Metacognition, Cognitive Strategy Instruction, and Reading in Adult Literacy


Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL)
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages
Product Type

This chapter describes the role of metacognition and cognitive strategies in reading comprehension and promising techniques to improve metacognitve monitoring. Drawing largely from K-12 research (There is a paucity of research on metacognitive mentoring in the adult education research base), the author shares:

  • What we know about metacognitive monitoring
  • Potential causes of low monitoring
  • A research review of kinds of metacognitive monitoring that readers do (or do not) use and how to measure
  • Summary of research on teaching reading comprehension strategies to increase metacognitive monitoring
  • Implications for practitioners, research, and policy

What we know: Skilled readers do more comprehension monitoring. People with poor skills show less evidence and fail to notice when they don’t understand, use fewer strategies (re-read, summarize, generate questions and predictions)

How to measure: think-alouds, calibration of comprehension, error detection, time needed for reading, questionnaire

Six Metacognitive Strategies that instruction should include (Based on the National Reading Panel, 2000, which recommended using multiple strategies.)

  1. Question generation
  2. Comprehension monitoring
  3. Summarizing
  4. Answering questions
  5. graphic organizers (diagrams, concept maps)
  6. Multiple strategies

Seven Guidelines for Cognitive Strategy Instruction:

  1. Explain why it is important
  2. Demonstrate how and when to use the strategies
  3. Have students practice using the strategy
  4. Support students and scaffold learning
  5. Let students explain what they understood from their reading
  6. Give students feedback on answers
  7. Debrief with students on how useful the strategy was to them

Implications for practice—teachers need to know the strategies that are effective and methods to teach the strategies; therefore, training, planning time, and more instructional materials.

Implications for research—Researchers should become familiar with the k-12 research on metacognition in reading. Research on strategies for adults is needed. Researchers should also be aware of methodological pitfalls in strategy research.

Implications for Policy—Funding is needed for both practitioner training and research of metacognition.

Required Training

This literature review would benefit by being “translated” into training for practitioners. As the chapter is outlined, the training should include reasons for metacognition in reading, strategies to support it, guidelines for instruction, and ways to measure. As it is, the chapter does not provide enough detail for practitioners to infuse metacognition and cognitive strategy instruction in their practice. The chapter, as is, is largely inadequate for practice, yet still important as a concept for practitioners to address.

What the experts say

Cromley does a fine job of reviewing the wide range of research (mostly on K-12 students) on metacognitive strategies.  As there is virtually no similar research with adults, Cromley recommends researchers follow the lead of K-12. 

Cromley describes the studies well, associating the findings with practice. While it might be difficult for a teacher to follow procedures based solely on these descriptions, it would be quite reasonable to expect professional developers to use the chapter to design effective workshops on metacognitive strategies.

In particular, professional developers could use the categorization of strategies – question generation, comprehension monitoring, summarizing, answering questions, graphic organizers and multiple strategies – as an organizing principle for workshops.  This would assist teachers in understanding why and how to use metacognitive strategies.

This resource is of tremendous value to researchers and practitioners who are trying to understand what the field truly knows about metacognition, as it applies to adult reading instruction.  There is not another source that I know of that provides such a clear and thorough synthesis.  The Resources section that starts on p. 205 is especially useful to individuals interested in reading the original research. 

I realize that researchers may be the most obvious beneficiary of this resource; however, I would recommend that it be added to the Basic Skills Collection because there aren’t many resources available to the field in the area of comprehension.  This resource serves to underscore the role of  strategy instruction as one essential element of reading instruction.

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