Thinking & Learning 2018 Roundup: Teaching Students to Drive their Brains: Metacognition – Driving My Brain!

by | Aug 14, 2018

The final day of the Hawker Brownlow Education Thinking & Learning Conference 2018 was invigorating, with the main challenge being the actioning of at least one great idea learned over the past three days!

A key question driving Donna Wilson’s early experiences as a teacher was: “Why are some students learning, while many others are not?” To explore this question, Donna decided to leave the classroom to study psychology, which resulted in the development of a core belief that we need to teach with metacognition in mind. Donna’s and Marcus’ workshop, Teaching Students to Drive their Brains, was peppered with practical approaches that support the teaching of metacognition. Donna proposed to us that using metacognitive strategies helps students think about their thinking and improve learning and, therefore, is the number one strategy for students to learn.

Donna reinforced the critical role of metacognition in learning through her own personal anecdotes.  She highlighted the point that, as educators, we need to believe that our core purpose is to help all students become better thinkers and learners, so that they can reach beyond their potential. How do we embrace and enact this reality?  Fortunately, this workshop balanced both theory and practice. The first strategy we were presented with was the need to teach students of all ages about their amazing brains and how it changes as we learn. Donna imprinted on us the need to teach all students how to use their brains, so that they can learn optimally through strategies that evoke novelty, challenge, practice and feedback to help them get even better! One key strategy Donna presented was the construction of questions that help students metacognitively reflect during the learning process. For example, “What am I learning?” “How well am I learning?” “ How am I learning it?” “Which strategies am I using?” Donna further suggested that, as teachers, we need to be always on the lookout for ways to model our thinking to students, so that they can hear explicitly how to think about their thinking!

Marcus then explored the relationship between Seligman’s research on learned optimism and higher levels of motivation to learn. He suggested that the metacognitive teacher might ask themselves questions such as, “How can I help my students become more optimistic and motivated to learn?”  Further to this, Donna suggested that students need to learn how to become practical optimists. This can be achieved by asking them to consider questions such as, “What was the best thing that happened today?” and “ What could be one good thing that could happen for you tomorrow?”  Both Donna and Marcus encouraged us to model practical optimism with our students through our own stories of challenging learning and the strategies we used to overcome obstacles and failure.  Modelling and posing reflective questions are practical ways to help train the students’ prefrontal cortex – the thinking part of the brain. Donna and Marcus believe that the purpose of explicitly teaching metacognition to students is based on the premise that the goal of thinking about your thinking is to improve learning and life outcomes.

We would be interested in teachers sharing their experiences with brain-based learning strategies, so, if you have: What strategies did you use? What would you do the same or differently next time?  How important do you think it is to teach our students about their brains?

Bern Nicholls Bern Nicholls is an authentic and passionate learner who over the 
span of her career in education has consistently kept students at the centre of all her thinking and research. Read more articles by Bern Nicholls

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