|2011-01-31||Steve Gardiner||Metacognition and Thursday Thoughts|
Metacognition is the act of thinking about one's own thinking. What do I know about this topic? What have I learned about this topic? How has my thinking changed about this topic? What do I still need to learn about this topic?
This year I tried an experiment in metacognition with my sophomore English classes. First, I explained what metacognition is, how it works, and why a person might engage in it. We decided one writing each week would be enough, and in looking for a catchy name, settled on Thursday Thoughts. We took ten minutes of class each Thursday (although occasionally a Thursday Thought happened on Wednesday or Friday depending on what else was happening in class) to write, and I invited students to add to this writing throughout the week if ideas came to them.
The prompt for the writing was, “What have you learned in the last week?” We discussed that learning can take place in many venues—in English class, science class, math class, woodworking class, music class, sports practice, club meeting, after-school job, or home. I asked them to reflect on the most important things they had learned and include thoughts about why the learning was important.
I explained that the Thursday Thought was an experiment on my part, an attempt to help them think about their own learning and give me an insight into the students in my class at the same time. I noted that they could write on more than one topic for an entry, continue writing on a previous topic, and could use any mode of writing they felt most comfortable with. If it feels like poetry, I said, then use poetry. If prose will work best, use that.
I did not set a length for each entry, asking the students instead to write what they needed to cover the topic or topics they chose. We discussed how often they should be turned in to me. No one wanted to turn them in each week, so we settled on once per six-weeks grading period.
During the first writing session, one important question was asked. “Are you going to read these?” I responded that that was my intent, reminding them that learning more about each student was a goal of mine. The follow up question was, “What if I write about something I don't want you to read?” That's a legitimate question, so I explained that I would like to read as many as possible because that will help me, but I will also respect a request not to read an entry. I gave them the opportunity to either write “Do Not Read” on top or to show me the paper without handing it in, and I would grade that.
The experiment with Thursday Thoughts was a success. Because students had wide choices on what to write about and the mode they wanted to use to express their ideas, they were very interesting to read. They wrote about science experiments, math concepts, historical events, human relationships, family interactions, friendship, personal growth, and individual goals. As I expected, their writings helped me understand each of them better, gave me an insight into how they think and learn, and helped me see ways to work with both individual students and the groups better.
Most wrote about half a page for each entry. They weren't long, but in most cases, they were important ideas showing good thinking and metacognition. Students were very capable of writing about their own thinking and examining what was important in their learning. They were willing to share their thoughts, even proud of what they had written, and only two students requested that I not read their writings.
Thursday Thoughts turned out to be an easy way to connect my students with their own learning across many venues in their lives, and it is an effective way to connect me to their thinking and ideas. Some were even surprised, as they paused to think and write about it, how much learning was going on in their lives. That, in itself, is enough to make Thursday Thoughts worthwhile.