Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Being Cluefull About Being Cluefull, Being Cluefull About Being Clueless...and Knowing What to Do in Either Case!
The purpose of metacognitive strategy instruction is to increase students’ awareness of themselves as learners and place students in control of their own learning activity (Palinscar & Ransom, 1988).
Metacognition refers to knowledge of the factors that affect learning activity, including reading, as well as control of these factors (Baker and Brown, 1984). Three sets of factors that act and interact in reading are knowledge of oneself as a reader, the demands of reading tasks, and the strategies one can employ in reading activity (Garner, 1987).

“STop Signing to support students’ Metacognition © Laura Benson
Stop sign reading reflects a reader’s habit and dispositions to create understanding before, during, and after reading with self-talk.  As proficient readers, listeners, and thinkers, you and I are in the habit of taking in a bit of information and then stopping - if even for the briefest of moments or as quick as the speed of light - and talking to ourselves to understand what we just read, saw, heard, etc.  Monitoring one’s understanding, a reader’s self-awareness of his knowledge and understanding – or lack of understanding – is voiced with self-talk such as “I’m thinking…”  or “I know that I know” or “I know that I need to know” as well as “I bet…” and “I wonder…” and “I learned…” to name just a few here.

As profiled in earlier posts, a key way of becoming more aware of your own "stop sign reading" or metacognition is to pay attention and listen to how you talk to yourself as you work to understand the texts you read.  By drawing from your literacy wells, you will hear and harvest vivid words in describing the how's of your thinking to and with your students. 

For example, reading in bed at night when I am way too tired to read, I often find myself needing to reread a part.  Becoming aware of when and how I reread, I heard myself reread just a bit of information - kind of like rewinding a movie when I miss a key line.  So, now I bring in the remote control from our television during my focus lessons to talk to students about when, why, and how I work to understand by rewinding my reading.  I share my own self-talk and metacognitive maneuvers with students by saying "Last night I was watching a really great Swedish mystery movie.  I was so excited because the detective was about to solve the crime...Well, wouldn't you know it but at the exact time the detective was revealing the criminal, my dog Buddy and cat Scout ran into the room chasing each over and, in their chase-race, they bumped our dining room table which was filled with books and boxes.  Boom! Bang!  Crash! All the books dropped to the floor and all the boxes skidded across the top of the table, too.  Not hearing the "who-did-it" line of the movie, what do you think I did?"  Of course, the kids know exactly what I did and shout out "You pressed the rewind button, Mrs. B!" (sometime with a kind of "Well, duh!" expression which I just love).  Moving my metaphor further, I say, 'That's right!  I said to myself, "What did he say?  Who did it?  Ut, oh, I don't get that part.  I better rewind that part of the movie - I just have to know who did it!  When I don't understand what I read, it's a lot like watching that movie last night - I just press the rewind button in my brain and reread a sentence or maybe even a paragraph to get myself back on track of what the text is saying...How about trying metacogntion and rewinding with me as we read this poem together?'

Knowing when we know and knowing when we don't know, being aware of when we are understanding and knowing what to do when we are not understanding, these are out habits of mind as understanding readers.  We have ways of nurturing understanding and sustaining it as we read longer texts.  We have ways of repairing not understanding.  Too many of our students do not yet have enough metacognitive tools on their reading tool belts.  And, for some students, not understanding becomes the norm.  Be your students reading tour guide by voicing how you are work to understand as a reader, listener, thinker, writer, scientist, artistic, historian, etc. Even our oldest students are not done getting better at learning more ways to fuel and guide their understanding.  Job security for us, right? :)
Helping students know when they know, know when they don't know, and know what to do to respond to either understanding scenario, kids gain Jan Chappuis' (2009) internal barometer to assess and guide their own thinking.  While the "grown-up" Chappuis version is offered below, over time with our modeling, collaborative practice, and feedback, we can help students learn to talk to themselves with three key compass questions:

Where am I going?
- Provide students with a clear and understandable vision of the learning target.
- Use examples and models of strong and weak work.
Where am I now?
- Offer regular descriptive feedback.
- Teach students to self-assess and set goals.
How can I close the gap?
- Design lessons to focus on one learning target or aspect of quality at a time.
- Teach students focused revision.
- Engage students in self-reflection and let them keep track of and share their learning.
Source:  Seven Strategies of Assessment FOR Learning by Jan Chappuis (Educational Testing Service/Assessment Training Institute, 2009) with warmest thanks and respect to Kim Marshall for profiling these critical ideas in his Marshall Memo e-magazine.

For more ideas about supporting students' metacognition, the following scholars can light your path:
  • Stef Harvey and Anne Goudvis' cornerstone text Strategies That Work
  • Ellin Keene and Susan Zimmermann's foundational Mosaic of Thought
  • All of Sharon Taberski's impeccable professional books!
  • Debbie Miller's integrity-based Reading for Meaning
  • Cris Tovani's lighthouse texts such as I Read It But I Don't Get It and Talk to Me
  • Michelle Kelly and Nicki Clausen-Grace's brilliant Comprehension Shouldn't Be Silent