Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Metacognition (originally published in 2011)

Several years ago I wrote this article in lieu of a conference presentation.  Dr. Carol Santa actually enjoyed it so much that she recommended it get printed in the CRISS national newsletter after I revamped a few things.  The article below is the original article (before the Dr. Santa revamp - although it was good both ways!).  I was very proud of this research, and I am looking forward to using some of it this year at both the Day of Reading Conference and the IRC Conference as well.

The Epiphany
                Metacogntition  - a word that even Microsoft Word doesn’t recognize, and yet eighth graders in my language arts class can tell you that it means “thinking about your thinking”.  This year, however, I was compelled to step back and take a look at just how much I really knew about the word.  That one act opened up a flood-gate of research, ideas, and discoveries that I could not wait to share with anybody who would listen . . .
                My name is Heather Lambert.  I am a read/write learner.  Five learning-styles tests have proven that I am incapable of being a successful learner by kinesthetic means.  Teach me to play hockey by writing it out for me.  Teach me to fix a toilet or make a cake by giving me written directions.  Do not show me or tell me.  Let me read it. Interestingly, I am both intrapersonal and musical.  Put that together with read/write, and you get a poet.  Spiritual balancing has indicated that I am also a communicator.  I love words.  So what is the problem?
                The problem is sadly simple. 
                During our study of Flowers for Algernon in eighth grade, my student teacher drew attention to Howard Gardener’s theory of Multiple Intelligences.  She had students perform a self-assessment on themselves that ultimately indicated their highest intelligence.  Most of our students scored highest in kinesthetic, musical, and visual.  Not a match to their highly-wordy teacher. 
                Still don’t see the problem?  
                After assessing my own teaching, I discovered that most of my teaching methods, although highly engaging, were language-based.  I was comfortable with words, but I was not working with subjects who had the same strengths.  Without knowing it, I had clearly set up some of my students for failure because I had not reflected upon myself as a learner/teacher and allowed myself to see my students through my multiple-intelligence glasses.  Yikes!  Even scarier, I was so wrapped up in my intrapersonal-self that I didn’t take into account that many of the adults with whom I engage are not like me either! 
                In the six years that I have been training for CRISS, metacognition has always been a word that meant “reflection on act”.  But the idea that I was teaching toward my own learning style on a daily basis allowed much more than reflection on act.  It allowed understanding that my lessons needed to become more multi-modal if I am to reach all of my students.  But it was more than that.  It was not just about giving students multi-modal work, but about seeing them as learners who take in information in different modes.  Even one-on-one informal discussions take on new meaning when you think of it that way.  What an epiphany!  And what a heart-break.  To discover that the blood, sweat, and tears that I had put into my work was not enough was devastating to me!  And how was I going to sell this to our overworked, over scrutinized staff?

The Three-Tiers
                Upon attending a stirring talk by Dr. Carol Santa on what really works in education, I was inspired to move forward with my research, and I wanted to drag my colleague Pam McGreer along with me.  With one eyebrow up in curiosity for literally thirty minutes, she listened to me go on and on about Dr. Santa’s ideas in the three tiers of CRISS understanding.  The more I talked, the more it made sense to me.  Dr. Santa had hit the nail on the head for me.  We understand CRISS at three levels: by strategy, by principle, or by a deeper clinical psychological level. 
                Most teachers, having gone through their first level 1 training, are so overwhelmed by the strategies and how they can be tied together that often the metacognitive piece is overlooked.  Strategies are fun and engaging; they allow for differentiation by level and by learning style.  Reflection on a strategy takes time.  I don’t have it.  Done. 
                After four or five years of training, I finally was able to wrap my head around the second tier, principle, and it dawned on me that the P&P were a set of guidelines that, if followed daily, one can hit a variety of learners in a lesson with little major changes in those plans.  Discussion?  Check.  Writing? Check.  Explanation and modeling?  Check.  And so on.
                But to ask a teacher to know oneself as a learner before even evaluating oneself as a teacher?  Then to meet students head-on with your knowledge of self?  And to engage in activities that take student strengths/weaknesses into account all the while knowing where your strengths and weaknesses lie?  Well, that is the root of where communication lies, and that is where we must stoop to reach the kids who seem unreachable.  At the base. 

