In learning, meta-cognition is a Holy Grail. Meta-cognition is a process of thinking about one’s own thinking, or of ‘being aware.’ Generally speaking, people are aware of their thoughts and acts of meta-cognition are not uncommon. Meta-cognition accompanies reflective and analytic thoughts and provides insight on why a person thinks or does something.
This cognitive process is as useful for academic, professional, and personal reasons as any thought process which we use; the complexity is understanding how to bring it about in student learning and daily living.
Writing and discussion are two of the surest ways to get at this. A single reflective journal entry, however, does not accomplish the task. A single reflective journal entry which is read, responded to, and asked questions of will be more effective in getting a student to think about why they think or believe whatever it is they wrote. Asking a student why they think something leads them down the path of meta-cognitive thought.
Discussion is another avenue to bring about meta-cognitive thought. Speaking and listening – with the freedom to express one’s honest viewpoint – is essential in developing understanding and awareness. Challenging a student’s opinion on an issue in such a way that they must rise above it (meta means above) and consider it from a new perspective can go a long way in developing meta-cognitive thought. However, the importance of students feeling free to openly express themselves is paramount. If they are not expressing honest thoughts, the opportunity to think meta-cognitively is lost.
Of course, not all students love all subjects. Just as many students fear Algebra, many students feel that they are “bad at English.” This is not so. It is a matter of perception and learning strategies. It may be that if a student who believes they are not strong in reading and writing approaches those tasks like a math problem rather than as a moment of literary analysis, it will make more sense.
Throughout all steps of a learning process, moments of meta-cognition surface that aid in learning. When someone “speaks to them self” when they are in the midst of a process-oriented task and are self-directing through their own words, this is a meta-cognitive strategy. Often, this is a very effective strategy in mathematics and scientific processes. Many of the scaffolds that we use to remember or self-direct are meta-cognitive strategies which each individual has adapted so it works best for them.
People are smart. They know how they learn best and those talents should be harnessed in all areas of academic learning. Particularly when a student is learning something new, using what they know and taking the time to think about how one piece of knowledge or learning strategy supports the new subject, can provide the bridge to understanding.
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