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Metacognition Monday

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In the 8 Days a Week post, I touched on some of the alliterative devices used to help frame a week. Frameworks help me focus: inviting students into my brain requires some house rules, ya know.

During my cohort’s masters program, our primary mentor and educational goddess, Dr. Schulhauser, introduced us to this word, ‘metacognition.’ She eased us into with masterful prestidigitation, a pedagogical slight of hand, we didn’t even realize we were deeply engaged in a lesson until she showed us what lay behind the curtain: we were thinking about our thinking.

But like all masters, understanding metacognition is deceptively simple. Though I’ve tried ‘Metacognition Mondays’ for a few years (except last year), I’ve been doing it slightly askew. The year before last, the wheels came off the bus. I told students that Mondays would be for reading, and then on Tuesdays we’d talk about it. Right. Nope. Of course I did all the tricks of the trade, but for obvious reasons to everyone else but me, reading time on a Monday was meant with resentment and oftentimes outright hostilities. I wonder now if I had strong guiding questions, or allowances for confusion? Was my classroom culture safe enough? Or were they just too tired and sleep hungover from the weekend to think at all?

My standard anecdote when introducing metacognition is to first explain the parts of the word:

meta: (overarching, bigger), self-referential

cognition: thinking

lost found

I bring them back to a time/place when they became lost from a parent. This is nearly a universal experience. What tends to happen is when conjuring this memory many students become engrossed in their story that the conversation becomes a bird-walking exercise. (You may want to caution students before using this metaphor, or allow for time for them to write first.) The point of the story is all of us move confidently through the world, and then WHAM we are lost. And we know it. And then finding our way un-lost is the trick.

unknown unknowns hell

Regardless of Monday morning morning-ness, metacognition is the key that unlocks all other discussions and learning. It’s that important. Every instance of close reading, writing, graphic organizers, student self-assessment, reflection, formative assessment is structured by metacognition. All learners must know when they’re confused or lost in order to grow. That confusion may come in the form of a misunderstanding, a mistake, or even reluctance. Perhaps even defiance. If a student feels too lost, the desire to simply give up can be overwhelming. Be clear with one and all: not everything is going to be an easy path, and it’s different for every learner.


One of the most comprehensive articles is Metacognition by Nancy Chick for Center for Teaching.  Stop reading this, and go read that.

And then read this to see why it’s important if I haven’t convinced you.

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