by Dr. Marvin Marshall
Thinking about Thinking Is Essential for Learning
Metacognition is awareness of one's own thinking.
Metacognition is essential for developing critical thinking skills. The objective of metacognition is to have the learner become aware of his own cognitive processes and to become involved in understanding what he is thinking as he proceeds. The student is reflecting to see whether or not what he or she is doing is working.
Reflect on whether or not you hear yourself talking to yourself while solving this problem: How much is half of two plus two?
When we hear ourselves thinking, we are metacogitating. But do not assume that every student does it. For example, a student works on and solves a problem, and the teacher says, "Tell us how you solved that problem." And the student says, "I don't know; I just did it." This shows a lack of metacognitive awareness.
Students often attempt to solve a problem or analyze a situation without thinking. The answer may be so obvious that they just say it. There are many situations that can be dealt with successfully in this way. However, a problem arises when this approach does not work because the task has become too complex. For students who are habituated to thinking at the perceptual level, and who have not developed cognitive tools, such problems appear to be "too much" for them to deal with, and they just give up. The inability to take charge of one's own cognitive processes is a very large part of the at-risk/dropout problem--as well as discipline problems.
Although mastering subject matter is important, strategies to increase thinking power are equally important. Schooling today emphasizes "correct" answers and single solutions. But in so many situations, it is not how many correct answers one knows, but rather how one proceeds when one does not know--as when confronted with problems, dilemmas, enigmas, and situations to be addressed, the answers to which are not immediately known or readily available. This is becoming truer every day in the rapidly changing information age.
When faced with a task, most of us just start doing that which seems to be the proper thing, giving thought to what we do only if it becomes necessary. For example, when driving an automobile, we stop at a red light "automatically" because we have habituated the process. If we encounter a flashing red light, a situation that is not quite so common, we then start thinking. In school, the difference between those who succeed in doing the more complex tasks of cognition and those who do not is that successful students have learned to be conscious of what they are doing. They do not act impulsively or intuitively when it is inappropriate to do so.
As soon as a routine has been developed, the amount of thinking is reduced. This is the time to introduce a more difficult or complex task. Conscious thinking is forced back into play. This oscillation between a routine way of dealing with a task and the development of different approaches to deal with more complex tasks increases thinking power.
A good way to build awareness and improve thinking skills is to have students talk about what is going inside their heads when they are approaching a task, instead of focusing on their getting the right answer. Practice with the intent of keeping the thinking process going--to sustain "openture" rather than coming to closure.
Ask questions such as, "What was going inside your head to come up with that answer?" "What was your strategy?" "How else could you have done that?" Talking about thinking begets more thinking. Teachers can model their own metacognition process to help students become more aware.
Still another approach is to ask questions such as, "Give me three reasons why this is the wrong choice." In answering such a question, students learn to make comparisons--one of the essential cognitive functions. In the process, students not only learn to develop criteria for making comparisons, they become aware that they are doing so.
Notice that asking questions, which encourage thinking and reinforces understanding, is more effective than the common approach of giving praise. Specific feedback is most useful. For example, rather than saying to a student, "That is a good job," the teacher would say, "You seem to be getting the hang of it, don't you think? Would you like to show me another example?" The student learns that he is gaining competence.
Rather than focusing on judging and ranking, the teacher becomes a mediator who helps students draw useful lessons from their own experiences. This includes understanding why success was attained or why there was a failure and what to do about it. The objective of metacognition becomes--not one of testing for information--but rather of gaining insight into how the student is reasoning.
Ideas for implementing the discipline system that promotes both responsibility and learning using concepts of Stephen Covey (proaction), William Glasser (noncoercion), W. Edwards Deming (collaboration and empowerment) and Abraham Maslow (hierarchy and autonomy) is described at http://www.MarvinMarshall.com
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Dr. Marshall's website: http://www.MarvinMarshall.com
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© Dr. Marvin Marshall, 2003.
Questions submitted to Kathleen Carpenter at email@example.com will be considered by Marv Marshall for responses in future monthly columns in the Teachers.Net Gazette.
Gazette Articles by Dr. Marshall:
- Ronald Reagan and the Art of Influence (June 2009)
- Discipline Is a Liberating Word (May 2009)
- Eliciting vs. Punishments (Apr. 2009)
- Habit vs. Awareness for the 3 Practices and for the Hierarchy of Social Development (Mar. 2009)
- How to Be Consistent (Feb. 2009)
- Teaching is an Art, Not a Science (Jan. 2009)
- Tapping Into Internal Motivation (Dec. 2008)
- People Do Better When They Feel Good (Nov. 2008)
- The Brain and Sleep (Oct. 2008)
- Using a Butterfly Analogy to Explain the Hierarchy of Social Development (Sept. 2008)
- 5 Classroom Tips (Aug. 2008)
- Discipline Without Stress, Inc. (July 2008)
- Visualization (June 2008)
- Promoting Responsibility - Or How Not To (May 2008)
- Immaculate Perception (April 2008)
- A System Is Superior To Talent (Mar. 2008)
- To promote responsibility, Elicit Rather Than Impose (Feb. 2008)
- Understanding Boys (Jan. 2008)
- Descartes' Error: I think; therefore, I am (July 2003)
- Metacognition -- Thinking about Thinking Is Essential for Learning (June 2003)
- Listening Lessons -- How to Help Kids Learn and Comprehend (May 2003)
- Approaches of Outstanding Teachers (Apr 2003)
- Using a Discipline Approach to Promote Learning (Mar 2003)
- Curriculum, Instruction, Classroom Management, and Discipline (Feb 2003)
- Learning and Relationships, The two are inseparable (Jan 2003)
- Accountability in Schools (Dec 2002)
- Suggestions For Motivation (Nov 2002)
- Given Names - When NOT to Use Them and when TO Use Them (Oct 2002)
- The Power Of Hierarchies (Sept 2002)
- Use the Language You Want Learned (Aug 2002)
- Observations From Last Year (July 2002)
- How The Horse Whisperer Trains a Wild Mustang in 30 Minutes (June 2002)
- Using Breath Management for Better Listening and Voice Preservation (May 2002)
- Reducing Stress By Promoting Responsibility--Rather than by Attempting to Manipulate Behavior (Apr 2002)
- Rules Vs. Expectations (Mar 2002)
- How to Achieve 100 Per Cent Student Participation (Feb 2002)
- Positivity, Choice, and Reflection Exercise for Students (Jan 2002)
- Learning Climate (Dec 2001)
- Reflection and Self-Evaluation (pt 3) (Nov 2001)
- Reflection and Self-Evaluation (pt 2) (Sep 2001)
- Reflection and Self-Evaluation (pt 1) (May 2001)
- The Empowerment Of Choice (pt 2) (Apr 2001)
- The Empowerment Of Choice (pt 1) (Mar 2001)
- Power Of Positivity (pt 2) (Feb 2001)
- Power Of Positivity (Jan 2001)
- Home Assignments (Dec 2000)
- Collaboration is the Key (Nov 2000)
- Classroom Meetings (Aug 2000)
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