Metacognition literally means "big thinking." You are thinking about thinking. During this process you are examining your brain's processing. Teachers work to guide students to become more strategic thinkers by helping them understand the way they are processing information. Questioning, visualizing, and synthesizing information are all ways that readers can examine their thinking process. Through scaffolding and reciprocal teaching, students are able to practice the skills that lead to these overt acts becoming automatic.
— Fountas and Pinnell, 2000
By practicing and applying metacognitive strategies, students will become good readers, capable of handling any text across a curriculum.
Because metacognitive strategies appear obvious, some teachers might believe that students in intermediate grades begin the school year cognizant of these strategies and experienced in using them. The truth is, most students are unaware of the metacognitive process. Yet only through “thinking about thinking” and using metacognitive strategies do students truly learn. With that in mind, consider the following three main reasons to teach metacognitive strategies.
1. To develop in students a deeper understanding of text
Good readers know how to use cognitive and metacognitive strategies together to develop a deeper understanding of a book’s theme or topic. They learn or “construct knowledge” (using cognitive strategies) through a variety of methods, and then recognize (using metacognitive strategies) when they lack understanding and, consequently, choose the right tools to correct the problem.
2. To take students' thinking to a higher level
For many students, explaining their thought process is a daunting task. They may think, "How do I explain what I think? I don’t know what to say. My teacher usually helps me out." These students need opportunities to take their thinking to a higher level and express themselves clearly. Small-group activities, especially those with a teacher's guidance, provide them with the right opportunities.
3. To steer students into adulthood
Once metacognitive strategies are grasped, students will transfer use of these skills from their school lives to their personal lives and will continue to apply them as they mature.
Metacognition is a three-part process (Fogarty 1994). To be successful thinkers, students must:
Good readers plan before reading, and K–2 students must learn the steps needed to accomplish this task. Through modeling and practice, teach them to:
Good readers take charge of their reading by monitoring their own comprehension, and K–2 students need direct instruction on how and why to do this. The first step is recognizing whether or not confusion exists by asking "Do I understand what I just read? or What does the author really want me to know about this text?" Readers who take responsibility for their own comprehension constantly question the text and their reactions to it.
Other ways that readers monitor comprehension during reading are to:
Readers become confused during reading for a variety of reasons (Tovani 2000):
When good readers finish reading, they reflect on the strategies they used to determine whether their plan worked or whether they should try something else next time. Because this evaluative component of the metacognitive process is so valuable, model and practice it with your K–2 students at every opportunity.
At first glance, teachers might think that students automatically use metacognitive strategies. However, when one child was asked what she was thinking about while reading, she replied, “I’m not thinking. I’m reading.” Unfortunately, that simple, honest statement is true for students in all content areas who see reading, writing, math, science, and social studies as “subjects” rather than opportunities to think and reflect. Yet only through using metacognitive strategies can they truly learn. With this thought in mind, let’s look at two compelling reasons to teach metacognitive strategies in the primary years (Fogarty 1994):
Modeling through think-alouds is the best way to teach all comprehension strategies. By thinking aloud, teachers show students what good readers do. Think-alouds can be used during read-alouds and shared reading. They can also be used during small-group reading to review or reteach a previously modeled strategy.
Wilhelm (2001) describes a think-aloud as a way of:
There are multiple ways to conduct think-alouds:
When introducing a new comprehension strategy, model during read-aloud and shared reading by following these steps:
The following are a variety of language prompts to use during think-alouds:
Model the metacognitive strategy.
Say: "Have you ever been reading a book and found yourself staring off into space? Whether you knew it or not, you were probably wondering about what you read. Often, when you pause in your reading, you find yourself thinking about a character in the story or an amazing fact about a topic. You’re revisiting some of the ideas in your reading and asking yourself what they mean.
"When I get to the end of a book, or even to the end of an important page, I pause and consider what I’ve just read. Putting the author’s ideas in my own words helps to fix them in my head. I am monitoring my own comprehension."
Read aloud a few pages of a big book while students follow along. Try to anticipate ideas and words in the text that indicate good places to pause. Stop and think aloud about what the author might be saying.
Have students try the strategy in the same text.
Continue reading the big book, and ask students to think about the topic as you read. After you are finished, ask students to write or draw in their reader-response journals, expressing ideas or questions that they have about what the author was trying to say. After students are finished, ask them to share their responses and to discuss why these ideas were important to them as they read.
Have students apply the strategy to another text.
The goal of the lesson is for students to be able to apply what they have learned to future readings. Ask: "What are we going to do as we read the next book?" (Think about what we are reading so that we can record our ideas in our journals.) Have students listen carefully as you read aloud or conduct another shared reading session. Ask them to record at least one major idea in their journals and then share their responses in a small group or with a partner. If students have questions about the text, encourage other students to suggest answers.
This module explores classroom management and organization. You will learn how to set up a room environment that is conducive to learning, use effective discipline techniques, and establish routines and procedures.
