning. A related conclusion about metacognitive development is
that knowledge precedes control. The researchers suggest that learners must
first become aware of structures of text, as well as knowledge of the task and
their own characteristics as learners, before they can strategically control the
learning process to optimize the influence of these factors (Armbruster, 1983).
Awareness of metacognitive skills can be gleaned through instruction.
Teachers can help their students learn from reading: they can encourage students
to take an active role in reading. The goal is to develop active, independent
learners. Integrating metacognitive skills into classroom instruction can make
that goal attainable.
Armbruster, Bonnie B., et al (1983). The Role of
Metacognition in Reading to Learn: A Developmental Perspective. Reading
Education Report No. 40. Urbana, IL: Center for the Study of Reading. [ED 228
DiGisi, Lori Lyman, and Larry D. Yore (1992). "Reading Comprehension and
Metacognition in Science: Status, Potential and Future Direction." Paper
presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Association for Research in
Science Teaching (Boston). [ED 356 132]
Gertz, Ellen A. (1994). "Enhancing Motivation and Reading Achievement:
Intervention Strategies for the Underachieving Middle School Student." Ed.D.
Practicum, Nova Southeastern University. [CS 011 760]
Harris, Jane (1990). "Text Annotation and Underlining as Metacognitive
Strategies to Improve Comprehension and Retention of Expository Text." Paper
presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Reading Conference (Miami). [ED
Langer, Margaret Anne, and Judith Chibante Neal (1987). "Strategies for
Learning: An Adjunct Study Skills Model." Journal of Reading, 31(2), 134-39. [EJ
Muth, K. Denise (1987). "Structure Strategies for Comprehending Expository
Text." Reading Research and Instruction, 27(1), 66-72. [EJ 364 719]
Schmitt, Maribeth Cassidy, and Carl J. Hopkins (1993). "Metacognitive Theory
Applied: Strategic Reading Instruction in the Current Generation of Basal
Readers." Reading Research and Instruction, 32(3), 13-24. [EJ 465 213]
Tei, Ebo, and Oran Stewart (1985). "Effective Studying from Text." Forum for
Reading, 16(2), 46-55. [ED 262 378]