Metacognition is thinking about your own thinking, learning, memory and mental strategies. When a child understands what she knows and what she can do, and has a sense of what she does not know and what she cannot do, she is using metacognition. According to author and professor Robert Fisher, encouraging children to use metacognition allows them to “make the most of their mental resources." Metacognition skills have been linked to the development of reading and writing skills, as well as progress in science and math.
Piaget believed metacognition naturally developed in children as they realized others had different points of view. Allowing children to talk about what they are doing and giving them an opportunity to share ideas with others facilitates this growth. A learning environment that provides a culture encouraging mistakes and revisions also supports metacognition. Through revisions and multiple attempts, young students start collecting related information and noticing they are doing so (see reference 2, page 163). They also become more aware of their memory.
Awareness of Knowledge
Prior to understanding that they are thinking, children need to become aware that they possess knowledge. As a teacher you can help demonstrate their knowledge by pointing it out: "You knew just where to find the matching card," or by asking questions: "Do you know how many more need to be added so we have five trucks." During reading, ask questions about content: "what is the name of Charlie's dog?"
Awareness of Thinking
To help young students become aware of their own thinking, you can demonstrate your awareness of your thinking. Think out loud in front of the children and encourage them to do the same: “I was just thinking that we should do a science activity now. What do you think?" During reading time you can ask questions about what a character might be thinking: "What is the little girl thinking about?" Seeking verbal responses from children allows them to hear each other and consider different perspectives.
Awareness of Strategies
Your goal with your students is to help them improve their problem-solving skills and develop their own learning strategies. According to Linda Darling-Hammond and colleagues, building on children's previous knowledge and actively assisting with sense-making will help them see the utility of strategic learning. With your young students you can facilitate this by asking them to predict outcomes: "What will happen if we try to put more liquid in this full container?" and make choices: "Do you want to help put toys away or wipe the table?" (see reference 2).
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