What does it mean to set up your room environment? It is important to consider both the physical and emotional environments that will play a role in the instructional setting.
Your room environment defines the instructional atmosphere of your classroom. Many teachers base the arrangement simply on the furniture they have available and the materials they know will be on hand. For a room environment to be effective, you must think far beyond those narrow parameters. The classroom environment is evident to students on the first day of school. Students’ expectations for the school year will be based on what they see in the room and how they perceive you on the first day. If students walk into an unorganized, chaotic setting, they will brace themselves for a year of instruction following those patterns. However, if they walk into an environment that is well organized, with meaningful spaces and materials, they will look forward to a year of quality instruction within an organized format.
In order for your classroom environment to reflect your instructional needs, you must first define these needs. This requires examination of every piece of furniture in your classroom:
These are difficult and time-consuming questions, but they can lead you to design a thriving classroom environment.
When setting up the physical environment of your classroom, consider classroom logistics, student areas, teacher areas, wall space, and teaching materials. Consider the items that are present or not; take action to create a more conducive physical room environment.
On the first day, students are most concerned with the bottom level of Maslow’s hierarchy (safety, love, esteem, physiological). They want the teacher to be confident, kind, and competent. Once this level is established, they can move to higher levels of thinking.
Am I in the right room?
Where am I supposed to sit?
What are the rules in this classroom?
What will I be doing this year?
How will I be graded?
Who is the teacher as a person?
Will the teacher treat me as a human being?
Will the teacher respect me and understand my culture, background, and needs?
Students need to feel safe in the school environment. Students will learn better if they feel welcome and important in your classroom. It is up to you to make sure you meet the emotional needs of your students in the classroom. This means carefully considering the details of the physical environment and its effects on the emotional culture of the classroom. The following four elements will assist you in creating a supportive emotional environment for learning:
Effective teachers understand the use of volume in the classroom. They have a firm but gentle voice, and they learn to speak “loudly” with their tone, not their volume. When effective teachers alter their voice to speak softly or whisper, students mirror this behavior by becoming quiet to hear the important information. Sometimes, behavioral issues arise or the class becomes disorderly. The teacher should remain calm. This will communicate that the teacher is in control and knows what to expect from the students. These times may be good opportunities to rehearse classroom procedures and routines.
Students mirror their teacher’s behavior. Since this is so, it is important for teachers to treat students with the same type of respect and courtesy that the teachers would show to the students’ parents. Saying “please” and “thank you,” calling students by name, choosing not to use a sarcastic tone, etc., are all ways to show students how to respect each other and the teacher. Courteous behavior may not be common in a student’s home. While this may increase the challenge of teaching courteous behavior, it makes the task that much more important. If students don’t learn respect and courtesy at school, where will they learn it?
Remember that everything you do makes a statement that affects the emotional environment of your classroom. Your students take their cues from you. If you allow teasing and disrespectful and unkind behavior between classmates, what statement does that make? Stopping such behavior immediately sends the message that it will not be tolerated. Once students realize that your classroom is a safe place, their minds are free to learn the content you teach.
What message did you send to your students when they walked into your room today? Often, the only buildings more stark and uncomfortable than schoolrooms are prison cells! Does your home have hard plastic chairs, fluorescent lights, white cinder block walls, and someone else’s laminated posters on the walls? The way you attend to the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of your room directly influences how students behave. Help students realize that you care about their comfort and learning. Bring in lamps (available for pennies at garage sales), pillows (with removable covers for sanitary reasons), music (instrumental for quiet working periods, lyrical for transition times or to enhance a lesson), and fresh flowers or potpourri. Research on the brain has shown that these details make classrooms more conducive to learning.
Students and quality instruction should be at the heart of any decision you make in designing your classroom environment. Students must feel safe and secure. There should be an underlying emphasis on learning. Just as the physical environment demands meticulous planning, the emotional environment of your classroom is of utmost importance. Class-building activities and class meetings are one way to ensure that you are supporting the emotional needs of your students. During class meetings, students are given the opportunity to give and receive compliments and appreciation. Class problems that arise are solved through discussion and brainstorming of possible solutions as a group.
Class meetings follow the following format:
(Nelson, Lott, and Glenn, Positive Discipline in the Classroom)
With class building and class meetings as an integral part of your day, you will see the relationships among your students grow. They will become more positive and supportive of one another. The students will realize how good it feels to receive praise for doing a good job! They will become gracious and learn to accept praise and to appreciate that praise. You have set the stage for increasing intrinsic motivation in your students.
The physical environment deserves a great deal of thought and attention. Let the students and their needs drive the organization behind your classroom.
"Effective teachers introduce rules, procedures, and routines on the very first day of school and continue to teach them the first week of school."
