them stay on task, monitor their own progress, reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, and self-correct errors. It is important to note, however, that the teaching of metacognitive skills is often best accomplished in specific content areas since the ability to monitor one’s understanding is closely tied to domain-specific knowledge and expertise (NRC, 1999).

Implications for Assessment

Studies of expert-novice differences in subject domains illuminate critical features of proficiency that should be the targets for assessment. The study of expertise reinforces the point made earlier about the importance of assessing the nature of the knowledge that an individual has in long-term memory. Experts in a subject domain have extensive factual and procedural knowledge, and they typically organize that knowledge into schemas that support pattern recognition and the rapid retrieval and application of knowledge.

As noted above, one of the most important aspects of cognition is metacognition—the process of reflecting on and directing one’s own thinking. Metacognition is crucial to effective thinking and problem solving and is one of the hallmarks of expertise in specific areas of knowledge and skill. Experts use metacognitive strategies for monitoring understanding during problem solving and for performing self-correction. Assessment of knowledge and skill in any given academic domain should therefore attempt to determine whether an individual has good metacognitive skills.


Studies of expertise have helped define the characteristics of knowledge and thought at stages of advanced learning and practice. As a complement to such work, considerable effort has also been expended on understanding the characteristics of people and of the learning situations they encounter that foster the development of expertise. Much of what we know about the development of expertise has come from studies of children as they acquire competence in many areas of intellectual endeavor, including the learning of school subject matter.

In this section we consider various critical issues related to learning and the development of expertise. We begin with a consideration of young children’s predisposition to learn, and how this and other characteristics of children and instructional settings impact the development of expertise. We close with a discussion of the important role of social context in defining expertise and supporting its development.

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