Information Age Education
   Issue Number 222
November 30, 2017   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is edited by Dave Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education (IAE) publications.

All back issues of the newsletter and subscription information are available online. In addition, seven free books based on the newsletters are available: Joy of Learning; Validity and Credibility of Information; Education for Students’ Futures; Understanding and Mastering Complexity; Consciousness and Morality: Recent Research Developments; Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education; and Common Core State Standards for Education in America.

My most recent free book, The Fourth R, has more than 9,000 hits/downloads this year (Moursund, 12/23/2016). The 4th R (reasoning, computational thinking) is fundamental to empowering today’s students and their teachers throughout the K-12 curriculum.

Learning by Sharing Your Metacognition
and Higher-order Thinking Skills

David Moursund
Professor Emeritus, College of Education
University of Oregon

“It takes a whole village to raise a child.” (African proverb.)

“A single conversation across the table with a wise person is worth a month's study of books.” (Chinese proverb.)

We are all lifelong learners and lifelong teachers. Our brains process incoming information and our stored information while we are awake and asleep. In everything we do, we are learning and reinforcing previous learning. Every interaction with another person is both a teaching and a learning experience for both. Since we are social creatures, we typically have many such interactions every day.

In summary, our brain and the rest of our body have innate learning capabilities. The “village” in which one grows up provides much of one’s early education. However, since the invention of reading and writing, we have developed formal schools and have found that they provide a good approach to helping children to learn reading, writing, arithmetic, history, and other valuable knowledge and skills.

We have been honing school-based teaching and learning for about 5,000 years. Our steadily changing world—especially our development of new tools, knowledge, learning theory, and teaching theory—make the appropriate design and implementation of schooling an ever-moving target.

It is obvious that there is no one best collection of content to teach, teaching methodologies to use, and assessment methodologies to apply. We know that no two children are identical—even so-called identical twins. Moreover, the early childhood learning experiences of each child are unique. Thus, schools at every level must deal with huge differences among their students.

The remainder of this IAE Newsletter consists of some of my current thoughts and ideas about possible ways to improve our overall informal and formal educational systems. I think I am providing good advice, but I certainly don’t know for sure that I am doing so. And remember, one size does not fit all. Since each teacher and each learner is unique, and since we live in a changing world, my ideas need to be filtered by the teachers and learners and used in a manner that they think/believe is most appropriate to them.

Thinking About One’s Own Thinking and Learning

Quoting from the Wikipedia (2017b):

Metacognition is "cognition about cognition", "thinking about thinking", "knowing about knowing", becoming "aware of one's awareness" and higher-order thinking skills. The term comes from the root word meta, meaning "beyond". Metacognition can take many forms; it includes knowledge about when and how to use particular strategies for learning or for problem-solving. [Bold added for emphasis.]

Notice the range of topics/ideas in this definition. And, think about how these ideas cut across the school curriculum. For example, higher-order thinking, learning, and problem solving underlie every discipline of study. Research suggests we can improve education by helping and encouraging students to routinely practice metacognition “across the curriculum” and throughput their daily lives.

Even kindergarten-age or younger children can be taught how to think about their own thinking. My 11/5/2017 Google search of teaching metacognition in kindergarten produced about 750,000 results.  Quoting from the abstract of Metacognitive Awareness in Kindergarten Children through the Writing Process (Jacobs, 2004):

This study investigated the presence and growth of kindergarten children’s metacognition as they engaged in the writing process. The study was conducted in an environment that surrounded children with books, language, and print. Twice a month the teacher/researcher interviewed the children as they finished writing, asking questions designed to help them reflect on their thinking and strategies they used in their writing. … Interviews with the children confirmed that they were exhibiting and showing growth in their metacognition. They were able to provide appropriate answers to questions that required them to talk about their thinking and identify strategies that helped them in their writing.

The key idea in the article cited above, and in much of the literature about metacognition, is that students benefit by being engaged in metacognitive activities. What I found most interesting was that children this age could talk about their own thinking. This is a key idea. In informal and formal learning situations, we can engage children in talking about and thinking about their thinking.

All classroom teachers understand the uses and values of small group discussions. Typically, such discussions focus on the content being taught. However, such discussions can also focus on the thinking processes that the students are engaged in. Especially as students gain in cognitive maturity, these discussions can include an emphasis on metacognition and require higher-order thinking.

Lower-order and Higher-order Thinking

Benjamin Bloom is well known for his contributions to and writing about lower-order and higher-order thinking. Back in the late 1940s and early 1950s, a number of educational researchers noted that much of higher education consisted of students memorizing and regurgitating without a lot of understanding. Eventually Bloom and others developed a taxonomy that is now called Bloom’s Taxonomy, although many contributed to this work. Quoting from the Wikipedia (2017a):

In the original version of the taxonomy, the cognitive domain is broken into … six levels of objectives [Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation]. In the 2001 revised edition of Bloom's taxonomy, the levels are slightly different: Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, Create (rather than Synthesize).

The first three levels are often called lower-order and the last three are higher-order. The very lowest level is Remember (that is, memorize and don’t forget) while the highest level is Create, the creative use of the content being learned.

