Many schools globally are becoming attuned to the benefits of implementing metacognition into classrooms, supporting the teaching and learning process to achieve more manageable and positive outcomes.
In previous articles, I have explored some of the key reasons why educators should implement metacognitive strategies within the classroom, along with tips on planning for metacognition in the classroom, and supporting students to use metacognitive strategies during exams, but a recently published research article caught my eye that explored classroom circumstances that can interfere with metacognitive activity.
Being aware of such circumstances is critical for classroom teachers who are trying to improve metacognitive activity in their classrooms, to take action to prevent regular interference when pupils may be engaged, absorbed and developing their thinking during a lesson.
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The five circumstances identified within the study are: simplicity; self-confident attitudes; environmental triggers; social triggers, and; teachers’ own way of thinking. I’ll now explore these in a little more detail.
Pitching lessons to the right level for the students can be difficult at the best of times, and ensuring that the level of questioning helps develop our pupils is an art within itself. However, simple ideas and questions inevitably produce simple answers quickly, without any thought. Simple ideas and questions, therefore, do not help develop internal thought-processes, dialogues or considerations as responses are quick, automated and require few cognitive resources.
Fix: The fix is simple. Give careful consideration to the ideas and questions you are going to ask your students during the lesson. Differentiation is a key aspect of such considerations, and you may need to target certain questions to certain individuals to ensure that they are able to develop their thinking and progress.
2. Self-confident attitudes
With a diverse set of students often comes a diverse set of attitudes, skills and social norms. Clearly, this is to be celebrated, but students who have an overconfident view of their abilities can actually inhibit their own understanding of what is being taught, impacting on a rational and considered thought process.
Fix: Be aware of those students who display overconfidence in your subject. Celebrate understanding of knowledge, and abilities displayed that show considered thought-processes. Overconfidence is often associated with automated thinking and biases that are ingrained, so help unpeel such attitudes to develop more considered thought processes.
3. Environmental triggers
Distractions, tools or periods of time can limit thought-processes. It is not always possible to control environmental distractions (an aeroplane flying low overhead, a colleague coming in for ‘a quick chat’, for example), but you can minimise other distractions that can inhibit thought-processes. Be aware of Cognitive Load Theory (see the UKEd.Wiki site here for more information) and the distractions that may be on display within your own classroom environment adding to an overload of cognitive processes.
Fix: Be in control of possible environment and classroom distractions that could inhibit metacognitive thought processes. Remove classroom implements that could distract from the task in hand, when they are truly not required.
4. Social Triggers
Social life is inherently important to young people, as they try to find their place in the world. Group dynamics are going to play a big factor in how an individual works when completing a task, as results are likely to be negative when working with people they don’t associate with. Along with group working dynamics, be aware of a lack of collaborative working skills with individuals that may need to be developed and nurtured over time. Crucially, consider any inappropriate interventions made by you, or other adults working with students, that could impact on the conversations or metacognitive thought-processes.
Fix: Sometimes, it may be more appropriate to allow students to develop their own thinking and learning without intervention from the teacher. Be aware of what is happening with different groups and individuals, and even allow them to learn from mistakes to develop. Although you may feel guilty about standing back and allowing them to work their own ways to a conclusion, it is actually more beneficial for them to help develop problem solving and metacognitive skills.
5. Teachers’ own way of thinking
As a teacher, it is important to be aware of your own biases and ways of thinking that can interfere with students spontaneous metacognitive activities. Yes, scaffolding learning is an important metacognition activity that should be evident in most classrooms, but allow students time and space to develop their own agency, choices and to process the learning that has taken place.
Fix: As a teacher, reflect. Although one way of working and developing learning might work for you, as an individual, it might not work for others. Offer your ways of working as an option, but be aware that other ways of working will work differently for others. Give students time and space to develop their own metacognitive agency and time to allow cognitive processing of the information absorbed.
Clearly, there will be other day-to-day distractions or circumstances that will negatively impact on the teaching and learning undertaken within any classroom, but being aware of the dynamics within your own setting that can interfere with metacognitive activity is a major step in developing a positive learning environment. Control what is controllable, reflect on your own teaching practices and help nurture an environment that celebrates agency, collaborative learning and space for metacognitive thinking.