Metacognition means thinking about thinking. Students who engage in metacognition give themselves opportunities to reflect on, refine and develop their thinking. Here are some examples that illustrate the point:
- A Maths student who makes a series of mistakes during a set of exercises, then goes back and tries to work out why they made these mistakes, how they could avoid them in the future and whether there is a rule they could apply to ensure they always do this.
- A Physical Education student who is consistently hitting the ball higher than they would like. They decide to slow down their action and watch what they are doing just before they strike the ball. On doing this they notice their body position is unbalanced. Armed with this information they adjust their striking position and practice hitting the ball a number of times while also analysing the impact of the change.
- An English student who finds their sentences getting longer and longer as a piece of writing progresses. They stop, re-read their work and come to the conclusion that they knew what they wanted to say at the beginning, but lost the thread as the work progressed. Hence why they started to ramble. In response, the student takes a few minutes to think about what they now want to say, makes a note of this and then uses this to structure the rest of their work.
Note how in each example the student’s actions are animated by an underlying premise: my thinking is open to change and I can change it. There is no suggestion in any of the cases that the student’s thinking is innate, fixed or unalterable.
This leads us to the point that students with a growth mindset are more likely to engage in metacognition, and that in so doing they are likely to reap rewards we would wish for every learner.
Following on from this, we can say that promoting metacognition to all students is one way through which we can promote growth mindsets. Especially if we stress the malleability of thinking, drawing students’ attention to the power they have to refine and develop their own thought processes.
Promote metacognition in your classroom, tying it to the habits and underlying premise of a growth mindset. Here are five techniques you can employ:
- Build in reflection time during which the focus is on metacognition.
- Ask students questions about their thinking and discuss their answers with them.
- Compare different ways of thinking about a problem and talk your class through how they can change and adapt their own thinking.
- Create a wall display tracking the thinking strategies students develop and refine over the course of a term.
Give students time halfway through a lesson to discuss thinking strategies with each other – they can use the results of this discussion to inform their subsequent work.