                So what does this mean for us, as educators?  Throw up our hands and walk away – the task is too daunting?  Certainly it does not mean that we need to revamp our entire curriculum, does it?  The answer is no.  What is does mean is this:

  •  Before you go any further, take a learning styles test ( a multiple-intelligences test ( or  Reflect upon both and journal about parts of your life and your teaching that align with the results.  If you are not satisfied with your results, take another one somewhere else (I took five, remember?).  In your journal, take time to reflect upon your teaching – focus on strategies and activities that you do that align with your learning styles and your strengths.* After this, jot down things that you do already as a teacher to reach students who are of other intelligences and learning styles.  Visit some of those websites listed above to give you a thorough explanation of the types of intelligences you will encounter.  Make lists of things you can do as an educator to keep all intelligences in mind.    *I say “journal” because that is how I would do it – remember, I am a read/write/intrapersonal type.  If you have a better way of keeping track of yourself, use it!  But don’t let the information go away.  Save it somewhere so that you can reflect back upon it later. 
  •  Give students a learning-styles and multiple-intelligences questionnaire and allow them to reflect upon themselves as learners as you did above.  Expect them to give examples from their lives that support their learning style.  Some will disagree with the outcome.  Have a second test handy for this reason.  Dive into what learning styles and multiple intelligences mean for them as learners so that they can carry this new knowledge with them from class to class.
  • Make a CRISS P&P checklist and be sure to hit as many of the P&P as possible during each lesson.  Understand and accept that some activities will support some students better than others and that handfuls of students will be more comfortable with certain strategies more than others.
  •  Teach strategies and directly relate them to students as learners.  Confess that some of the strategies just don’t work for you, and get excited when you, as a learner, benefit from a strategy.  Encourage your students to reflect upon their strategy usage in this way.
  •  Use CRISS vocabulary and multiple intelligence/learning-styles vocabulary when introducing activities and strategies, not only for strategy-calling, but for principles.  For example, “To help you to build background knowledge we’re going to be using a discussion strategy called Mind Streaming.  Our interpersonal and verbal/linguistic students will love this activity because it involves discussion, and you love to connect with others and talk!” Build in reflection time and have students draw their strengths into their reflections to different activities and strategies.
  •  Give students choices within the same activity.  In eighth grade, we spend time in language arts supporting our students with note-taking strategies so that they can take these skills into their content area courses and be more organized learners.  Modeling different note-taking strategies at the beginning of the year and pinpointing what types of learners may benefit from using the different types would be a great place to start!  When discussing learning styles, I often recommend that our verbal/linguistic students try power notes because we (the verbals) tend to be pretty wordy.  Power note taking gives students lots of room to reword and summarize.  Two column-notes might work better for those kids who are kinesthetic and aural because they don’t see much value in note taking.  Two-column notes are easy to organize and allow for very brief summaries to be written.  Webbing or mapping, although challenging for me, is really easy for a more visual learner because that type of learner can see relationships visually.  I am completely distracted by the lines and boxes, but then I would be.  I’m verbal.
  • Get crazy.  Set up a portfolio system.  At the beginning of the quarter go over a list of the learning targets that students will hit by the end of the quarter.  As you hit each target in your lessons and assignments, direct students to this list and remind them that they need to be able to prove with physical evidence (ie. a piece of writing, test/quiz, assessed project, reading logs, journals, etc.) that they have been able to meet that goal.  At the end of the quarter, have students put their portfolios together.  Included should be a checklist of the targets and student-selected evidence along with a metacognitive reflection for each piece.  Reflections should indicate why the student feels that the evidence supports learning and how his/her learning style/intelligences fit into the equation.  Why not have students check off a list of the CRISS P&P and allow them to make connections with that as well?
Whew!  Talk about knowing oneself!

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