Reposted for the benefit of your students and your own well-being: In our last installment of “Developing a Mindful Classroom,” I delved into the importance of leaving space for feedback in the classroom. In this blog, we turn our attention to the concept of metacognition and how to develop metacognitive skills in our students through the practice of journaling.
But first, what is metacognition? It has been a buzzword in education for a long time, even before my first teacher-training program many years ago. I have always understood metacognition as “thinking about your thinking.” Merriam Webster Dictionary, defines metacognition as “Awareness or analysis of one’s own learning or thinking processes.” It is clear that in 2014, metacognition is by no means an educational fad. Rather, it is a key component to ensuring deeper levels of learning for students of all ages.
As teachers, we want our students to develop into flexible thinkers and problem solvers. A way to do this efficiently is to offer training in the subtle art of reflection. “When life presents situations that cannot be solved by learned responses, metacognitive behavior is brought into play. Metacognitive skills are needed when habitual responses are not successful. Guidance in recognizing, and practice in applying, metacognitive strategies, will help students successfully solve problems throughout their lives.” (education.com)
The days when public education focused on training a factory style mindset are hopefully gone. Industrial thinking that fosters automatic behavior is not what our society needs. To tackle 21st century problems, students need to learn how to reflect on not only the best practices to create solutions, but also on their own thinking, which is, in a sense what is behind the application of those best practices.
When a student can describe the steps they took to solve a math problem, their learning is deepened through articulation. After dropping in to a meditative experience, to be able to describe what transpired within those quiet moments, strengthens the metaphoric muscles of the mind, making it easier to return to that state, and even surpass the duration and quality of the experience the next time around.
There are several reasons why students may not choose to verbalize their reflections about mindful meditation, or about how they solved math problems or drafted persuasive essays for that matter. Sometimes things are just too personal. It is foolish and unwarranted for any teacher to try to drag a thoughtful reflection out of a student who feels uncomfortable with sharing it. Another factor, which may not allow for sharing out is simply time. It is not a good practice to rush reflection. If there is not enough time left to properly share and receive a reflection, it is best to hold off sharing until there is a more appropriate time. It is often better that the reflection be kept sacred, and not dishonored by hurried attempts to meet the “goal” of having students reflect.
A tried and true technique for promoting metacognitive skills or “thinking about your thinking” in a private and less obtrusive way, is journaling. This past week I asked my class to bring their journals with them. We dropped in (meditated) for several minutes and then opened our eyes when the timer on my phone sounded off. As I looked around, the kids appeared to be readying themselves to speak, perhaps carefully choosing their words in their heads. Some seemed surprised, and a few relieved when I asked them to pick up pens and pencils, and to privately write about their experiences. I assured them that what they write down is private, and that there would be no pressure to read it to the group. The surprise was mine when everyone went to work with quiet intensity. A feeling of completion was in the air, as if each and every child had not only validated their experience but graduated to a new level.
In order to create a mindful classroom, continue to leave room for sharing out loud, but also add mindful journaling to the day’s routine. Mindful journaling can develop into a safe, and lifelong practice, which improves metacognition in your students and in you.
Thank you for reading and for sharing. Please stay tuned for part 5 of “Developing a Mindful Classroom.”
Nicholas Philliou, 7th grade humanities teacher in Durango, Colorado