Metacognition Tip 1. Define It!

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Teach Metacognition

Dr. Jeanne L. Paynter

“Stop, look, and listen before you cross the street.” This is an early example of how we teach children metacognition: literally, thinking about (our) thinking. Metacognition is that “above and beyond” analytical thinking we use to set goals, plan, select appropriate problem-solving strategies, modify/control our behavior, reflect on our progress (or lack), and make effective changes.

Metacognition is so instrumental to our personal and academic success that I’m sure today you were teaching or reinforcing some metacognitive strategies. And innovators, those creative problem solvers that we want our children to become, use their metacognition to decide which novel ideas to pursue and how to best bring them to fruition.

in this four-part series, we’ll see how we as educators and parents can explicitly develop the concept of metacognition to give learners deep understanding and fluid application. There are the five steps to teach metacognition, and you can do all five right in the context of your current curriculum. 

  1. EXPLAIN:  Define the attributes of metacognition explicitly using the Teacher and Student-Directed Goals (see below). 
  2. EXPLORE: Talk about the specific attributes of metacognition in daily instruction.  I call this using “think-alouds,” which is metacognition in action!
  3. EMBED: Begin to integrate metacognition into your instructional goals. I call these “talent goals,” and we’ll look at some examples.
  4. ENGAGE: Use specific strategies/tasks designed to nurture metacognition. I have one of my favorites to share in Teaching Tip 4!
  5. EVALUATE: Self-reflection is the heart of metacognition, so we’ll look at specific ways to self-assess it.  

Have patience! Metacognition is located in the prefrontal cortex of the brain along with other executive functions. We know that this part of the brain matures late, and continues to develop into the 30’s!  Parents, have hope!

Metacognition is one of what I have identified as the “Seven Aptitudes of Innovators.” These are cross-disciplinary aptitudes that can be developed and applied in any field of endeavor: curiosity, logical reasoning, creativity, insight, metacognition, persistence, leadership. Learn how you can teach all seven (and more) in my book Teach to Develop Talent: How to Motivate and Engage Tomorrow’s Innovators TodayA great companion resource is the self-paced, interactive Teach to Develop Talent online book study!


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