Metacognitive Equity

In a recent essay, Dr. Saundra McGuire unveils a new term to consider in our quest for educational equity: metacognitive equity.

Dr. McGuire argues that although we commonly use the term educational equity when referring to our goals for closing the achievement gap between groups of students, she has coined this parallel term to describe “closing the gap between students who use metacognition (effective thinking and learning strategies) and those who do not” (McGuire, 2021, p.69).

She argues that students arrive at college with uneven levels of cognitive skills, study skills and habits, support systems, relatable role models, and knowledge of the hidden curriculum of higher education. And it is this gap that can be most detrimental to student success.

In addition, students from under-resourced schools and minoritized backgrounds can experience education systems where they are less academically challenged and have less access to mentors who model metacognitive strategies.

Part of the challenge includes a commonly held notion that a student’s intelligence is fixed by the time they enter our classes. This notion can be damaging not only when students hold this view, but also when faculty hold fixed mindsets about their students.

Faculty Mindsets about Students

In a recent study of more than 600 courses and 15,000 students, scholars explored the impact of faculty mindsets about students. The authors found that, “racial achievement gaps in courses taught by more fixed mindset faculty were twice as large as those in courses taught by more growth mindset faculty.” (Canning, Muenks, Green & Murphy, 2019).

These authors built on the theory that faculty’s fixed mindset beliefs are demotivating to students. They found that “students reported less ‘motivation to do their best work’ in classes taught by faculty who endorsed more fixed mindset beliefs” (Canning, Muenks, Green & Murphy, 2019). Students in this study also reported that faculty who were classified with a fixed mindset used fewer pedagogical practices that promoted learning, growth, and development. This effect was larger for underrepresented racial/ethnic minority (URM) students.

When we see the potentially damaging impact that our mindsets and teaching approaches can have on students’ motivation and learning outcomes, we can also see how adjusting and strengthening our approaches can positively impact student learning.

Saundra’s work combines cognitive skills, metacognitive skills, and study skills in the pursuit of addressing the achievement gap. Although there are theoretical differences between these concepts, a practical approach of using metacognitive learning strategies combines these skills to address the persistent achievement gap.

Fortunately, there are methods that have been shown to improve student’s metacognitive strategies and cognitive study approaches. Metacognitive learning strategies can be taught to students, and can be incorporated into any course. Strategies range from larger lessons and activities to adding a brief reflection questions to a test or assignment.

Dr. McGuire argues in her essay that it is often not a student’s lack of innate ability or talent, but rather a lack of effective learning strategies, that can make the difference in academic success.

“I envision a time when the idea that some students are smart, and some are not, has been completely replaced by the idea that some students have metacognitive learning strategies while others do not.” (McGuire, 2021, p.71).

She challenges ALL faculty, in all disciplines and all levels of education, to actively teach cognitive and metacognitive skills so that our students can all operate on a level playing field.


Canning, E. A., Muenks, K., Green, D. J., & Murphy, M. C. (2019). STEM faculty who believe ability is fixed have larger racial achievement gaps and inspire less student motivation in their classes. Science advances5(2), eaau4734. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aau4734.

McGuire, S. (2021). Close the metacognitive equity gap: Teach all students how to learn. Journal of College Academic Support Programs, 4(1), pp. 69-72.

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Teach Students How to Learn guides participants through the development of customized methods for teaching metacognition strategies to your students.