Tuesday / June 25

The Role of Metacognition and Inquiry in Assessment

Whatever you call it: Holistic, balanced, or comprehensive, there’s more to assessment than standardized testing. With the disturbance in the forces of assessment we have unprecedented opportunities to return assessment to its roots: Back to the local level, inside the school, within the classroom, planned by the teacher, and focused on students.

Traditionally, assessment has been equated with testing and used to determine attainment of standards as well as to monitor the quality of educational programs. With changes to assessment policy, there are countless possibilities for the development of comprehensive local assessment systems incorporating a full menu of purposes and practices.

While selected choice and constructed response questions are straightforward measures of content knowledge, the greater challenge lies in measuring proficiencies relating to metacognition, inquiry, digital literacy, global understanding, personal responsibility, and stick-to-it-iveness. It is possible, and also necessary, to assess these learning outcomes.


Metacognition means thinking about ones thinking. This can range from straightforward questions such as what do you like about your story to more complex Likert scales where student reflect on and evaluate their thoughts and experience. A sample is shown below.

Place an X along the line and explain how easy or hard you found each part of your writing.



Metacognition can be used in multiple content areas; for example:

In solving this problem I was most sure about____________________________ and least sure about___________________________________

My next fitness goal is____________. I will achieve it by______________________________________

I want to program a robot to do my homework. Here is my step by step listing of what I need to learn and descriptors of how I will learn it.

By adding metacognitive wrappers with reflective prompts (Greenstein, 2013, pg.87) routine learning can be extended to higher levels of thinking, deeper levels of analysis, and production of complex products.


Inquiry learning takes place when students are investigating complex problems, formulating purposeful questions, and clarifying misconceptions. It requires actions that amplify learning beyond recall and understanding.

One approach is to progressively develop student’s questioning skills through the taxonomy. For example:

Understanding question: Why do many English words originate from others languages?

Evaluate question: How would you evaluate the accuracy of that research or standpoint?

Synthesis question: If you had unlimited resources what would you do about…..?

Flipping the role of questioner from teacher to student requires supports and scaffolds: Exemplars, feedback, and peer review provides a good foundation. Guided practice in small groups first, then individually, strengthens student’s understanding of questions that are thought provoking and substantially informative.

To facilitate deeper learning about any ideas or topic consider open ended prompts such as these:

Cause and effect: If I change this one thing what do I predict will happen?

Elaboration: How many different ways are there to….

Planning: Describe the steps that will lead you to your final outcome or goal.

Curiosity: I wonder what would happen if I was born in….

Not only is questioning supportive of inquiry, it also increases understanding, builds curiosity, guides creativity, bolsters collaborative learning, and requires flexibility in thinking. Future blogs will describe additional strategies for assessing complex learning.

Additional Resources

Written by

Laura Greenstein has been an educator for over 30 years serving as a teacher, department chair, and school leader in multiple grades and subjects. She combines this background with her experience as a school board member and professional development specialist to bring fresh and original ideas to educators about teaching, learning, and assessing. She presents at workshops and conferences locally and nationally.

As an adjunct professor at the University of New Haven and the University of Connecticut she teaches Human Development and Assessment to undergraduate and graduate students. She has a B. S. from the University of Connecticut, an M.S. from the State University of New York at Oneonta in education, a 6th year from Sacred Heart University in administration, and an Ed.D. from Johnson and Wales University in Educational Leadership.

Her website, Assessment Network, is a valuable source of information on issues and topics in assessment. She is the author of What Teachers Really Need to Know About Formative Assessment and Assessing 21st Century Skills.

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