Support Materials
9.Thinking About Thinking - Metacognition

Script

Linda Darling-Hammond: When you are working on a project, how often do you stop to ask yourself, "What have I accomplished so far, and what else do I need to do?"  When you do this, you are engaged in metacognition. Metacognition is what we do when we manage our work by asking ourselves questions like, "How well am I doing? What do I need to do next? What else do I need to learn in order to achieve my goal?"   

Hello, I'm Linda Darling-Hammond and welcome to The Learning Classroom.

Discovering how you can help your students manage their own thinking and learning is our challenge in today's episode.

Lee S. Shulman, Ph.D., President, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching: Metacognition is thinking about your own thinking. It is sometimes we use the phrase, "going meta" instead of metacognition, and what we mean by that is being able to step back, to step back and see yourself and what you are doing, as if you were somebody else observing it. It's becoming audience for your own performance. And in this case it's your own intellectual performance.

Linda Darling-Hammond: To help students learn in powerful ways that serve them beyond the classroom, we need to teach them first to understand how they are learning, and second to manage their own learning process.

These metacognitive strategies include helping students learn to: think about what they know and what they don't yet understand. Become aware of their own thought processes. Understand how others are thinking about the same ideas. Analyze and try different strategies for solving problems. And reflect on what they're learning & how they're learning it.

Kendra Hearn teaches English composition to seniors. She works with her students to develop their thinking through the writing process.

To help them become conscious writers, Kendra teaches them strategies that help them observe their own thoughts, using tools like journals, reading reflections, and mind maps.

She also encourages them to assess their own work and that of their peers, using standards and rubrics that let them analyze their writing.

Let's see how Kendra serves as both a model and a coach for her students as they learn to think metacognitively.

(classroom scene)
Kendra: Today, I have for you a few models of the reflective essay that we're working on. And what we're gonna do first is begin by reading those essays, we'll do them collectively, and what I want you to do is think about the thinking that the writer did. And how are we gonna do that? We're gonna do what is called a "Ah, Huh, Hmm strategy." We talked about this before, and it's basically "Ah" – making some connections, then you'll put an exclamation point, and whatever you connect it with on your sticky note and put it on that area of the draft. If you have a question, that's a "Huh" – wondering about things, questioning what the writer was thinking. And the last one is "Hmm" – meaning you noticed something. Any questions about…

Kendra Hearn: My approach is one where I really try to allow the students to take ownership over their learning. And so in that regard it's very constructivist, where they're constructing their own meaning. And it, it's based a lot around a, a notion of language and literacy that's highly transactional. So we have an awful lot of discussion, and dialogue, and argumentation, and debate so that they can really think through their ideas. Another emphasis that I like to make, particularly with the essay writing class, which is a composition class, is that thinking is writing. So that the challenge is getting those thoughts, then, onto paper in a way that makes sense to other people.

(classroom scene)
Kendra:
Once you are done sticking your sticky notes on, then we'll have a dialogue about the things you noticed, wondered, and questioned on that particular essay. And we'll talk about where we think that essay fits in terms, in terms of the rubric and in terms of that author's thinking. Okay? Let's do number one…

Kendra Hearn: I think I happened upon metacognition, and it became something I was fascinated with. And the fascination came with going beyond just critical thinking, which does not necessarily have to be very metacognitive, but asking kids to do some real complex thinking about their own thought processes.

(classroom scene)
Kendra: Let's stop there. Take a minute, do the same thing. Think about what you noticed, wondered, questioned in this particular essay. Also I want to challenge you to notice, wonder, and question in terms of the rubric. Are there some things that really seems to fit the criteria of this particular assignment, some things that may seem a bit out of place…

Kendra Hearn: And what I saw in the notion of metacognition is a whole lot of power for children in their learning, for making a plan for how they were gonna approach a task, making some real conscious choices about which strategies to employ in doing that particular task.

(classroom scene)
Boy: Sometimes it's hard to understand. I don't understand what he's talking about.
Kendra:
Right, because of the vocabulary.
Girl:
Like, if only kids from high school are going to be reading this, I think, well not everyone, but a lot of people are going to be, like, what is this?

