Metacog…What? A new way to teach students about their own thinking!

Metacog…. What?
Metacogntion-I’m thinking about my thinking!

The one aspect of being human that sets us apart from all mammals in this time is metacognition! This is our brain’s ability and capacity to self-assess, think about our thinking, reshape our perspectives and self-reflect with emotion! Recent neuroscience research has concluded that our brains are not only wired to survive, but we are also biologically wired for cognition and emotion. There is this marvelous inherited executive function skill called working memory that all individuals can exercise and develop through brain isometrics. Working memory is one’s ability to take in information from the environment and manipulate and massage it to create new connections and meaning inside our worlds and experiences. What does all of this mean for educators in 2015 with such a heavy emphasis on performance, competition, and academic precision in our schools and classrooms?

We know that the more students understand how they think, process, connect and remember information, the better their learning. Recent research has also reported that working memory skills more than IQ are a better predictor of academic success.
When teachers model their own understanding of personal learning and coping strategies for their students, students pay attention! Story-telling, modeling, recognizing emotional interference and impact coupled with discussion are four powerful strategies creating brain states that grow! Our brains begin to process thinking and emotions with curiosity. Listed below are brain aligned metacognitive strategies that lay the foundation for metacognitive application while helping students to shift perspectives from an end result mentality to a process result emotional and mental state of mind.

1. Teach your students about their own unique neuro-anatomy! When children and adolescents understand the impact of emotions, stress, and memory ability on their learning, they are empowered and are given choices! Four neuroscience terms easily understood and shared can change the way students think about their thinking. These terms are neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to rewire and reshape its neural pathways based upon experiences, prefrontal cortex, amygdala and the hippocampus. The prefrontal cortex can be found when we place our hand on our forehead. It is here we problem solve, emotionally regulate and learn to pay attention. The amygdales are two neural shaped clusters of neurons in each hemisphere deep in the limbic system of our brains. When these are ignited we move to a fight flight freeze response and the prefrontal cortex shuts down. The hippocampus can be shown with our pointer finger curled down shaped like a seahorse. The hippocampus works beside the amygdala helping our brains to memorize and connect learning. In stress, the hippocampus cannot remember so well! Teachers need to know this but our students do too! Teaching our students what happens in our brains is intrinsically motivating. Knowing how stress distorts thinking is comforting to students. Students begin to understand stress and simply sharing their perceptions of stress lessens the stress while opening pathways to improved metacognitive thought processes.

2. How do you learn new information? How do you make connections with what you already know to what is being taught? As I stand before fifth and seventh grade students I begin to share. “For me, I need to read out loud while writing key words down in my notebook or textbook! I also use lots of colors to help address the most important parts I need to memorize.” Then the sharing begins. One student at a time begins to describe how he or she approaches new material and how they think and feel about it. We decide as a class that instead of a periodic chart, with listed elements, we will create a periodic table with learning strategies. We decide which wall to place this large colorful chart and then we discuss how seeing the different learning strategies will help us to choose one that we might have never considered.

3. How do you cope with emotional and social problems or challenges in your life? I begin to share and model a scenario with my students. “For me, I have a good talking to myself in private.” Here is what it may sound like. “Lori, take a deep breath or two and know that this problem has a solution somewhere in your brain. Let’s just list all the reasons why this might have happened and what you can begin to do with these options!” The students laugh a little and talk amongst themselves for a minute. We then slowly begin to share our coping strategies as a class! Some coping strategies discussed are: talking a walk, spending some time alone, talking the problem out with others, eating some ice cream or wheat thins and moving away from the challenge for a little while. This list begins to grow and purposefully we have created another colorful wall of metacognitive coping strategies in a periodic table format. The students understand that this colorful array of strategies allows them to choose a strategy that they might never have thought of in a heightened emotional moment.

4. Many of us use Do Nows to begin the day with students. The purpose of these short assignments is not to learn new content but to possibly review from the prior day or to even fill time while attendance and the logistics of the day are being tallied. Use this morning time to give each student a question on a colorful half sheet of paper accompanied with a fictitious problem to solve that is relatable to their experiences and worlds At the end of this time, create a class discussion around these questions . Not only will students begin to think about how they approach their thinking, but we will be given a valuable formative assessment tool! The Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching discusses the power of questions and self-assessment as we model metacognition for our students. Below are a few example questions.
A. What do I already know?
B. What confuses me?
C. What resources do I have?
D. What is a similar experience I have encountered?
E. How can I explore my mistakes to improve my understanding?

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