Monday, May 12, 2014

Metacognition; Teaching For Life-Long Learning!

noun Psychology.
higher-order thinking that enables understanding, analysis, and control of one’s cognitive processes, especially when engaged in learning.

Student individual writing goals - Grade 3

After much too much time analyzing our writing in different forms, I decided my students (well... more myself!) needed to see things differently.  So we sat around the perimeter of the rug - myself included - and read our last Narrative pieces to our learning partners.  Then we went around and I asked, "What is it you need to work on in your narrative pieces?  Not your neighbor or partner, but you.  What would improve your writing immediately?"

The work that followed was some of the best metacognitive, introspective, realistic work I could've expected from students much more mature that 8 and 9 years old. They literally came up with better thoughts than I could've scratched vigorously in the margins of their papers. 

As this discussion went on, each student thought of a way to do this improvement to his/her work.  I got to add some strategies, show charts, give examples, etc. for some students.  Some other students who did that particular "thing" well (like hooking the reader) would also add suggestions.  Others chimed in with words like, "Oh, that's a great idea!" and, "Cool!  I didn't think of that!"  Student-centered, student-lead, deep thinking conversations.  I watched with both admiration and pride.  For this does not just occur.  We have cultivated this type of learning environment all year.  However, to hear the actual verbiage and reflection appropriately discussed was a moment to savor for me.

This, this is real, life-long, applicable learning!  My students blew me away.  I am constantly amazed at the abilities children possess if we let them have a safe place to fall.  Learning needs to happen from errors and misconceptions prior.  Resilience can only be grown, grit can only be built through that period of some frustration at working hard at a daunting task.  "Flow" as described by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi through the positive psychology paradigm, is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.  That is the ultimate state of joy in work.  However, the end of that flow is the ultimate frustration leading to the next learning.  That is what changes students from passive to active learners.  That is what I strive for, even in my 9 year olds.  And they never cease to amaze me.

To follow up on the above lesson, we revisited our list after our next writing piece.  Here is what we came up with:

Some students attempted their strategy and it worked therefore moving him/her on to a new goal.  Others did not succeed in their first goal so we discussed another way to try it next time.  And yet others decided their original goal was either not really good enough or not really deep enough to work hard on.  The best surprising part of this conversation came with students saying such statements to each other as, "Hey, you are great at dialogue.  You could help Harry."  Or, "Jenni writes with expensive words.  She would be a great person to talk to."

Again, the actions and words of these students speak for themselves.  This is learning that is throughout all subject areas.  It transcends topic and content.  This metacognition will serve each student in all ways.  That is a gift to themselves!