metacognition

Ways that Teachers Think about and Use Time in the Classroom

Teaching holds the tension between certainty and ambiguity. When teachers plan units and lessons, we draw upon our craft knowledge to design a series of experiences with logic, flow, coherence, and outcomes, to name a few aspects. And teaching is ambiguous at the same time because in the course of a lesson, students respond in individual ways. In the tension of both certainty and ambiguity, teachers are always considering time.

Costa and Garmston (2013) name a few ways that teachers think about time. We understand that these ways also represent how time dimensions impact the teacher’s thinking while teaching.

Sequence

The authors define this time dimension as the order in which a teacher decides how instruction will proceed. When we plan lessons, we often deliberately question what should happen first, then next and next, in order to shape and direct what we intend students to know, understand and be able to do. We look at short-range planning such as within a unit of inquiry, and we also design the long-term planning such as in a yearlong overview, or an entire program of inquiry.

Because we think deeply about factors like student readiness and developmental progression of cognitive processes such as concept formation and ability to think abstractly, sequence is an important dimension of time for teachers.

Simultaneity

The Twitterchat on Approaches to Teaching and Learning brought the idea that the multiple dimensions of a school program are braided. (During the chat, we discussed that ‘woven’ was not as precise a term for our program intentions as ‘braided.’ In braids, we can see the strands and interconnections more clearly, and each strand in the braid remains distinct; whereas in a weave, it is difficult to see individual strands and their distinct identities and forms.) In may ways, a lesson is braided in that we are constantly, at the same time, holding on to different layers of learning – the content, concepts, context(s) and construct as it applies to our plans and as it applies to each learner’s experience.

The dimension of simultaneity in the classroom is described by Costa and Garmston (2013) as the ability of the teacher to hold many layers of conscious intentions at the same time. For example, in any given unit of inquiry, a teacher might keep in mind the learning target for the particular lesson, while also being mindful of the conceptual framework; the content that best unpacks and illustrates the conceptual focus; the skills that are targeted for the unit; when to rehearse; the different entry points and pathways individual students might choose to take toward understanding; and a myriad of other, equally important learning events happening at the same time.

Dimensions of Metacognition

Metacognition is a person’s capacity to “stand outside themselves” (Costa and Garmston, 2013, p. 143) and hold at least two threads of thinking at the same time: the thinking that follows the logic and flow of the intended learning experience and all that the teacher does to make it happen, as well as the thinking about his or her words and actions and thinking as he or she facilitates the learning. Teachers who are metacognitive thinkers and emotionally intelligent, for instance, constantly read the learners in the room. They take in the nonverbal cues from students and adjust accordingly. They are always making careful and attentive observations and choose congruent behaviors to either slow down, speed up, pause for rehearsal, and other instructional decisions that arise form their own metacognition.

Metacognition is an additional source of time dimensions because of lesson factors such as pace, self-correction, pedagogical prioritizing, and reflection.

Pace

Pace is an important part of metacognition. Assessing the environment and the students’ responses in light of the learning targets and the process among other factors pose questions like whether the teacher should go faster or slow down, when to pause and reteach in different ways, and how to support students who have already learned the material, students who need more time or ways to access it, and all the conditions in between.

Self-Correction

An effective teacher uses his or her metacognitive thinking to discern a complex set of influences on their instruction. For instance, she might ask questions like:

  • How does my own set of learning preferences and strengths hinder my understanding of how my students might experience the lesson?
  • Do I understand how they struggle with concepts I naturally grasped when I was their grade level?
  • What big ideas are we touching on? What universal, human contexts might they anchor this concept to?
  • How do I know each student grasps the concept?
  • Are my students gaining a better understanding of how context frames their learning? Can they shift perspective?

Teachers self-correct based on thousands of different data points they glean from the environment, including their reading of the learners in the room. This self-correction is a series of time decisions because what’s important to the learners does take more time, take less time, and/or repurposes the time allocated for lessons.

Pedagogical priorities

Teachers have a wide range of instructional strategies that they might call upon in planning and also implement during ‘teachable moments’ that emerge from classroom events. When teachers have to shift instruction suddenly due to cues from how the learners are responding and events in the classroom, the prioritizing that happens results in somewhat different uses of time than what might have been previously planned.

Flexible teachers recognize that learning is not one-size-fits-all, and the priorities he or she decided upon might change due to previous learning or levels of readiness in the students.

The craftsman-like teacher is continually learning to expand their quiver of instructional strategies to address the many ways students can meet learning targets.

Reflection

Reflection is understood to be looking back at self. Teachers who use time to reflect on practice generally are self-directed learners. They self-monitor, self-modify and self-manage (Costa and Garmston, 2013).

When teachers reflect about a lesson or unit, they are essentially taking time to self-assess whether their intentions (learning targets or objectives) align with the outcomes (assessment of learning).