It is obvious that computers are much better than people at memorization. The Web currently contains the equivalent of many tens of millions of books of information. However, even the best of current Artificial Intelligent (AI) computer systems have very little understanding of what they have memorized and what they can retrieve from the Web and other data bases.

Before I retired, in my teaching of teachers I placed strong emphasis on higher-order thinking, and I wanted my students to learn to do this. I would give regular reading assignments. In my last few years of teaching, each week I would give a short quiz to determine if my students had read and understood the reading assignment content. One of my favorite questions was:

Make up a higher-order thinking question based on the content of the reading assignment…and then answer it.

This short question gave me good insight into which students had read the assignment, the progress each student was making on learning about higher-order thinking, and whether each student was reading for understanding and higher levels of learning.

This same type of activity can be used in small group discussions in any subject area. A teacher presents some information and/or has students read some material. Then, in small groups—even groups of two work well—the first activity is for each student to write down a higher-order question based on the content presented by the teacher and/or from the reading material. Next, one student reads his/her question. Each other person in the group writes down whether it is actually a higher-order question, perhaps with a brief comment explaining the basis for this conclusion. Then, each student writes a short answer. Finally, all of the results are shared and discussed. The process is continued until each student’s question is analyzed.

Artificial Intelligence Versus Human Intelligence

It is very easy to create multiple choice, T/F, and short answer tests that measure the lowest of the lower-order cognitive learning. It is very difficult to develop tests that can be machine-graded and that also effectively measure higher-order cognitive learning.

Computer systems making use of AI are very good at answering lower-level types of questions. Indeed, computers can be quite good at answering more complex “factoid-based” questions such as those used in the TV show Jeopardy. An IBM computer named Watson beat two human Jeopardy champions in a 2011 contest. Quoting Ken Jennings, one of the human players who had won 74 consecutive times on the Jeopardy show (TED Blog, 4/5/2013):

“I was pretty confident that I was going to win,” says Jennings of how he felt going into the match. “I had taken some Artificial Intelligence classes and I knew there were no computers that could do what you need to do to win on Jeopardy. People don’t realize how tough it is to write that kind of program that can read a clue in a natural language like English—to understand the puns, the red herrings, to unpack just the meaning of the clue … I thought, “Yes I will come destroy the computer.”

So how did it feel to lose to Watson?

“I felt obsolete,” he reveals. “I felt like a Detroit factory worker in the ‘80s seeing a robot that could now do his job on the assembly line. I felt like ‘Quiz Show Contestant’ was now the first job that had become obsolete under this new regime of thinking computers.”

And, of course, AI systems are continuing to be improved. Natural language voice input is now a common thing, as is translation of natural language voice from one language to another. Still, computer systems lack an understanding of what they are doing. Humans can do metacognition and can explain their thought processes. Today’s best AI systems can’t!

Final Remarks

When it comes to higher-order cognition, humans are currently far better than computers. At the same time, however, computers are solving problems that humans cannot solve and are making strides in learning to learn. It seems obvious to me that our schools should be emphasizing higher-order cognitive skills and teaching students to work with computers. My simple advice is:

Students should learn to use and build on the capabilities of computers as an aid to defining, understanding, and helping to solve the problems they and all of humanity face. A good education does not try to educate students to compete with computers in what computers do best. Rather, it educates students to make effective use of computers to do what computers are not yet very good at.

For a personal example, I write using a word processor. My computer has much more legible printing than my own printing or writing, is better at spelling, and frequently provides suggestions for improving my sentence structure and grammar. Moreover, as I write I make frequent use of the Web to retrieve information and to learn new things. However, it is I (me, myself) who is doing the creative thinking and organization that can produce newsletters like the one you are currently reading.

What You Can Do

Look at your own education and the cognitive knowledge and skills you currently have. Learn enough about computers so that you understand their current and emerging capabilities—as well as their limitations—in the areas of your own experience.

Use the insights you gain to help yourself, the people you interact with, and our educational systems to improve.

References and Resources

Jacobs, G.M. (2004). A classroom investigation of the growth of metacognitive awareness in kindergarten children through the writing process. Retrieved 11/5/2017 from

Moursund, D. (12/23/2016). The fourth R. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download the Microsoft Word file from Download the PDF file from Access the book online at

Price-Mitchell, M. (4/7/2015). Metacognition: Nurturing self-awareness in the classroom. Edutopia. Retrieved 11/5/2017 from

TED Blog (4/5/2013). How did supercomputer Watson beat Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings? Experts discuss. Retrieved 11/5/2017 from

Wikipedia (2017a). Bloom’s taxonomy. Retrieved 11/5/2017 from

Wikipedia (2017b). Metacognition. Retrieved 11/5/2017 from

Free Educational Resources from IAE

David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and editor of the IAE Newsletter. His professional career includes founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology. He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free online. See

In 2007, Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE). IAE provides free online educational materials via its IAE-pedia, IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and books. See Information Age Education is now fully integrated into the 501(C)(3) non-profit corporation, Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) that was established in 2016. David Moursund is the Chief Executuve Officer of AGATE.


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About Information Age Education, Inc.

Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. Current IAE activities and free materials include the IAE-pedia at, a Website containing free books and articles at, a Blog at, and the free newsletter you are now reading. See all back issues of the Blog at and all back issues of the Newsletter at