How metacognition drives learning
If we’re to truly unlock potential and develop lifelong learning skills in children, metacognition is the key. Stefanie Waterman, Head of Upper School at Southbank International School in London, explores what it’s all about.
Research underscores the validity of metacognition; most noteworthy is John Hattie’s meta data, in which he synthesized over 500,000 studies related to student achievement in his book Visible Learning. His research proved that having metacognitive skills is vital for continuous improvement. These skills need to be modelled, taught, made explicit and reviewed by teachers, and be developed in all learners.
The act of metacognition is not passive; rather it is an active engagement of knowing ourselves as learners. We cannot simply think about our thinking and expect to be metacognitive. It is the self-knowledge of our understanding or, perhaps more importantly, our misunderstanding and then the subsequent adaptations which develops our learning.
Having a heightened awareness of learning creates lifelong learners; therefore it is a teacher’s role to provide students with adequate time, language and correct conditions for metacognition.
To begin with, we as educators must create an appropriate ethos for deeper reflection by establishing a supportive environment where students can make mistakes, celebrate progress and share their thinking. As the lead learner in the classroom, teachers set up a safe ethos for learning from mistakes by thinking aloud about their own misconceptions or errors.
- We can seize opportunities to model our thinking process by asking ourselves reflective questions aloud. For example, “Is there anything I can do differently? Would I get the same outcome if I tried a different approach? What strategies can I use next time?”
- Planning for opportunities to teach metacognitive skills either at the beginning or end of the day or lesson shows students how to be metacognitive. Teachers and students can look back at the product of their learning and ask “How did I learn? How did know I was on the right track? What did I do when I was unsure of my learning?” Wall displays can help focus and reinforce students on particular words, skills or questions, which underscore the metacognitive process.
- Taking the time to talk about the specific strategies students are developing and using the words we want students to articulate ensures that metacognition is explicit. Catching students being metacognitive while listening to student discourse, or when they are reflecting on their own learning, is an opportunity to highlight their thinking processes. We can plan in “Take 5 time” where we pause to look back at the learning and identify the skills being used and share it with the class.
- Reviewing the students’ ways of learning will remind them of the skills they have strengthened. Spending the time to consider, analyse and share misconceptions and how their thinking has adapted ensures students are aware of how to progress.
There is no one way to teach students how to use metacognition as the key to drive their learning; however, by modelling, teaching, making it explicit and then reviewing we can see the benefits of using these tools to tap into their minds so they achieve their learning potential.