I have always been fascinated with metacognition. The idea that one has the capacity to control their thinking and use it strategically can be powerful for learning. As part of my Masters Of Education studies I wanted to inquire into how I could enhance student metacgonition so that they could become more aware of their thinking which in turn would hopefully lead to a deeper understanding of the knowledge they build. I would like to share my inquiry into metacognition which may be over several instalments. I would love to hear your thoughts too so please comment.
For me the essence of educating for good thinking is metacognition. Learning to think is about being able to manage and organise your thinking. For this to occur the student needs to be aware of their thinking in order to plan and evaluate it effectively. I would like my students to be able to reflect on their thinking and to strategically pick a type of thinking that will facilitate their learning endeavours.
“To be properly metacognitive then, students have to be realistically aware of their own cognitive resources in relation to the task demands, and then to plan, monitor, and control those resources” (Biggs 1987).
“Students who possess a reflective disposition are at an advantage when they are required to use metacognition or reflective thinking, because the are likely to employ a range of skills and dispositions” (Wilson and Jan 2008).
Metacognition refers to individuals’ awareness, evaluation and regulation of their own thinking (Wilson and Jan 2008). Perkins states that there are three theories of intelligence: Neural, Experiential and Reflective (Perkins 1995). Neural intelligence aligns itself with the beliefs that we are born with a capacity to be intelligent. Unfortunately, this notion means that only a select few are capable of intelligent behaviour. Experiential intelligence asserts the notion that intelligence is learned through rich experience where a person is considered to be intelligent because they are an expert in their field. However, this type of intelligence lacks generality (Perkins 1995). What is meant by this is that intelligence gained through experience is localised to that particular field of expertise and cannot be transferred to other areas of thinking. Reflective intelligence is where the person has the capacity to think about their thinking. This is often described as metacognition, meaning that if the students are able to reflect on their thinking then they will be able to choose the appropriate type of thinking and apply it to the task or problem. This is called metacognitive organisation and I believe this thinking disposition to be vitally important for students when they need to engage in a task that requires a change of tack in their thinking.
What am I going to do to facilitate a more metacognitively thoughtful classroom?
John Dewey made the claim that ‘all which the school can or need do for pupils, so far as their minds are concerned … is to develop their ability to think’ (Dewy 1966, p. 152). Since by ‘think’ he meant ‘inquire’, it was the development of inquiring minds to which he referred (Cam 2006 pg 30). Thinking is the deliberate exploration of experience for purpose. That purpose may be decision making, problem solving, understanding, planning, judgement, action and so on (De Bono 1976). There are many approaches in educating for thinking. Harpaz’s formula for good thinking is as follows, ‘good thinking = thinking skills+thinking dispositions+understandings of knowledge’ (Harpaz 2007). Metacognition is a skill and a disposition. That is, one can call on self talk as a skill and use it deliberately to affect one’s thoughts. My attack in solving my dilemma is thus two pronged. That is, if I want my students to develop good metacognitive thinking I need to educate for thinking as a skill and provide tasks that will then facilitate an inclination for the students to engage and value metacognative thought (disposition). To do this I am going to explore Ritchhart, Palmer, Church, & Tishman’s (2006) ‘Thinking Routines’. Ideally I would like to also see the students recognise the value of the Thinking Routines to a point that they call on them without me having to prompt them and perhaps also develop their own set of routines.
Why the thinking routines?
“When thinking routines are used regularly in classrooms and become part of the pattern of the classroom, students internalise messages about what learning is and how it happens” (Ritchhart, Church, Morrison 2011)
As a primary school teacher working in a classroom of grade 5 and 6 students, I find the simplicity of the language used by the thinking routines easily accessible whilst providing an opportunity for the students to capture their metacognitive thoughts. Consider the routine Think- Pair- Share, the ‘Think’ part of the routine could easily further explored in facilitated discussion with the teacher to highlight the idea of self talk so the students could recognise it, with the aim of it becoming internalised by the students who could then engage in this process autonomously. When a student learns they are thinking: “Retention, understanding, and the active use of knowledge can be brought about only by learning experiences in which learners think about and think with what they are learning” (Perkins 1992 pp8 ). That is, thinking is at the centre of the learning endeavours, not an add-on or something to do if there is time (Ritchhart, Church, Morrison 2011). Therefore by positioning the learner at the centre of the educational enterprise rather than at the end, our role as teachers is no longer about delivering content, but is about engaging students with ideas (Ritchhart, Church, Morrison 2011). By normalising the thinking routines into the everyday learning of the classroom I am ensuring that student centred learning is implemented and maintained.
Linking back to educating for better metacognitive thinking, one of the key aspects of metacognition is the notion of questioning. That is, asking strategic questions helps learners make connections between teaching and learning experiences which in turn promotes a deeper understanding of the content and themselves as learners (Wilson and Jan 2008). Reflective questioning enables the learner to reinforce broader and more reasoned points of view, find alternative perspectives, illuminate omissions, address ambiguities and challenge assumptions. Further, metacognitive questions focus on the learner’s own awareness, evaluation and regulation of their thinking (Wilson and Jan 2008). Metacognition is often referred to as ‘self talk’. That is the inner voice that one sometimes hears when thinking to themselves. This is the action of thinking, a behaviour. To improve a learner’s thinking through questioning they must be involved in self-questioning and self talk (Wilson and Jan 2008). When students ask questions of themselves through the metacognitive process, it will steer them to reflect on their actions and their learning. Thus they will be able to identify and act on those areas that they perceive as needing development (Wilson and Jan 2008). What I mean by this is the learner will actively choose a particular type of thinking that will assist in the development of any learning areas that need attention. Central to the thinking routines is that they are centred around questioning. The routines are constructive in nature because they help build on or construct the learners understanding about something by stimulating their thinking through strategically sequenced and authentic questions (Ritchhart et al 2011). The “What makes you say that?” routine can be varied to include questions such as: “Can you say more about that?”, “I’m not quite following you, can you say what you were thinking in a different way?”, “What did you think you were basing that on?” or “What does that tell you then?”. Through the ongoing use of the routines, questions not only drive learning but also are outcomes of learning that become embedded in the learning process (Ritchhart et al 2011), and through facilitated discussion by the teacher, students then learn to undertake this questioning internally stimulating further metacognitive development.
If one is going to ask a question then there needs to be a listener, either external or internal to the self. What’s the point of asking a question if you are not going to listen. Therefore routines create a culture of listening. An obvious routine to support this notion is “Think-Pair-Share”, as the students are encouraged to think about an object etc, pair with a peer and share their thoughts. The nature of this routine will foster listening. A good listener will in turn, ask strategic questions for clarification and meaning.
Next post will cover the implementation of five thinking routines that I believe will help foster good metacognition.