Putting More Meta into Metacognition


I’ll admit it.  I thought I was killin’ the metacognitive game.  My self-aggrandizement was palpable.  Then I checked my email…those rascals at KQED and their amazing research acumen…..Seriously, MindShift does what just the name says.  Just when I think I’m galloping right along, I come across another intriguing post that challenges my thinking.

So…metacognition.  Thinking about thinking.  That’s as far as I typically get in my explanation to my students.  And I thought that was enough.  Nope, we can go deeper.

The thing about fifth graders, in my experience, is that many weren’t aware that thinking was part of the contract.  Like many of us, they just signed, without paying attention to any of the clauses or fine print.  This is often the reaction I get when I ask them to engage in actual thinking within the classroom.  Surface level, they’re totally in – regurgitation is particularly solid.  When asked to go beyond ‘what is the capital of Iowa?’, many students falter.  They’ve not been called to such a task before.  Questions beginning with ‘why’ or ‘what if’ leave them stymied and shrugging.  I have asked myself: How can they not be able to THINK?

One often looks to blame someone.  Last year’s teacher – what were they DOING?  Parents! Why don’t they get off their phones, for goodness sake!  Media – why have we allowed it to become so ubiquitous? But really, how often do most people think DEEPLY?  That’s another post.

Anyway, I don’t enjoy the blame game – I prefer a few rounds of ‘so…now what?’  My ‘now what’ will begin with See, Think, Wonder.  I always ask for questions while reading – whether I’m reading aloud, students are reading silently, or we’re partner reading.  A good reader always asks questions.  If you think of a book or TV show with which you were particularly engaged, of course you ask questions.  Reflexively, within your brain, you’re shouting, ‘Why did he do that!?!?’ or ‘Holy crap – NOW what is she going to do?’.

These are not dialogues that every brain has – especially brains of poor readers.  These students never got the memo that reading involves thinking.  To them, it looks like ‘good’ readers are scanning the words – very quickly – and closing the book.  Maybe writing down answers to questions.  Done.

Does it sound too complicated to begin with text?  I have an easier way.  There are many commercially available photo collections which are very engaging and conducive to questioning and conversation.  Though many of these are intended for use by speech language pathologists, they can serve multiple purposes.

Are you wondering how you’re going to fit this in between your basal lessons?  At the risk of moralizing, metacognition trum..(quick – a thesaurus – I can’t say that word anymore!) takes precedence over your basal lesson.  If students aren’t thinking, what value is a worksheet on cause and effect?  Trivial, indeed.

Critical thinking – it peppers educational mission statements all over the U.S.  So let’s focus – this is the real deal, people.  Think about it.


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