Kendra Hearn: And then going back and revisiting those strategies and seeing what things worked and what didn't, so that the next time they approach a similar task, they would know which choices to make.

(classroom scene)
Kendra:
Talk as a group about those things that you connected with, wondered, and noticed. And then use what you got in terms of the thinking about this essay to decide where you would think it would fall on the rubric, okay? So have a debate, come to a consensus, use what you wrote on your notes…

Annemarie Palincsar, Ph.D.,  University of Michigan: When we talk about teaching children to be metacognitive we're talking about helping them to become aware of themselves as learners and, very importantly, to take control of their own activities as learners. So those are the kinds of skills that really will enable a student or a child to be a lifelong learner.

Kendra Hearn: The kinds of activities that I regularly engage my students in in my classroom to reflect and assess are journaling. Oftentimes we'll be thinking through a topic and I'll have them just, on paper, pour out their hearts and their brains and not concern themselves with the mechanics of writing at that point, but to really get at what's on the top of their brains and tell them that often that's the best material, and we can polish it up later. We also, for reflection, have state of the writer addresses. And that's a point where, where one individual gets to address the class about where they are in that writing task, and get some feedback.

(classroom scene)
Girl: You needed to use more, um, details and that, evidence from your papers. But I thought it was a really good paper overall, and you were very honest in it.
Kendra:
So let's come together and synthesize this. What were some things that you connected with, you said, Ahhh! David, you had one.
David:
I connected when he said he, ah, won the contest, 'cause I was runner-up for one of the contests.
Kendra:
Exactly, so you knew what that felt like.
David:
Right. So I knew his feelings.
Kendra:
Let's jump to the Hmm. What were some things that you noticed?
Boy:
It was kind of confusing, but I guess for sending it, like, to a college, they'd notice that, they'd pick that up. But as, like a high school student, most people would have no idea what half the words that's out of the book.
Kendra:
So maybe he excluded part of his audiences' appreciation and comprehension, right? We're saying, I'm wondering about that. Where did you put this on the rubric?
Girl:
I would have given him like a low A.
Boy:
I thought it was like a B+ or A because it was real wordy, there was a couple grammar, ah, spelling mistakes.
Girl:
I would also have given him a B, I wasn't really following where the essay was going.

Lee Shulman: Well, if I'm learning to write an essay, and, I write an essay, and, let's say I write two essays, and I get an A from you on one of them, and I get a C on the other, and the teacher says "See, you CAN write a good essay, do more of what you did on the A essay, then you did on the C essay."  And I then I stop and say, "But I don't know what I did on the A essay that was different from the C essay, I just have no idea."  That's where it becomes terribly important for the teacher to assist the student in reflecting on their own learning, because otherwise, how do I get any better, how do I move my learning, from the kind of thing I did in the C situation, to the kind of thing I did in the A situation, if I don't have access to the kind of understanding of my own performance that I need to improve it. I mean I think that's the essence of it.

Kendra Hearn: I've used rubrics and, again, as a metacognitive strategy, to have students compare their writing process, their thinking processes and their accomplishments in terms of a collective standard. And often we negotiate the rubrics together. So I may decide what the categories are. They may even have some input on that. And we talk together about what do they think would be a stellar example of content for this particular essay.

There are no secrets about the standard. So when they get their grades back they fully understand, and they're able to often again, through self-assessment, articulate where their writing falls along the guidelines of that particular rubric. So, the rubric becomes a cornerstone for that thinking about their thinking on those particular writing exercises.

(classroom scene)
Kendra:
What I want to move into now is peer response. What we'll probably do is a two-part session on peer response. What I want you to focus your energy on, because what I've been noticing about peer response sessions is a lot of us are still focusing in on fixing the essay. The point of peer response is to think about it, talk about your thinking, share your thinking with each other, and have this communal discussion about it – let the author listen in and process it through their thought process, and then go back. You ready? Okay, go for it.

