Thinking about our thinking
Dr. Sam Watson once advised, “We don’t need to teach students to think. We need to help them recognize their thinking.” I also worked with Dixie Goswami at First Ward Elementary and Kathy Yancey at UNC Charlotte each for a couple years. All challenged me to ask my students to “think about their thinking” and to talk about the paths their brains followed to arrive at conclusions. I heard their words but didn’t fully understand exactly what they were encouraging me to do. Then I read the book Mosaic of Thought and for the first time I understood the meaning of metacognition.
I had not been forced to “read” for a long time. Instead, I chose to read on the same topics (education, reading, writing) and by the same authors and in the same genres (Heinemann, historical fiction), so I had a deep well of schema from which to draw, which made reading easy for me. Also, recreational reading was not hard because I didn’t choose books on my reading level. I’d lost site of what it meant to read difficult texts as I grew into my adult reading habits.
Practicing what I now preach
When confronted with reading the passages at the beginning of each chapter in Mosaic of Thought, I watched my thinking at work. I was surprised to see how I made sense of the selections. I used every fix-up strategy I now teach my students. I smiled knowing that Keene and Zimmermann - my teachers - were forcing me out of my comfort zone for this very reason. In my daybook I wrote my observations and discoveries. I got the message by reflecting.
The conclusion I reached was this: students would benefit from reflective writing as well. They need a consistent routine of reflection - a class structured so that today’s learning builds on yesterday's and links to tomorrow's. They need time to develop their views and express their ideas logically. They need to collect their "thoughts in the moment" in notebooks to jog their memories throughout the unit and to have proof that their learning is improving.
Realizing reflection can be modeled and refined
When demonstrating this system in a third grade, the teachers and I analyzed the students’ answers to the question, “What do you do when you come across a word or an idea you don’t understand?” The children addressed the question at the beginning and at the end of the lesson. In the beginning, many students didn’t write at all. Of those who did, most said, “sound it out.” We were pleased to see how their thinking changed at the end.
I’ve been doing this kind of debriefing for years, but this session was different for me. As we flipped through the variety of responses, I realized that no matter the grade, geographic, or socio-economic level, when students are asked to reflect, their answers fall in predictable patterns of responses. To help the students “recognize this thinking” and to grow their ability to express their ideas, then simply asking students to write what they learned is not enough. Teachers have to model how to write reflectively.
In the beginning, it takes time to model. Eventually, thinking about what they’ll write the last few minutes of class - during class - becomes a habit. Time needed decreases and learning improves. That's a win-win.
NEXT:: See samples of exit reflections