Metacognition: Thinking About Thoughts and Learning from Them
In part 3 of our blog series on mindfulness, we take a look at metacognition. We’re going to discuss how to introduce ‘thinking about thoughts’ to your pupils and how to get them to harness their thinking processes to improve their learning and overcome obstacles.
What is Metacognition?
In its simplest form, metacognition is ‘thinking about thinking’. But really it goes much further than this. Metacognition, or reflecting on our thoughts, gives us an insight into our feelings, needs and behaviour. It also helps us to learn and adapt to new experiences, challenges and setbacks. Metacognition allows us to take notice of the ongoing conversation we have inside our heads. Teaching pupils to use metacognition proactively can help them to overcome obstacles, and become a powerful tool in their skillset.
‘Metacognitive thinking teaches us about ourselves’ says Tamara Rosier, a learning coach who specialises in metacognitive techniques. ‘Thinking about our thinking creates perspective – perspective that leaves room for change.’
So, using metacognition can help pupils to become independent learners, as well as being more resilient. By recognising thought patterns when they hit an unexpected obstacle, pupils can develop ways to overcome them that are personal and effective.
Thinking About Thinking
Asking pupils to think about their own thought processes can be daunting, some of them may never have thought about their inner conversations in depth before. Here is an easy exercise to get your pupils started.
Put up a paragraph of writing (preferably non-fiction) on the board in your classroom. This could be linked to your current topic work or be something that you find interesting. We like to use this simple mindfulness explanation from greatergood.berkeley.edu:
‘Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle nurturing lens. Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them -without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.’
You can choose a simpler and/or shorter paragraph for younger pupils. Ask your pupils to read through the passage in their head once or twice. Now ask them whose voice did they hear reading the passage to them in their head? Was it their own? Was it yours, their teacher? The majority will probably say that it is their own. Now ask your pupils to read the passage again, in their head, using the voice of someone of the opposite gender. Was this difficult? Whose voice did they hear this time? Was it a friend, parent or someone famous?
This is a great way to draw pupils’ attention to their inner voice and acknowledge the thought processes that go into a seemingly simple task such as reading.
Using Metacognition to Question Negative Thoughts
How do we use this awareness to quieten our inner critic and become more resilient? We do this by questioning our negative thoughts. Instead of a pupil thinking ‘I’m really nervous about the maths exam, I think I’m going to fail’, we need to encourage them to consider why they are nervous and what they can do to change this.
‘Kids who are taught to think of themselves as being “good” or “bad” at a particular task can have a fixed mindset that makes them passive in approaching a challenge: either they can do it or they can’t, but they aren’t likely to think they can change that outcome … Teaching kids to become more metacognitive helps them move from a mindset that leaves little room for change to a mindset which promotes self-awareness and resilience.’ childmind.org.
Encourage your pupils to work on their metacognition by asking them questions. Your questions should be:
• Open-ended – give your pupils the opportunity to reflect on their thinking – can you tell me why you think that?
• Non-blaming – asking pupils to think about their behaviour or thinking can help them to learn to manage difficult situations more ably. Why do you feel nervous about the test?
• Solution-focused – Encourage pupils to think about how they can use their new understanding of their thought processes in the future – how will you prepare for the test next time?
• Process-oriented – Ask them questions that will give them a better understanding of their thought processes – How will you know when you’re ready for the test?
As your pupils become more familiar with metacognitive techniques, they will become able to self-assess their thinking processes and their learning progress. They will be able to build up a personal toolkit of things that help them to learn and help them to handle unexpected or high-stress situations more calmly and systematically.
PTS has some brilliant self-assessment stampers that can help your pupils to consider their classwork and make steps to improve their learning, as well as giving feedback to their teacher. Take a look here.
In part 4 of our Mindfulness blog series, available next week, we take a look at the statistics around mental health in school and how mindfulness can help.
Mindfulness Part 1: Classroom energy levels can vary greatly depending on the time of day, subject, activity, school events and even the teacher’s mood. But energy levels are incredibly important for retaining information. So, how can mindfulness help you to create the right kind of energy in your classroom? Find out in the first of our mindfulness blog series here.
Mindfulness Part 2: In part two of our brand-new blog series on mindfulness, we take a look at introducing mindfulness into your classroom. Firstly, we’ll take a look at the basics of mindfulness and why it works well in the classroom, before we move on to how to make paying attention a positive, how to set your mindfulness ground rules and your first full mindfulness activity for your pupils. Read the blog here.
St David’s Day: On 1st March each year, Wales celebrates St David’s Day. This special day, Dydd Gŵyl Dewi in Welsh, is celebrated across Wales, and by Welsh people around the world. We’ve got some handy information to share with your class, including who St David was and his relationship with Wales. Find out more here.