Metacognition means the awareness and comprehension of one's own thinking and learning process. Strategies that help students do this can be applied to any subject matter. Metacognition -- thinking about thinking and learning how to learn -- may seem simple and obvious, but understanding it and incorporating metacognitive techniques in instruction gives learners an array of strategies to help them master anything they need to learn.
Thinking Right Out Loud
A core technique in metacognitive teaching is the "think-aloud," wherein teachers or students verbalize their own thought process in approaching a book, a problem or an experiment. It consists of consciously breaking down the brain's work into bite-size pieces by applying metacognitive strategies. Teachers can model the strategies for the students by thinking aloud themselves, noting and describing their decision-making process. Students can then use the think-aloud tactic either orally or in writing.
The Planning Phase
Students can learn to identify and improve the process they go through getting ready to read, write or solve problems. Questions they learn to ask themselves -- such as "What is my goal here?" "What do I need to do first?" and "What do I already know about this subject that can help me understand?" -- may seem obvious, but asking and answering them can help students prepare a solid foundation for new learning.
The Monitoring Phase
Teach students to pay attention to how their brains are handling the information they are taking in. Monitoring questions -- from a general "Do I understand what the author is saying here?" to "Which pieces of information are most important to remember?" or "Am I sure I understand what that word means?" -- raise important awareness of how learning is actually taking place and what needs to be explained or strengthened. Meanwhile, they reduce the likelihood that a student will read a text or hear a lecture without truly learning the material.
The Evaluation Phase
Have your students to do a mental wrap-up at the end of a reading, lecture or other lesson. Ask them to determine what it is that they have learned, summarizing key points in a way they will be able to remember, looking for gaps in their understanding that need to be filled in, and analyzing the tactics they have used that may be applied to future situations. Having the students do think-alouds to evaluate their experience, either orally or in writing, provides invaluable feedback on both the processes they're using and the way you're teaching.
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