One such teacher is Diane Dahl. One of the most important things Diane took away from our program was how to teach students how to use higher order thinking skills alongside key content she teaches.
As an example, Diane framed her lesson in a way that second graders discovering how the Chinese invention of paper changed the world spontaneously were able to connect their new knowledge to a previous lesson on Sequoyah’s creation of a writing system for the Cherokee people.
The students are making the most of another lesson on how their brains learn by connecting new information to what they already know. They model this aspect of metacognition, or “thinking about your thinking and what you know,” with an intricate, ever-growing sculpture of pipe cleaners that represents how the brain makes learning connections. The second graders and Diane regularly label and link new topics to previous lessons woven into the sculpture.
In our books and educational presentations, Marcus and I frequently use the metaphor of teaching students to be the “boss of their brains.” We explore that concept thoroughly in our new book, Teaching Students to Drive Their Brains: Metacognitive Strategies, Activities, and Lesson Ideas.
Decades of educational research have established that learning gains result from explicitly teaching cognitive strategies children and youth can use to explore, understand, and apply new concepts. To help our young develop metacognition, teachers and parents can model these strategies and reinforce their use by children.
There are several aspects of metacognition you can use with children in the classroom and at home. We recommend the following:
- Think out loud. Model catching and correcting your own mistakes, using context to establish meaning, and finding clues in titles and illustrations.
- Connect new learning to what children already know, and point out when they make those connections on their own.
- Embrace curiosity. Answer questions with an invitation: “Let’s find out.” Consult books, encyclopedias, and websites. Go to the library.
- Help children to summarize what they are learning—and how.