Metacognition Tip 2. Let's Talk About It!

brain-based teaching critical thinking metacognition problem solving social and emotional learning
Teach Metacognition

Dr. Jeanne L. Paynter

As we saw in Tip 1, metacognition is “above and beyond” thinking. We use metacognition when we ponder: “What is the best way to solve this problem? Am I being successful with this strategy, or do I need to make modifications? What goals motivate and engage me? What are my strengths and weaknesses as a learner?”

These reflective questions are part of the process of analyzing one’s own knowledge and learning processes. Effective metacognitive skills help learners to become more confident and successful, and these skills can be taught. In fact, you’re probably teaching metacognitive strategies right now: different approaches for planning tasks, solving math problems, decoding, interpreting, or self-control. 

That’s great! But do you wonder why it seems that these strategies just don’t stick? I did, and I think I’ve found a solution. We need to teach the concept of metacognition itself. Our brains are meaning-making machines: They work best when they can “connect the dots” and form relationships between new knowledge and old. That’s concept-building, forming neural pathways. 

To build the concept, we need to work through five steps: Explain, Explore, Embed, Engage, and Evaluate. In Teaching Tip 1, we looked at Step 1, how to “explain” metacognition by defining its attributes using the Teacher Goal and Student-Directed Goal.

Now, let's move on to Step 2. Explore. Learners are going to “search out” the attributes of metacognition as they are occurring in your classroom (or home).  Make metacognition your “super-thinking” strategy of the week!  This doesn’t require much extra planning time, just start talking about it!

You have already defined metacognition by its attributes: I use metacognition to understand how I think, learn, and solve problems. I use that knowledge to complete tasks, improve my work, and learn from my mistakes.

Now, start concept-building by explicitly pointing out the attributes of metacognition every time they occur in daily instruction. I call these pointers “think alouds,” which is metacognition in action. Kids of all ages love to use “big words,” so soon your students will be talking "metacognition" to themselves and to each other.

And this is what makes the concept “stick!”

Which of the Metacognition Think-Alouds (below) can you use or modify for your lesson tomorrow?

I would love to hear how you are explaining and exploring the concept of metacognition with the learners in your classroom or at home! Share your story with me at [email protected].





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