Monday, January 13, 2014

A $3 Word That Is Worth Every Penny

We all know our share of “three-dollar words.” Gargantuan is just another word for big. Miniscule is the long way to say something tiny. However, in our estimation, metacognition is a three-dollar word that is worth every penny. 

The concept of metacognition is even more impressive than the word itself. Metacognition refers to “thinking about your thinking,” with the aim of improving learning. It’s a word that is at the foundation of the Thinking for Results approach that Marcus and I use in the graduate degree programs we have developed in brain-based teaching.

It is our firm belief that cognitive and metacognitive strategies can and must be explicitly taught in conjunction with core curriculum so that students can clearly see the benefit of reflecting on and regulating their thinking to improve such skills as reading comprehension and math problem solving.

As Emily Lai writes in a 2011 Pearson’s Research Report on metacognition, this instruction is most effective when it emphasizes “how to use strategies, when to use them, and why they are beneficial.” Our approach presents important “cognitive assets” students can learn to implement, monitor, and hone as they take charge of their learning.

We are always excited to discover and share research about metacognition, including recent findings that everyone from preschoolers to adults may benefit from learning to think about their thinking. Educational researchers have found that children as young as ages 3 to 5 can learn problem-solving strategies. At the other end of the age spectrum, Theo Dawson suggests in a 2008 Developmental Testing Service report that “it is important for even the most advanced adult learners to ‘flex their cognitive muscles’ by consciously applying appropriate metacognitive skills to new knowledge and in new situations.”

These findings are consistent with one key focus of our program—to encourage teachers to learn how to use and model metacognitive strategies in their professional and personal lives.

For more on the subject of metacognition, take a look at the guest column that I authored for the Johns Hopkins website.

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