Often, reflection is done after an event, such as a lesson or after having taught a unit. Reflection is metacognitive thinking in that it can also happen at the moment of action. This type of reflection might be akin to mindfulness because using metacognitive thinking, a person can “know intentions and choose congruent behaviors” (Costa and Garmston).

Reflection can greatly impact the efficiency of instruction as it might yield a panoramic consciousness of all that schools do (Dufour and Dufour, 1998).

  • What will our students learn?
  • How do we know they are learning?
  • How will we respond when they are not learning?
  • How will we respond when they already know it?

The many ways that teachers have to consider time and its dimensions in the classroom is complex, adaptive work.

 

 

Photo Credit:
Monarch emerging from coccoon By Seney Natural History Association – A Monarch Emerging from Cocoon, CC BY-SA 2.0

References

Dufour, R. and Eaker, R. (1998). Professional Learning Communities at Work: Best Practices for Enhancing Student Achievement. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Costa A. and Garmston, R. (2013). Cognitive Coaching; Developing Self-Directed Leaders and Learners. NY: Rowman and Littlefield.

An Inquiry into Time, Thought and Identity

Metacognition within perceptions of time and self mediates attention. As an approach to learning skill, metacognition involves knowledge of cognition, which allows a person to actively control thinking during the thinking process. Hence it is often defined as “thinking about thinking.” Approaches to learning such as ways to monitor understanding, evaluating process and progress of learning, and making decisions about use of time are metacognitive approaches (Livingston, 1997). When a learner is able to control thinking using different strategies or approaches, he or she is able to adjust, evaluate and readjust a myriad of factors surrounding the environment and process of learning he or she uses to improve learning. Metacognition supports self-regulation by allowing the learner to practice targeted attention (Goleman, 2013) to factors such as the learning environment, process, time, and personal investments in these.

Strategies allow for the abstraction of metacognition to become concrete, practical approaches. An example would be while reading actively, the reader uses questions as self-tests for comprehension and monitors the effectiveness of the strategy in terms of the learning objective (comprehension). The strategy of using questions is a cognitive move, while the strategy of monitoring its effectiveness is metacognitive (Livingston, 1997). Learners practicing metacognition while learning develop and use feedback systems to self-direct learning.

Cognitive Strategy Instruction (CSI) is a tool that is worth mentioning in instruction about thinking. A simple way of expressing this tool is to ask students to think of “How do I do this and why am I doing it this way?” The how is the cognitive move, while the why involves finding approaches to monitoring the thinking. CSI is based on the Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) model used in teaching writing. In the SRSD model, students who are producing text are asked to perform the following explicit cognitive and metacognitive moves (Council for Exceptional Children, 2009):

  • Self-monitoring as a goal is set and a process designed for students to make the process visible
  • Self-instruction as the students discuss the process and decisions made, use a checklist, use a visible guide for the writing process
  • Self-reinforcement can involve self-talk, use of additional reading or research to keep the flow of the process going
  • Metacognition through modeling think- or read-alouds
  • Self-assessment through a checklist or cue cards, or ways to use questions to evaluate own performance, such as developing a rationale for writer’s choices

An interesting idea in the inquiry towards nurturing agile thinkers is the effects on perceptions of time on how learners learn. Time to think is a requirement for effective self-directed learning.

Being busy without time for reflection creates a mental environment of ceaseless action without deep thought. With this condition, how might we allow for insight, solution design, and making connections?

Photo By Brocken Inaglory. The image was edited by user: Alvesgaspar - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Photo By Brocken Inaglory. The image was edited by user: Alvesgaspar – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

We know that engagement in immediate tasks at hand allow for the possibility of flow: concentration which stretches thinking and capacity. Time for self-reflection is crucial for tasks that ask students to find personal relevance through metacognition. When we think about our thinking, the expansion of our awareness involves knowing how much time to invest in a task and why. Because we become more aware of time constraints, we might also become more aware of changing craftsmanship –whether it is allowing more time or less time—as a function of what we know, understand and can do.

Time is a perception that can change the ways we know, understand and can do. It is a moment of optimistic intersections between all the things we are and the significance of our aspirations for what we must inquire into and rehearse. As time becomes less an external construct and more of an internal one for the learner, he or she allows for time to engage the self, binding identity to the task at hand.

Because the perception of time makes it relative to self, time can protract or extend as necessary within the perceptions of the learner. Challenges like open-ended tasks then allow us to perceive how we have significantly crafted use of time, and how we learn through strategies including metacognition.

Using Reflection

In lesson design involving approaches to learning like metacognitive strategies and use of time during tasks, it might be useful to use reflection as opportunities to develop both. When we stop to record a moment of learning, we step out of engagement in cognition to think about it and how it affects the time available.

This is the ‘trick’ of metacognition—to be able to step out of engagement to reflect on it, to integrate the moment itself and its experience with the reflective thinking as we take action and document its significance.

