|9.Thinking About Thinking - Metacognition
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.