Research performed in the past few decades has demonstrated that we can improve reading skills by teaching students “metacognitive strategies.” By metacognition, we refer to enhancing one’s awareness of “what one believes and how one knows.” (Kuhn, 2000). In other words, the more we can teach students to be actively thinking about thinking as they learn, the more effective their learning will be.
In fact, we can teach students to become what Marcia Lovett of Carnegie Mellon University calls “expert learners.” According to Lovett (2008), teaching metacognition involves three specific processes:
- Teaching students that their ability to learn not only changes, but that they can affect how that ability develops,
- Teaching them how to plan for success and set goals, and
- Giving them lots of opportunities to monitor their learning and adapt their own learning strategies
According to Lovett’s research, an experimental group of students who used metacognitive strategies more strongly believed themselves to be effective learners, demonstrated greater motivation to learn, and achieved better academic performance than the control group. (2008)
What exactly do such metacognitive learning strategies look like in the classroom? Diane Dahl, in her blog post at The Educator’s PLN, shows how these ideas can be implemented in any number of ways, many times by simply tweaking existing instructional strategies. Here are a few recommendations based on her list.
- Give goals. Before a lesson begins, give clear goals for what they will be expected to learn from the experience.
- Pose questions. Posing questions before, during and after reading or instruction will help students to focus on the key points they should be learning.
- Offer opportunities to summarize and retell. Have students summarize or retell what they have read or heard. As they do this more and more, they will learn how to more effectively identify central ideas.
- Give self-monitoring strategies. Give students strategies for being aware of their own learning. For example, practice having students make a quiet “a HA” sound when they understand an idea or a “hmmm” sound when they don’t. This will help both teacher and students to know when a topic needs more attention.
- Engage the five senses. As students experience a text – whether they are reading it silently or out loud or it is being read to them – have them imagine using all five of their senses to experience the text. In their mind, what do they see, hear or smell? What does it feel like on their skin?
While it might be easiest to imagine implementing these kinds of strategies in reading instruction, they can be adapted for teaching any subject. The idea is simply to get students to be consciously aware of, and take charge of, their own learning. The more we can do that, the more effective we will be as teachers.