Helping Students Learn to Think About Their Thinking

Arguably, the movie Inception, which was released in 2010, was the movie of the decade.  It contained an all-star cast, grossed $820 million, and won four Oscar Awards.  What made it so compelling?  The “dream-within-a-dream” storyline.  

What in education could be as compelling?  Thinking about thinking.  In the book Learning and Leading With Habits of Mind: 16 Characteristics for Success, author, researcher, and educator A. L. Costa, identified and addressed a rather substantial list of habits beneficial for students, teachers, and schools.  Thinking about thinking (metacognition) made the list of characteristics.  

How do teachers help students in their classrooms learn to think about thinking?  The Centre for Teaching Excellence at the University of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada) has published the following suggestions for teaching metacognitive skills (

  1. Encourage goal-setting.
  2. Create “stop and think” moments in class.
  3. Ask students to think about how they have prepared for the day.
  4. Apply a “wrapper.”  Before a lesson, ask students to focus on a specific task (i.e. focus on note-taking).  Present the lesson and have students take notes.  After the lesson, ask students to share how their focus changed because of the note-taking.  That’s a wrap!
  5. Incorporate reflective questions at the end of an assignment. 
  6. Have students provide reflective comments on your feedback. 
  7. Model your metacognition.  Think aloud.  Demonstrate your own reflective processes. 
  8. Employ concept maps that show connections between topics and have students connect the dots on their own maps. 
  9. Make it all relevant.  Ask students how the content they are learning can be applied to current or future real-life scenarios.  

As you prepare for next week, think of ways you can incorporate these suggestions into your classroom practice.  You and your students will be glad you did!

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