Teaching Students to Use Metacognition During the Learning Process
Everyone in life experiences setbacks, frustrations, challenges, and new, unfamiliar experiences, and the ability to think about how to adapt to those circumstances can be the difference between success and failure. It is learning what works best for you and maximizing it. If adults struggle with this process called “metacognition”, or how we think about what we think, imagine how much children must struggle. This is why, especially in the process of learning, we must help our students learn to think about their thinking.
For example, instead of leaving a statement like the following from a student where it is, rephrase it with metacognition. The student says, “I hate math.” Help the student identify the specific concepts or calculations that cause her trouble by saying, “What exactly is it that you hate about math?” It really boils down to self-awareness of thoughts and feelings.
Strategies to Encourage Metacognition in Learning
- Recognize and encourage resilience and perseverance. Instead of praising high scores for every test or project, including an evaluation that praises the fact that a student did not let a thorny problem stop him from persevering until he got the answer.
- Regularly present classroom opportunities to solve problems of a higher order, such as “Why is _________ true?” Encourage discussion about the thoughts that surround a certain idea.
- Ask 5 different students at the end of the day, “What new idea, perspective or question did you think about today?” and how did it change your thinking?
- Reward problem-solving.
- Include the question “Where could you improve?” as a daily part of classroom life.
- Encourage self-questioning—“Are you sure?” and “Why?”
- Encourage students to paraphrase what they have learned.
- Make frequent use of comparing and contrasting to help students think critically about the differences and similarities in concepts.
- Anticipate mistakes and reward thoughtful risk-taking.
- Always provide feedback, both good and bad.
Benefits of Learning Metacognition Early
If this seems like too much to do, choose one strategy to make a habit in the classroom. The benefits of early awareness of metacognition are clear: students who are more self-aware know whether they study better in a quiet room, with music playing or early in the day; the student who knows that flashcards help her remember ideas and concepts has found a way to be successful; students who use metacognition are better able to articulate how they feel about what they are reading, studying and learning.
The job teachers have is not to prepare students for something, but to help them learn to prepare themselves for anything. Metacognition allows students to anticipate change, evaluate skills and adjust the strategies to be successful. Noting personal strengths and weaknesses can cause the students to be more self-aware.
Learning what makes you successful and how to adjust your strategy when you are not is an invaluable skill for all students, and starting in the early grades to emphasize self-feedback can only yield positive results for later academic grades.