How to Improve Metacognition Skills in Our Students

problem solving resources Jan 06, 2022

Have you ever run up against something that isn't working? I've seen this in my students, other adults, and even myself. It is frustrating for all of us.

When this happens, it's helpful to take a step back. In our fast-paced world, we often miss the importance of stepping back, reflecting, analyzing, and altering approaches so that we may move forward. 

The other day one of my kids was trying to get into the barn to feed the horses. There is a latch and chain that secures one of the doors, and it needs to be unlatched before the door will open. I was in the garden, and I could hear loud banging as she tried to push the door open without unlocking the chain. 

I could hear her frustration. As I walked over to help her, I saw that she was just repeating the same movement of pushing the gate forward when she just needed to pull the gate back to unlock it. 

It made me think of our students and classrooms where we are sometimes just pushing forward, hitting a wall, and then just pushing again when we need to take a step back and reflect on what is required in order to move forward. This is part of metacognition—the ability to think about our thinking.

What is Metacognition?

Metacognition is the understanding of one's thinking. Beyond that, it encompasses being able to think about your thinking and connect with yourself on a deeper level so that you know yourself as a learner. You are aware of feelings that may arise with specific tasks, and then you can pause, plan, and use strategies to help move forward. 

We use our metacognition proactively to help us overcome obstacles to achieve our goal which leads to self-advocacy skills. It also teaches kids that we can change our outcomes. 

Metacognitive practices increase students' abilities to transfer their learning to new tasks and situations (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000).

We want to set the stage for metacognitive practices for our students to lead them to have a deeper reflective process about their learning and create an environment that invites reflection, sharing, and discussions surrounding our learning.

Metacognition is simply:

  • thinking about your thinking
  • connect with self on a deeper level
  • plan, apply, assess different kinds of strategies
    • learning
    • thinking
    • problem-solving

We often do this, as educators, with our instruction. We take a step back to determine where we are and where we need to make the connections to move forward, but this way of thinking benefits students as well. 

How We Can Help Our Students With Metacognition Skills

You can set this reflection up in your classrooms or interventions by:

  • Modeling your thinking process for students. Use think-aloud to show students your thought process in academic and social-emotional situations. 
  • Being explicit with modeling and the language you use. 
  • Making reflections part of your daily routine
    • Surveys, exit-tickets, thumbs up/down, verbal check-ins all provide opportunities to reflect within the day
  • Pausing + Planning - provide students with opportunities to pause, reflect and then create a plan of action. We can model how to analyze a problem or situation and create an action plan based on that thinking. This reflection builds both a growth mindset and metacognitive skills. 
  • Identifying points of confusion - help students understand the ongoing reflective piece of learning and how to identify points of confusion within their learning—providing opportunities for checking in during the lesson aids with this. 

When we build time for reflection, we work on those metacognitive skills. I know how precious each minute of instruction is in our classrooms, but if we understand the power behind metacognitive approaches, we can find the value in adding it into our day. 

How Do We Do This?

Weaving metacognition into our days can be done in many different ways. For example, end-of-unit surveys, daily exit tickets, quick writes/journals, touching base in the hallways, or lunch chats are all ways to build metacognition. 

Now that I work with students one-on-one or in smaller groups, I start every lesson with a quick check-in. It takes no more than 2 minutes, but it sets the stage for students to share how they feel, what's going on, etc. I ask open-ended questions directly related to them, talk about how accommodations are going, how they felt about a particular class, lesson, or strategy, etc.

This quick check-in strengthens the connection and message that I care about them and sets the stage for them to think about their thinking processes and what we need to do within our sessions. It is also how I close each session, with a short reflection piece – What worked well? Was there anything confusing?

The big takeaway that I want my students to have is that using these metacognition skills proactively can help us overcome obstacles to achieve our goals because we plan, monitor, and assess. 

Metacognition isn't just for our students. We, as teachers, need to have time to reflect and analyze where our children are in their knowledge and skills and then create plans to help them scaffold their learning with the focus of moving forward.

Setting kids up for success means helping them link what they already know to their new learning - it is making sure that we are having kids working their zone of proximal development (learner can do with guidance) and not their level of comfort.

It also means reflecting on our instructional practices and sometimes stepping into an uncomfortable place to ask questions such as:

โ“How am I connecting what the research shows with what we are doing in my classroom?

โ“Are there some steadfast beliefs that I need to analyze through the lens of facts?

โ“What changes can I make, starting today, so that students don't fall through the cracks?

As we enter the new year, I encourage you to reflect on what new research and information you have gained, what you have been pushing forward that isn't working or serving your children well and take a reflective step back.

I truly believe that it is in that moment of stepping back and reflecting that we open ourselves to shifting our thinking and approach. It also allows us to challenge some previous beliefs. ๐Ÿฆ‹

A free resource to help you reflect on some dyslexia impacts you may not have even been aware of is shown above. Did you get the free download of The Dyslexia Iceberg poster last week? It is a quick look at the impacts of dyslexia, hidden and most known. Click HERE for the free download.

I also have a new activity bundle that has been released. If your students are struggling with letter reversals, this letter reversal activity bundle ๐Ÿ‘†is for you! The activities are designed to guide and support student automaticity in letter naming and sound production of the most commonly confused letters. Click the image above to read more about this fun, yet effective, activity. 

Have a great week!



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