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Metacognition and the case for a standards refresh

By Jim Flanagan
December 21, 2015
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One of the key objectives for ISTE in 2016 is the launch of the refresh of the ISTE Standards for Students, last revised in 2007. The standards refresh process started last June in Philadelphia (a city with a nice history for creating inspirational texts), and we have since been collecting input from the ISTE community and across the broader education community, including key experts and influencers.

The process is being informed by the Standards Refresh Core Team with the help of the Technical Working Group. Members of the core team represent various education stakeholder groups, including K-12 educators, higher education researchers and experts, and the U.S. Department of Education. We’re also reaching out to our global partners to gauge the latest thinking from a worldwide perspective.

We are proud the ISTE Student Standards have been woven into new academic standards and inform new frameworks including blended, deeper and competency-based learning. We have made great strides in recognition, but must remain steadfast to close the significant gaps that remain in the realization of the current standards for all students. As we increasingly live in a connected, global society, we must continue to be forward-thinking in identifying the skills and abilities students will need to thrive.

We are still vetting input from hundreds of our community members and other sources, and we want to encourage you to keep the ideas coming. One of the emerging themes so far has been the need to increase student ownership of learning.

Something else we’ve all learned more about is research into cognitive learning. With this in mind, the refresh process is looking at the issue of increasing expectations for student metacognition. We must provide students with a deeper understanding of their brains and cognition if we expect them to operate effectively in an increasingly complex world.

MRI technology allows us to better understand that the frontal cortex is still developing during adolescence and, therefore, so is executive function and the capacity to control behavior and make effective decisions. Do we require students to understand this? If not, how can we expect them to make safe and wise decisions with technology to be good digital citizens?

And how can we expect students to use critical thinking to optimize the benefits of artificial intelligence – and manage the social and ethical impacts – if they don’t comprehend the science behind their own intelligence?

I was recently encouraged to look into a group called Deans for Impact that includes the leaders of 18 colleges of education and teacher-preparation programs. The group has summarized and identified six key questions effective teachers should consider related to the research on learning science (

We will be digging deeper into these questions as we update the ISTE Teacher Standards next year. In the meantime, we will consider whether students can also use these questions (repurposed as follows) to explore their own learning: How do I understand new ideas? How do I learn and retain new information? How do I solve problems? How does my learning transfer to new situations inside or outside of the classroom? What motivates me to learn? What are common misconceptions about how I think and learn?

I entered the education field with the specific goal of helping to optimize the joy of learning for all students. I believe that providing the keys to learning to all of our children is a part of what makes us American, and ultimately, human.

Jim Flanagan is ISTE's chief learning services officer.