met·a·cog·ni·tion = metəˌkäɡˈniSHən/ = METACOGNITION
Metacognition is the skill of thinking about one's own thinking.
In today's classrooms, it comes in the form of study skills, memory capabilities and the ability to monitor one's learning. Sometimes it is described as self-regulation or self- awareness. Regardless of how it is defined, metacognition plays a role in today's classrooms and should be intentionally and specifically taught.
Students who can think about their learning can more effectively advance their learning. For example, students who can plan out projects, set schedules and maintain them, make a plan for learning, follow the plan, and be flexible enough to change that plan when needed have mastered the art of metacognition. They are on a trajectory for success in college or career as the skills are those of independent thinkers as students and eventually as adults.
Metacognitive skills, when harnessed and nurtured, provide support for students when the learning gets challenging; it isn't because they aren't smart enough that they are stuck - it is because they need more time with the skill or concept to gain mastery.
One effective approach to teach metacognition is to help students focus on practice. Practice, repeat, practice some more. Remember those multiplication tables? The practice of learning and mastering multiplication leads to a level of automaticity that can be applied to any math or science activities, not to mention the lifeskills of balancing checkbooks, shopping, or basic adult functioning. That immediate knowledge that 7 x 5 = 35 is as automatic as driving your car to work every morning while listening to the radio and talking to others in the car. It doesn't take much thought. Thus, the practice of practice is important for our young and older learners to master.
Explicit instruction is critically important for learning new skills, and the academic shortcomings that become evident as students are introduced to new skills can hamper effort and confidence. But layer on the metacognitives, and you have the resiliency to know that there will be challenges...but with those come deeper learning in time. Learning isn't instantaneous, and our students need to learn this, as often do the adults with whom they interact.
Reflection goes hand in hand with metacognition. Sometimes reflection can come before the learning or lessons begin. To focus students, consider starting with centering questions, such as:
- How have I prepared for class today?
- What questions do I have from yesterday's class? last night's homework? my current project?
- Why did I get those questions wrong and how can I answer similar questions correctly in the future?
None of the metacognitive skills come naturally, and explicit direction is needed, but the gain and growth for students is immeasurable, and the control it brings to their learning is invaluable. They may not meet the new strategies with energy and excitement, because hey....thinking about thinking is hard work. It's great exercise for the brain! But control is power and that's what we can provide for our students through the metacognitives.