Building Early Metacognitive Skills

All kids learn best when they have ownership of their learning. But this is easier said than done. How do we give students this ownership while also guiding them through the rigorous curriculum they need to learn? Here are some fairly straightforward strategies that won’t require you to reinvent the wheel.

Start with helping kids get to know themselves.

Giving kids ownership over their learning does

not mean letting them do whatever they want all day. While providing choices is an important part of student-directed learning, giving kids ownership entails so much more. It should always start with helping students build metacognition. Metacognition is an awareness of one’s thinking. For students, this includes awareness of their learning style, academic strengths, weaknesses, interests, good and bad study habits, etc. 

Provide choices by learning style.

Choice is a powerful tool in any classroom. But it’s important to give choices wisely, and to be thoughtful about the choices you provide. Giving students a choice between writing an essay about a historical period and writing a historical fiction based on that time period is great for students who prefer fiction or non-fiction writing. But what about those students who do better with artistic representation, or who prefer to present orally? Of course, all students need some writing tasks, and it’s not realistic to offer every single preference all the time. Still, it’s important to make sure that all learning styles and preferences are addressed through choice at some point. This will ensure that all students feel empowered to show their unique talents.

Create individual goals in student-friendly language.

It is crucial for students to know what it is they are working towards. Setting goals with and for them and making sure those goals are phrased in a way they can understand helps them know what they are working toward. Students should always be involved in the process of goal creation. Goals can based on a combination of what students need to learn according to the curriculum or standards, what they should learn based on their own needs, and what they want to learn. Because we are combining standards with each individual’s unique learning profile, no two students’ goals will be exactly the same.

Give students a method for goal tracking. Let them keep their goals taped to the top of their desk, or have them keep a laminated card inside their folder that they can check their progress on periodically. Monitoring progress toward their goal helps them keep up their motivation, since they can see how far they’ve come as well as where they’re headed.

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