Thinking about Thinking

Written By aperkins

On December 9, 2011

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Metacognition, even with its five syllables, has a simple definition. Metacognition is thinking about our thinking. As a mother, I see my four year old daughter practice metagcognition on a daily basis. Most often it’s when she is practicing using new words in speech and she’ll begin a sentence only to stop, self-correct, and replace the misused word. For example, during bath time she recently filled up a plastic cup with tub water and set it on the edge. She said to me, “Please do not dump that water. I am doing an experience to see…wait (pause). I am doing an experiment to see if the water will still be warm tomorrow.” She was having an automated internal dialogue with self to think about which word would convey her intended meaning. She was thinking about her thinking.

As educators, we are aware that students need these moments to pause and self-assess. Such moments move them from passive to active participants in their learning as they monitor how near or far they are from achieving the learning goals and measure if they learned what was intended for them to learn. The self-evaluation has them consider what they know/don’t know, their strengths/weaknesses, and their beliefs/misconceptions. The following example models how one Social Studies teacher has students demonstrate reflective behaviors during writing to demonstrate activities. Metacognitive Tool

After students have answered the question/prompt, they are asked to monitor where they are in meeting the learning goal. They place themselves on the spectrum of confused, maybe, and for sure. The teacher, as a reader of responses, then marks on the “I Think” spectrum to show where the student actually was in terms of demonstrating understanding of content. The teacher then gathers evidence about students’ processes and responds to their immediate learning needs using a variety of approaches. The goal is for the teacher to engage students in metacognitive reflection to think about and talk about the learning process. Some of the questions that may be asked include:

• How did you figure out the answer?
• What made you think of that answer?
• What was your thinking process as you worked through the problem/question.
• What would you do differently next time?
• Which answers reflect best work?
• Is future learning needed?

Research suggests that the simplest tools to encourage student self-assessment are evaluative questions that force students to think about their work (Hart, 1999). Once a student has reflected on his/her learning, the student can begin to engage in conversation with self, with peers, and/or with teacher about what specific learning actions are necessary to meet the learning goal(s).
What simple tools do you use to encourage students to self-assess? Which ones have led to automaticity? What are your students saying in response to their thinking? Please share your ideas.