Being Aware of and Managing Your Thinking

I recently came across a great definition for metacognition in Emily Lai’s, Metacognition: A Literature Review. The definition is  “Awareness and management of one’s own thought.”

When I try to explain what I do with metacognition and reading to my non-educator friends, they often say something like, “I can’t believe you have to teach that to students. It must just be because they’re on computers so much.”

And that makes me wonder if they naturally think about their thinking and manage their thinking or–and this is a terrible possibility–whether they don’t think about and manage their thinking and don’t see the need for it.

I realize now that I was a plot junkie growing up and that if I had been taught reading strategies and self-questioning in school I would have been a much stronger, much more thoughtful reader.

The Little Golden Book of Metacognition

Last summer I wrote a short, 50-page, book that explains metacognition and how to use it in your classroom. It’s on sale at Amazon for $9.50 in paperback and $1.99 on Kindle. It has many eye-catching full-color illustrations and is designed for the busy teacher who wants to learn the basics or increase their knowledge of metacognition.

The simplest definition of metacognition is “thinking about thinking to improve learning.” Metacognition includes knowing what you know and what you don’t know; understanding person, task, and strategy variables; planning, monitoring, evaluating and reflecting. Metacognition is an invaluable skill for learning in every area: academic, socio-emotional, the arts, physical education, and service education. It is an integral part of Emotional Intelligence, 21st Century Skills, Problem Solving, Fixed/Growth Mindsets, Critical Thinking, Executive Functions as well as Inquiry Learning and Problem-Based Learning. Learn how to strengthen your metacognitive teaching skills and revitalize your teaching life while doing it, as you create a community of thinking in your classroom.

Filling the Gaps

I recently taught a teacher workshop in Pennsylvania, which was aimed at areas for growth in many Christian school (and public school, for that matter) curricula. Certainly, not all Christian schools share these same areas for growth, but many do–especially the curricula which are touted as “teacher-proof” so that anyone can do the teaching. I’m a strong proponent of Christian schools, so please do not think that I am criticising; I just encourage continual growth in any school. Here is the slide set from that workshop and a few of the activity sheets.

Here is the Bartling Puzzballs worksheet, which is an exercise from Kelly Gallagher:


The Power of Metacognition

Light up those neurons!
                Light up those neurons!

What is Metacognition?

Metacognition refers to awareness of one’s own knowledge—what one does and doesn’t know—and one’s ability to understand, control, and manipulate one’s cognitive processes (Meichenbaum, 1985). It includes knowing when and where to use particular strategies for learning and problem solving as well as how and why to use specific strategies. Metacognition is the ability to use prior knowledge to plan a strategy for approaching a learning task, take necessary steps to problem solve, reflect on and evaluate results, and modify one’s approach as needed (Teal, 2012).

To put it simply, metacognition is being aware of and understanding your cognitive processes.

Why Should we Explicitly Teach Metacognition?

Yesterday I read Visible Learning for Literacy by Fisher, Frey, and Hattie. They include a thought-provoking list in their appendix effect sizes for various educational practices and environmental factors.  There are negative effect sizes (-0.20 – 0.00 approx.), developmental effect sizes (0.00 – 0.20 approx.), teacher effect sizes (0.20 – 0.40 approx.), and medium to high effect sizes (0.40+).

Number 14 on the list of 150 measured items is Metacognitive Strategies with a whopping effect size of 0.69.  Teaching Strategies is number 23 on the list with an effect size of 0.62.

We must couple teaching of strategies with teaching of metacognitive strategies to receive full value from each. How?  By teaching students to continually question their understanding of material followed by purposefully choosing strategies to help them comprehend what they read.

P.S. I don’t think it will come as a surprise to any teacher that negative effect sizes include summer vacation, retention, and television.


Teal Center Staff. “Fact Sheet: Metacognitive Processes | Teaching Excellence in Adult Literacy (TEAL).” Fact Sheet: Metacognitive Processes | Teaching Excellence in Adult Literacy (TEAL). U.S. Department of Education, Feb. 2012. Web. 13 July 2016.

Shoehorning Grammar and Punctuation into a Busy Day

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 3.11.19 PMThe most frequent complaint I hear from my teachers is “When am I supposed to teach grammar? And punctuation?”  After all they teach reading workshop and writing workshop and spelling and guided reading and have read-alouds and think-alouds. There’s not enough time in the day to do everything!

One of my over-arching questions is how can we teach grammar and punctuation effectively?  Last week I gave a workshop to our elementary school teachers about Jeff Anderson’s method, EveryDay Editing.  EveryDay Editing takes an authorial rather than a secretarial approach to teaching conventions–in other words we look at why authors choose certain conventions and how they use them to improve the quality of their writing.

The slide show that is linked below contains three different examples of the EveryDay Editing framework for different grade levels.  Following the examples are “How To” instructions of how to create your own lessons and framework slides for you to use.


EveryDay Editing (2)

Melding Dr. G and The Daily Cafe

cafe-bookLately, I’ve been making the adjustments needed to teach reading to this year’s group of readers.  Each year, the class-wide needs and the individual needs vary greatly.