Kendra Hearn: Today, students presented their drafts of their reflective essays in what we call peer response sessions.

And the structure of it is quite interesting, because it's unlike other peer conferencing techniques.

(classroom scene)
Boy:
Let's see, I connected with you're ah, improving over the year, on my writing, I also improved during this year, right. Um, all things that Mrs. Hearn taught us, the different stages that you use, and, um, I actually disagreed with you on the pre-writing part. I actually, it actually helped me a lot. And…
Boy2:
I just think it's cool that ah, you actually talk about what type of methods help you write your papers out.
Kendra:
The next step is what? Gotten some peer feedback on our drafts…revision. The purpose of revision is what? Not just to correct grammar and spelling errors, but what? Ok, say that again Jarrid.
Jarrid:
Think about what people said.
Kendra:
Think about what people said. What does your thinking need to be about any changes you may want to make. Here's another question for you. Um, how many of you have your mind maps handy? Anyone that can just whip 'em out?

Kendra Hearn: The mind map is a pre-writing strategy that gets them to think about their own thinking in terms of what sorts of ideas that they have and what sorts of areas they wanna explore, given a particular writing prompt. And there's no focused structure to it. And it's a little different than, say, a cluster or an outline, in that they're, it's really free form, and free flowing, and it's what I want them to get at. And in our experiences with mind mapping is what's on the top of their brain in terms of that particular topic. And they've used it in the past and including today as a, a thinking activity about their writing. And from there they go into sort of another stage of pre-writing, which is then to organize those thoughts.

(classroom scene)
Kendra:
Any of you feel like I need to make some adjustments from your original thoughts? Or there was something that you left out? David?
David:
Well, when you have your mind map, you have, like, every idea that you wanna talk about, and when you write out, you know, your rough draft, and you read it to your group, but a lot of times they have ideas for you so you can help improve on the things that you felt were the most important and maybe didn't come across as well as you hoped for in your rough draft.
Kendra:
Good. That's a good point. I think that is THE point. Again, it's whether or not you convey what you intended. And your mind map is a record of what you intended.

Kendra Hearn: We focus, particularly in the, in terms of composition and, and writing, on the notion of what works for me as a writer. So I realize and I honor the fact that an outline may work for some, and we've learned outlining strategies, and a mind map may work for others. And they've had plenty of opportunities to do that. And again, along the lines of metacognition, is for them to begin to make some conscious choices about which of these sorts of strategies will actually work for the task that they're being asked to do, given what they know about themselves as a thinker, a learner and a writer.

(classroom scene)
Kendra:
Let's look at this one. 'Cause you've come a long way in your thinking. What's different now in your thinking about this essay, than the mind map that you started with?
Girl:
It's not a box anymore.
Kendra:
It's not a box, you had boxes for this essay that we're working on? No, you didn't.
Girl:
Oh, how it's different. I made it more specific and more to the, um, rubric.
Kendra:
Okay. So, give me an example, maybe.

Kendra Hearn: One student that I had who has made major improvements as a result of using these strategies that comes to mind is a student named Sara, who today I worked with, because she made major strides in terms of mind mapping. Sara's one who, when I introduced mind mapping to the class, was extremely resistant.

And the spectacular thing about her is that she's gone beyond, and she's accomplished a whole lot more than she expected. And I think she's a fabulous example of how these strategies have worked.

It becomes the teacher's challenge, and I think this is the artistic part of teaching - to inspire them to think and give them new ways to examine their own thinking.

Lee Shulman: Cognitive work, intellectual work, thinking and feeling, is invisible, it can't be directly observed, so the question for us is, "What's the equivalent of the mirror on the dance studio wall, of the video tape of the golf swing?"  When we're saying, "How do you become thoughtful about your own thinking?" as you're doing mathematics or history. If you're doing, the teaching of biology, or the teaching of composition. And, that's a great challenge. .

Annemarie Palincsar: So making visible for children what the purpose of the learning activity is, and then, focusing on the process, not the products of learning, but really shifting the attention to what are the ways in which you can interact with this task and be successful.

