In this week’s online edition of Education Week I’ve contributed a post on metacognition and its importance for adolescent learning. There are several other posts on metacognition as well on Ed. Week’s blog ”Classroom Q & A with Larry Ferlazzo. Here’s my contribution:
Response From Thomas Armstrong
Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. is the author of 16 books including The Power of the Adolescent Brain: Strategies for Teaching Middle and High School Students (ASCD, 2016).
His book is available through ASCD, on Amazon, or through his website at: www.institute4learning.com
Follow him on Twitter @Dr_Armstrong
Metacognition is a word that was first used by Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget’s greatest American disciple John Flavell in the 1970’s. It essentially means ”thinking about thinking” or the capacity of the mind to reflect on its own working operations. While a great deal of emphasis has been placed on metacognition at all grade levels over the past couple of decades, I believe that from a developmental perspective its use is most appropriate in middle school and high school. Piaget’s model of cognitive development specifies that around the age of 11 or so children begin to move into the ”formal operational stage” of thinking. A key feature of that stage is the ability of the mind to reflect on itself and to operate on purely abstract ideas. Curiously, the advent of this stage coincides with a brief ”spike” in the growth of gray matter in the brain as measured by neuroscientists. The reason why metacognition is so important in education is that if students are able to understand their own working minds, they have the ability to transform their mental processes through planning, goal-setting, reflecting, being self-critical, self-monitoring, self-assessing, and self-regulating. Here are a few practical ways in which teachers can incorporate metacognition into their classrooms:
- engage your students in critical thinking (e.g. show them how to challenge received opinions, how evaluate sources for their reliability, and how argue both sides of a question)
- show students how to use metacognitive tools such as graphic organizers (e.g. mind-mapping, charts, Venn diagrams), think-alouds (where one’s internal problem-solving is externalized as speech), thinking journals (where students write down reflections and ideas that occur to them as they are learning), and heuristics (simple ”rules of thumb” useful in solving problems, such as ”understand the problem, make a plan, carry it out, evaluate it”)
- teach students how their brains work; this is especially important in the teen years when so much is going on in their bodies and minds that may seem confusing to them
- explain to students about the importance of a ”growth mind-set” – how intelligence and success have more to do with personal effort than innate ability
The real significance of metacognition is that by giving students the tools to enable them to ”think for themselves,” teachers are providing them with a gift they will be able to use for the rest of their lives.