I’ve identified visualizing and inferring as class-wide needs along with a generalized need to pinpoint where comprehension is breaking down.  First, I taught through Dr. Goodreader and we continue to use the chart daily to pinpoint our needs.  I’m dealing with inferring and visualizing through class-wide mini-lessons and read alouds.

Then I began to imcorporate portions of Gail Boushey and Joan Moser’s amazing book, The Daily Cafe.  I posted and taught the strategies from their daily cafe under the following divisions:

C:  Comprehension, A:  Accuracy, F:  Fluency, and E:  Enlarging Vocabulary. 

Then I had each of them consider their weakest area in the comprehension category and set that as a goal for the quarter.  This self-organized them into groups.  I figured that was a no-lose proposition because they would learn no matter which category they chose.

I’ve been meeting with these groups every few days.  I give them a short mini-lesson, and then a specific assignment.  The assignments are often painfully simple, but I’ve found they are already helping quite a bit.  The self-monitoring group has a sticky note that they move to the bottom of each page as they read and ask themselves the question, “Did that make sense?” at the bottom of each page.  The determining importance group asks themselves after each conversation in the book they are reading, “What was important in this conversation?” and puts a sticky flag next to the important parts.  The prediction group makes predictions and confirms them using text evidence.  Simple.  But.  Effective.  Thank you, 2 Sisters!

Context Clues Part 3

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The first step in teaching context clues is to make students aware of the different types:

  • Look for a synonym.  Sally and Susie often get into little skirmishes, but they don’t let these little arguments spoil their friendship.
  • Look for an antonym. (Compare and Contrast) Nicho tried to conceal his actions, but his face showed that he was reading another book at his desk.
  • Look for the definition.  Babushka lived in a dacha, a small house in the Russian countryside.  An addendum to this:  Some students need to be taught that the word or in a sentence can signal a definition as in, Babushka lived in a dacha, or small house, in the Russian countryside.
  • Look for words that appear in a series.  The dulcimer, banjo, and the fiddle are popular instruments in the Appalachian Mountains.
  • Look at cause and effect.  My husband infuriates me when he throws away papers that are important to me.
  • Look at general context.  He reminded me of Yin.  Yin was a king in China during the 1500’s whom I had studied about in school.)

Context Clues Part 2: Determining Importance at the Word Level

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One of the first questions Dr. Goodreader asks is, “Do I need to know the word for the text to make sense?”  Many of my students this year are struggling readers and writers.  Many of them had no idea if they needed to understand a word for the text to make sense.

Determining importance is important at every level of life.  The other night my husband and I were visiting friends.  “Oh, I watched the best movie last night,” our hostess said. “Would you like me to tell you what it was about?”  A half an hour later I was blankly nodding as she continued her narrative.  I have no desire to ever watch this movie after being regaled with such a lengthy retelling by someone who can not determine what is important.

”Proficient readers make decisions about what is important in text at three levels:  whole text, sentence, and word level.  While they are reading and after they read, they evaluate what was most essential to understanding the text.  So, strong readers are constantly re-evaluating meaning and importance.  (Keene and Zimmerman, Mosaic of Thought p. 87)

I sweated a lot, trying to work this out.  I finally came up with the following ideas.  Since these are not time tested, I’m presenting them solely in bullet form instead of full-fledged mini-lessons.

  • It is helpful for us to use the words “relevant” and “irrelevant” throughout our teaching day when teaching on determining importance.  We can give directions, throwing in an aside, and then remark, “But that’s irrelevant.  That’s not important.  What I want you to focus on is this.”
  • One way to teach determining importance at the word level would be through “Think Alouds”.  During the think-aloud we can model determining importance at all levels: text, sentence, and word level.
  • We can explicitly teach certain skills.  For example, in non-fiction the first and last lines in a paragraph are often the most important.  Also cue words are often followed by particularly important information – for example, “And finally…”  Also in non-fiction, text structure and text features (such as bold or italicized print, figures, and photographs) can help students distinguish important from unimportant information.
  • Text coding forces students to think about what is important.  We can have students code VIP’s – Very Important Points.  They can mark them with three arrows.
  • One of our teachers, Mark Valentine, uses student’s love for highlighters to great effect in his classroom.  For example, if he’s teaching transitional words, he has them highlight every time they used a transitional word in their writing, or perhaps when they see one in their reading.  In this case, students could be given a short passage of reading and highlight the very-most-important words/sentences.
  • When I read in Spanish, I usually only use a dictionary if the word is repeated a few times in a few pages.  I figure that repetition is a good indicator of word importance.
  • I would think that it would be quite important to understand the majority of nouns and verbs in a text, although I have to admit that descriptors can also be important.  “’Yes,’ he snidely said,” has a totally different meaning than “’Yes,’ he said.”
  • Determining importance is greatly related to our background knowledge.  Ideas that are most closely connected to the reader’s prior knowledge will often be considered most important – even when they’re not.
  • Although more on the sentence level, my class and I spent weeks, slogging through non-fiction articles copied from the History of US by Joy Hakim.  These articles are not as “dense” as textbook reading but gave us a lot of practice filtering out what was important from what was interesting.  Sometimes we worked as a group. Other times we worked in student pairs, and occasionally I sent home an article for homework.  Students would highlight what was important in one color and what was interesting in another color.  They had to support their decisions in a written “think-aloud” in the margins.