THE BIG REVEAL: Model, Teach, Practise and Connect
THE EXPERT IN YOU
When I talk to adults about metacognition, I begin with a broken vacuum cleaner (a picture of it, that is) and ask, 'What would you do if your hoover was broken?’ Someone always says they would kick it, but most people take a more measured approach. They might begin by opening it up to see if anything is caught in it, perhaps checking to see if it's plugged in or if a fuse is blown. (If not, a kick might be useful. I once fixed a printer that way.) These are basic troubleshooting strategies, each decision informing the next. After a while, they might evaluate whether it’s time to buy a new hoover. This is a classic, everyday example of metacognitive regulation: planning, monitoring and evaluating our learning. This metacognitive regulation is informed by metacognitive knowledge, or what we know about: ourselves ('I can usually fix things that break'); the task ('I understand the basics of how a hoover operates'); and strategies ('When something breaks, I usually find a video online to help').
As adults, we are so used to this kind of thinking that we are hardly aware we are doing it, and even less aware that young people are still developing these important metacognitive skills. We have the gift of age (acquired metacognitive skills) and the curse of knowledge (being unaware of how much we know compared to what students may know). Our job as educators is to help students notice and articulate the strategies they use to solve problems, both successful and unsuccessful, and reflect on that process.
HOW TO IMPROVE METACOGNITION
The good news is that there is plenty of research indicating that we can teach metacognitive regulation to students through explicit instruction, lots of modelling and practice. Several large studies and reports have taken on the task of researching the 'how' of teaching metacognition. (Dignath and Büttner (2008), Hattie (2011a), Hattie et al. (1996), the EEF Guidance Report and Getting Started with Metacognition. Overall, evidence-informed recommendations for improving metacognitive skills include:
MODELLING: Modelling metacognitive thinking to help learners develop their metacognitive and cognitive skills.
EXPLICIT INSTRUCTION: Explaining what is meant by metacognition (or thinking about how we learn); explicitly teaching students metacognitive strategies; and embedding metacognitive instruction into content areas, rather than teaching as a separate ‘study skill’.
VERBALISATION: Verbalising metacognitive talk in the classroom; supporting students to strengthen their articulation skills in a safe environment.
DIFFERENTIATION: Considering the appropriate level of challenge and need for guidance for the learner’s developmental level (generally speaking, younger students need more scaffolding for this content).
SELF TALK: Infusing self-talk strategies help learners reframe thinking to impact their attitude and regulate emotion to cope with difficulty.
MODELLING IS A MUST
The best teachers know what they know and show how they think through modelling. Modelling is the vehicle for sharing the teacher’s learning process with students. When we model our thinking, we let learners inside our heads so that they can understand what expert thinking sounds like.
This live demonstration of our thinking, as we think aloud in front of the class, reveals deep understanding of the mysteries of the mind, including when one solves a maths problem, writes a sentence, reads difficult text, sets up an experiment, etc. Teachers should do this repeatedly, providing numerous examples of the thinking process, naming the steps and providing structures along the way. Naming the steps they take when solving a problem is important because novice learners will be using their working memories to sort through other information as they think; this allows them to focus on developing useful learning strategies, versus missing key information due to cognitive overload.
PUT IT INTO PRACTICE: Model, Teach, Practise and Connect
First, identify a learning objective and task you often ask students to do. Consider what students could be thinking that would help them to better self-regulate and meet the objective.
Plan what you are going to say when you model your thinking. Planning, at least at the start, means you don’t have to think on your feet and you can better monitor students’ attention. Think about what questions you will ask yourself before, during and after. Examples are in the chart below.
Use Model, Teach, Practise and Connect, a step-by-step guide to teach metacognition. Notice in the graphic below that after modelling the teacher explicitly goes over the steps and the thinking process. A visualiser teaching aid is an excellent tool for modelling thinking in real time. The visualiser can easily project a draft piece of work, a task to be completed or a mistake made, which the teacher can use as a live model for planning, monitoring or evaluation. In the final Connect step, an important tip for the teacher is to connect the thinking process (or decision-making) with what the students did in the task.
KEEP IT GOING
In order for metacognitive thinking to stick, it must be practised consistently, repeatedly applied to real learning contexts. As teachers progressively model and practise metacognition with their students, young thinkers begin to internalise these strategies and use them independently in everyday problem-solving. The more we model thinking in different situations, the better students develop tools to express ‘how’ they learn across different learning experiences and connect these specific moments to the broader aspects of the learning process that include: challenge, effort, practice, perseverance, resourcefulness, resilience, and feedback. This is one way of helping students connect the dots.
This blog is based on my new book called, Connect the Dots: The Collective Power of Relationships, Memory and Mindset in the Classroom with Nina Dibner and illustrated by Oliver Caviglioli, published by John Catt. The graphic is by Oliver Caviglioli and I did the hoover.