Harry and Rosemary Wong, The First Days of School
Effective discipline is evident in classrooms that have set procedures. When students are able to self-monitor their behaviors, they are able to address the learning issues at any grade level. Students must have a firm, set plan for discipline. Although procedures are necessary for effective discipline, there is a difference between a discipline plan and procedures.
In your discipline plan, consider all the different places in the school where you need to control students’ behavior. Consider classroom rules, playground rules, hallway rules, and cafeteria rules. Explore other places and rules as you think about your school and the expectations you have for your students.
An important principle for new teachers to understand is the difference between general rules (respect others) and specific rules (do not use vulgar or offensive language). While experienced teachers may be able to run a well disciplined class using general rules, it is often best for new teachers to start with specific rules. As students learn more about the behavior you expect, you can revise your rules to make them more general.
General rules are broad and flexible, encompassing a wide variety of behaviors. The following are examples of general rules:
General rules must be explained explicitly; otherwise, students will not understand what behaviors are acceptable in the classroom. For example, what does it look like to keep the room clean?
Specific rules are to the point and clearly cover the expectations of one behavior. The following are examples of specific rules:
Specific rules have the advantage of clearly stating expected student behaviors. The downside to specific rules is that you should limit your rules to just five. You must know exactly what behaviors are important to you to ensure your students’ success throughout the year.
Another important principle is the need to limit the numbers of things you expect your students to memorize to three to five items. Phone numbers, credit cards, social security numbers, etc.—all have numbers clustered in no more than five per set. This is because people find it easier to remember numbers in groups of three to five. If you post a list of rules that is twenty items long, students will not be able to recall and follow them all.
Wise teachers choose their battles carefully. Decide upon three to five important, specifically stated rules if you are a new teacher. Post these rules before the first day of class and introduce them the first day of school. Distribute copies to students on the first day and refer back to the rules numerous times throughout the first week and beyond as necessary.
While students need to understand clearly why the rules were selected, their involvement in this process does not need to be democratic. Rather than having students create the high-priority rules for the class, have them create lists of behaviors that would increase their ability to learn in class. This helps them share in the responsibility for behavior but still allows the teacher to have the final word regarding which rules are non-negotiable.
Beyond rules, students also need to see that breaking a rule has a prompt consequence. These consequences and the methods used to record them may vary by grade level and teaching style. When designing your discipline plan, take time to plan how you will introduce discipline and teach the consequences. Decide what the rewards are if students follow the rules and what the consequences are if they do not. For any discipline plan to be successful, you must be fair and consistent when applying the consequences.
Your classroom rules are as unique as you are as a teacher. It takes time to decide what works best for you and determine how to present those rules to your class. Stand, with conviction, behind each rule you enforce. Determine how the rule changes the environment of your classroom. If you can justify your rules with instructional benefits, you are on the right track. Change your vision and discipline plan each year that you teach, depending on the students you have in your classroom. The end goal is effective discipline, which leads to optimal instruction.
If you do not have a plan, you are planning to fail.
Harry and Rosemary Wong, The First Days of School
Procedures are the heart of an organized classroom. Harry and Rosemary Wong define procedures and routines in the following manner: “A procedure is what the teacher wants done. A routine is what the students do automatically.” Procedures are the beginnings of routines in our classrooms. We all want to have classrooms that run efficiently. Teachers who have well defined and understood procedures rarely have any discipline problems. These teachers’ classrooms seem to run on their own. In fact, they do. Students know what to do and how to do it because the teacher has explicitly taught each procedure. The procedure is practiced and practiced until it becomes a routine. It becomes the way tasks are accomplished.
Before the first day of school, teachers should take time to determine the procedures that organize the classroom environment. These procedures can be as simple as how students enter the room and as complex as what their options for work are when they have completed the main assignment. Teachers are encouraged to plan these procedures in advance in explicit detail. At first you might think that your students are too old for this type of direct instruction. Remember they are your students for the first time, not the same students you trained to be efficient the year before. Classroom management and organization run more smoothly if students are given the opportunity to learn the classroom procedures through direct instruction rather than through trial and error.
There are procedures for:
You have to find the appropriate time to introduce and teach these procedures to students. Make a list of your procedures and then sort them by importance. Which ones do you have to teach in the first five minutes of the day, within the first hour, within the first day, within the first week, or within the first month? Sorting your procedures this way is important so that you don’t overwhelm your students. They need to absorb the information and begin the process of moving from procedure to routine. In addition to studying procedures, take the time to study the supply list and its intended uses. This will save you time and confusion when your students bring in their supplies. It will also facilitate the beginning of meaningful instruction and the proper use and storage of materials.
Students need to know exactly what is expected. They must know what proper behavior/action is and is not. This requires time and role-playing during the first weeks of school. These role-playing experiences should be specific and teach a certain procedure. Procedures take time to teach, but you will regain the time during the year. You will not have to stop instruction in order to handle procedural concerns. Once you are past the first two weeks of school, your students will move from procedure to routine.