Another important influence, I think, is the ways in which teachers now try to be more explicit about their thinking as adult learners, as expert learner. They try to make transparent for students what are the processes that we can bring to this activity that will help us to be successful.

Linda Darling-Hammond: Kathleen Hayes-Parvin knows that one of the best ways to help her students to reflect on their learning is to have them teach someone else the strategies they use.

This year Kathleen's sixth graders are helping a class of student teachers learn how to teach middle school English. We'll watch as they are preparing and presenting their thoughts to the student teachers and their instructor.

(classroom scene)
Kathleen:
This is a writing experiment called a free write. Olivia. One of the purposes of a free write, Olivia?
Olivia:
To overcome writer's block.
Kathleen:
Another reason that we would use a free write, Kareema?
Kareema:
To build fluency.
Kathleen:
Excellent, alright, so one of the reasons to use a free write would be to overcome writer's block. How many have ever experienced writer's block? Just were stuck.

Kathleen Hayes-Parvin: We're a community of learners where skills are taught in the context of their work - primarily their own reading and writing, as opposed to working out of a standard English grammar text, where they would be learning in isolation. That does not, research is showing that that does not transfer into their reading and writing lives.

(classroom scene)
Kathleen:
But the first big audience that you've been teaching is each other, and you've done a masterful job at it. The next audience that you'll be working with is the University of Michigan audience. And those young people who are getting ready to become teachers, and you'll be teaching them... So my question to you is, what made the teachers that you remember so well really good, so that when you start to take on the role of teacher next week, you can make your teaching really powerful and good?

Kathleen: One of the major strategies that we learn is the ability to make connections. And this group is becoming savvy at being able to make connections from text to text, text to self, and text to world. So we point out and we teach these strategies explicitly, and then throughout our daily lives you'll see us reading a book, and somebody'll just naturally begin to make those kind of, kinds of connections that help them to predict and help them to make meaning from text.

(classroom scene)
Boy:
How, how, how is that?
Sreekant:
It's Kenny's turn actually.
Boy:
It's either Kenny's or Erin's turn, cause all of the other ones are...
Kathleen:
What I'm asking you to do right now, is to just reflect for a moment. And when I use that word, reflect, think for a second, what does that mean to you?
Kenny:
Um, to look back at things in the past.
Kathleen:
Ok, and Elikem?
Elikem:
Um, reflect is like when you look back at something that's already happened, and you try to learn from it. You analyze it.
Elikem:
We don't just learn it and just copy down definitions all the time. We learn it; she gives us examples of things and how to remember it.

Lee Shulman: It's important for teachers to give their students many opportunities to reflect on their learning, because the learning itself is rarely sufficient, to create understandings of a sort that can be transferred readily to other situations, and, and because, the absence of opportunities for reflecting on one's learning is at the heart of why some kinds of learning are simply barren and infertile if you will, and other kinds of learning turn out to be highly productive and useable again and again. And I think the heart of it is creating opportunities to step back and analyze and reflect on your own practice. I mean it's no accident that when we prepare people to do very complex and important kinds of skills, we create opportunities for reflection.

(classroom scene)
Kathleen:
This Knoxville, Tennessee poem by Nikki Giovanni is one that we've studied. We've paid attention to the structure of it and we've written our own city poems, many of us. And that strategy when you copy an author's style or you copy a poet's style, it's called copy change. So we're gonna begin with the real poem, and then we're going to ask a couple of you who have taken your poem through many, many revisions to have an opportunity to read your version of your city poem.
Boy:
I always like summer best. You can eat fresh corn from daddy's garden and okra, and greens, and cabbage, and lots of barbecue, and buttermilk, and the homemade ice cream at the church picnic.

Kathleen Hayes-Parvin: My students will have an opportunity to get some feedback from the university experience. When they have an opportunity to share their knowledge with the pre-service teachers from the University of Michigan, they'll be able to get feedback from the professors.