References
Council for Exceptional Children (2009). A focus on self-regulated strategy development for writing. Retrieved from http://s3.amazonaws.com/cmi-teaching-ld/alerts/3/uploaded_files/original_alert17writingSSRD.pdf?1301000388 on May 7, 2016.

Goleman, D. (2013). Focus; The hidden driver of excellence. NY: Harper Collins.

Livingston, J. A. (1997). “Metacognition; An overview.” Retrieved from http://gse.buffalo.edu/fas/shuell/cep564/metacog.htm on May 6, 2016.


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Engaging conceptual dialog through lesson design

A student’s reflection recently illustrated how performance of understanding can emerge as a conceptual dialog between teacher and student.

In this Arts inquiry, the Key concept is creativity and the Related concepts are expression, boundaries, narratives. The unit’s Global context is Identities and relationships, framing the learning around building expressive skills for performance, requiring the actor to discover his center, his essence and thus supporting a better understanding of self. In studies of drama performance, the ensemble requires that the actor ‘give up’ their identity to the ‘group’ when working together. The fostering of relationships in the ensemble is of paramount importance. The lesson focus was to introduce the concept of neutrality through use of the neutral mask (see Jacques Lecoq, The Moving Body, Routledge, NY, 2001), with the objectives to develop expressive skills for performance, increase awareness of how actors use their bodies and gesture not just voice, to communicate (Whitaker, personal communication, November 20, 2014).

White neutral mask. Found on www.pinterest.com.

White neutral mask. Found on http://www.pinterest.com.

The specific inquiry in the series of lessons using the neutrality mask was to investigate the tools of the actor preparing for performance (voice, body, mind, imagination). The student, Gavin Liu writes, “Putting on the neutral mask puts the actor in a state of “neutrality” when acting. A neutral mask is a mask that everyone wears to hide emotions on the face, and it requires the actor to use their body to convey the emotions. In the past classes, we have been wearing these neutral masks and practicing conveying emotions with the boundaries of not being able to express our emotions through our faces but through body movement.”

The teacher intended for the neutral mask to be ” the start of a journey. It produces a physical sensation of calm. The neutral mask opens up the actor to the space around them, creates a state of discovery” (Whitaker, personal communication, November 20, 2014). Dialog in the class revolved around the intention to form conceptualizations of creativityneutrality, boundaries, and expression.

The students used two exercises with the neutral mask. Gavin describes one of the exercises, “Farewell to the boat.” “Farewell to the Boat” allowed us to express our emotions using only our body, without any narrations to the audience of how we felt when a friend leaves on the boat. Personally I found it really challenging because I speak a lot at school and having that boundary really challenged me to explore what I might express with my body. It used more creativity because we have to act like being water using the neutral mask. It adds more challenge to the activity and there is no right or wrong answer because anyone can interpret water differently, making it very creative (Gavin Liu, reflection).

The teacher reflects, “When students shared responses, what emerged was a sense of freshness, of new beginnings. The mask creates balance, calm and economy of movement, which the teacher will use as a point of reference for later work with expressive (Commedia) masks” (Whitaker, personal communication, November 20, 2014).

The depth at which the student experiences conceptual understanding emerges in the reflective dialog with the teacher. In Gavin’s reflection, he writes, “The reason we are doing these activities is that it is essential not to only rely on your facial expression to show emotions, sometimes you have to rely on your body to show those emotions when your face can’t. Therefore, having a neutral mask can explore creative aspects of our body because we are forced by these boundaries to think creatively more than usual.”

Gavin has achieved concept attainment in the few lessons at the onset of the unit, underpinning the importance of discovery through learning engagements designed to engage students in internal and interpersonal dialog and active inquiry into the concepts.

The depth of Gavin’s understanding emerges in this dialog. He writes, “This has helped me realize that sometimes there are things in life where there are boundaries that we can’t change. We have to work with what we have and try to convey the same intention we wanted to convey without the boundary. This helps me focus on what is most important, which is to convince the audience without saying a word and be creative about how to convince them into believing what you really believe.”

A valuable lesson suggested here is the student’s opportunity for metacognition and transfer, which were facilitated by the conceptual design of the lesson.

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Thanks to Gavin Liu, Concordian MYP 4,  for permission to use his reflection in this blog post and to Clynt Whitaker for permission to study his lesson design!

How do you know when a fact is a fact?

'Puzzle' photo (c) 2008, J'ram DJ - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Continuing with our inquiry into the ways of knowing, let’s read this text which posits that it’s hard to know when a fact is a fact.

While reading, note the following:

  • What is the main idea of the text?
  • What evidence or argument does the author give to support his idea?
  • Is the author credible (should we believe him)? Why or why not?
  • What have you learned about the role of facts in knowing?

Take time to write your notes and bring them to class on September 19 along with your thoughts about the Annie Dillard essay.

Update your thinking and comment on what is the role of reason in knowing? Post your comment as a response to this blog post, Sept 18 by 9.00 pm.