How many times a day do you think about how you process information? If you’re like the majority of people, the answer is rarely. However, every time we make a decision or learn new information we are thinking about our own thinking. This is known as metacognition, and metacognitive strategies are what we use to help us think and learn. Therefore, it’s imperative we teach these strategies to our students.
How do we go about this? We teach students how to:
- develop a plan before starting a task
- continually review their understanding
- evaluate their thinking upon completion
Each of the steps in the process require learners to ask themselves questions such as…
Planning: What am I to learn? What background information can I use? Do I understand the task I am to do? What do I hope to learn? How is the text organized? Are there any bold faced words, captions, or diagrams to help me?
Reviewing: Does this make sense? If not, what strategies do I have I can use? Am I seeing all sides of this issue? Do I need to slow down to improve my comprehension?
Evaluating: What did I learn? What could I do differently next time to improve my understanding? Is there something I don’t understand? If so, what should I do? Can I solve another type of problem the same way?
To be able to review their thinking, learners need to be able to choose from a variety of strategies to fix any problems they are having. We cannot assume our students already know how to do this. If we look at reading, the strategies we’ll teach include:
- Slowing down to stop and think
- Making connections, predictions, and inferences
- Using text features
- Writing questions or comments on sticky notes
How do we teach these strategies? By modeling them during a think-aloud. We read a piece of text aloud, stopping to share our thinking. With this there are several steps that are important to follow.
- Choose one strategy to model for each lesson, and name that strategy for your students.
- Make sure you are familiar with the text and know where you want to stop and model the strategy.
- Use the same text for different strategy lessons.
- Use different texts but use the same strategy each time.
Reading isn’t the only area of the curriculum where these strategies can be taught and used. They need to be taught in all subjects. Here are some examples.
Writing: Model prewriting strategies, rereading, and checking to see if what is written makes sense. Introduce partner or small group work to help with the evaluation step.
Math: Teach problem solving strategies through questioning such as What do I know after reading the problem? Where do I start? What am I thinking I should do? Does this make sense? Do I need to reread the problem to better understand what it’s asking?
Science and Social Studies: Teach a variety of graphic organizers to use during the planning and reviewing stages. These organizers help learners figure out what they know and what they want to learn. They, also, help them put their information in an order they can better understand.
Teaching these strategies helps learners become confident in their ability to problem solve. With enough practice these strategies become automatic. They don’t even have to think about using them.
Metacognitive strategies are important for students to know how to use in and out of school and as children and adults. Learning to use these strategies helps students develop a deeper understanding of a task. These tools help them decide what to do when their comprehension breaks down. Learners are, also, taking their thinking to a higher level when they use these strategies as they are able to express their thoughts more clearly.
So why don’t we think more often about how we think? If we’ve learned how to use the thinking strategies and practiced using them enough, it’s automatic. Now that’s one less thing to think about!