(classroom scene)
Professor:
Oh terrific!
Kathleen:
It's a miracle.
Professor:
Good morning, everyone!
Class:
Good morning
Kathleen:
This is Dr. Rex. We're going to begin with this first team, and they're going to talk to you about book clubs.

Kathleen Hearn: In preparing them to be teachers, they, what is great about these cross-age collaborations is that it gives them authentic purpose. They have a real reason to communicate what they've learned, as opposed to an artificial reason to please the teacher or to get a grade. This is, um, pro…provides us with an authentic forum.

(classroom scene)
Boy: Hi, we're book clubs, and you get a chance to work with your friends or meet new friends.
Olivia:
You usually have a writer's notebook. The required minimum is six people, but you do not have to have six, you can have at least three. And at the end, you go to the south of the pavilion, you have a competition…

Kathleen Hayes-Parvin: These young people that are getting ready to, to go into the classroom are faced with many challenges, and these guys feel like they really have an expertise to share. So, we do a lot of processing of what we're learning. We do some note taking. We do some direct instruction. We give them an opportunity to read for information and gather some information that's gonna help to be better teachers. They reflect on their own experiences. Who have their greatest teachers been and what made them really good?  So that they can make their opportunity to teach fun and exciting.

(classroom scene)
Girl:
When you get your classroom, you will want your students to get writer's notebooks. Real writers keep writer's notebooks. Writer's notebooks is like a book of your least thoughts, observations, and notes. We keep writer's notebooks because we can look back at our work.
Girl:
I wrote about my best friend. She's my best friend. I wrote about things that I like about them and things I don't like about them. And how when, like, how, when I have a problem they help me or they give me ideas.

Kathleen Hayes-Parvin: In this environment, they're teaching every day. They're teaching each other and the teaching and learning is a two-way street.

(classroom scene)
Professor:
Question that I have is, for somebody to tell us what their favorite thing is about writer's work, readers-writer's workshop and what their least favorite thing is about it.
Elikem:
Well, my favorite thing about writer's work, um reading and writing workshop would probably be that you get to read with your friends and sometimes discuss the books with them. And my least favorite thing would be, ah, I don't really have a least favorite.
Professor:
What is it that a teacher needs to get done well to make the reading-writing workshop work?
Boy: I think you should enjoy your job, first you gotta like your job. You gotta know how to teach.
Olivia:
I believe all students should not read the same book because everybody learns at a different level. And a teacher should keep a journal along with their children's so it reflects sometimes back on what they've written in the past and what they're going to write in the future.

Kathleen Hearn: I'm learning from them, they're learning from me. I see myself more as a coach and a facilitator than, than an instructor and they're the empty vessel that I try to fill up. It's more of a constructivist model. They bring a certain knowledge, we get them from where, where they're at, and move them forward. And they're constructing knowledge and meaning throughout all of our days together.

Annemarie Palincsar: So in each of these instances, a lot of attention is being paid to what are the ideas the children are bringing to this problem or this situation.

So there's, there's, that's a second component is that there's, there's real knowledge that's worth worrying about.

I think a third feature that we saw in both of these classrooms is the feedback. Teachers are highly interactive with the students. They're providing students information about the success with which they're advancing or, more importantly, they're encouraging the students to engage in that kind of self-evaluation.

Linda Darling-Hammond: The more we help students to think about their own thinking, the better learners they will become - both inside and outside the classroom. When they understand and can choose their own strategies, they can expand their learning throughout their lives

This is The Learning Classroom. Thanks for watching.

Return to the Support Materials for Session 9.

 

Contributors to this Session

Linda Darling-Hammond
Charles E. Ducommon Professor of Education, Stanford University

Lee S. Shulman
President, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

Annemarie Sullivan Palincsar
Jane and Charles Walgreen Professor of Reading and Literacy, University of Michigan

Kendra Hearn
former teacher, West Bloomfield High School, West Bloomfield, Michigan. Currently professional development consultant Macomb Intermediate School District, Michigan

Kathleen Hayes-Parvin
sixth grade teacher, Birney Middle School, Southfield, Michigan