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.

A Day Late & A Dollar Short: Thoughts on CCSS

apple-139437_1280I realize that it’s late to put anything up about the Common Core Standards, but I have to say that I don’t “get” the continuing misunderstandings about them.  Standards are simply  a list of what students should learn.


Here is an example from 3rd Grade:Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 1.14.08 PM

  • The lists are general and are skills oriented.
  • The content is not mandated except in a few cases as above where certain genres are mentioned as above.  The Common Core does NOT say what stories or books to read.
  • You could teach the Common Core ELA standards using any book list appropriate to student age.

What the Common Core is Not:

  • Common Core is not the assessments used to measure whether the standards have been learn.
  • Common Core is not the many, many textbooks and programs which have the name Common Core slapped on them.  Some are a good representative of the standards and some are not.
  • Common Core is not the data mining that is supposedly happening.
  • Common Core is not what you see on social media.

Is the Common Core Perfect?

  • The short answer is no.  I wish reading strategies were written specifically in the standards instead of being implied in Standard 1 and Standard 10.
  • I worry about forcing all students to read grade level texts, if their reading is not at grade level.  Students can become frustrated and learn to hate reading because of that.  (At my school, we encourage a balance of reading at grade level and reading at the student’s level–whatever that might be.)
  • It is a general list that encourages higher-level thinking and does not get bogged down in minutiae.

Why Now?

I think the social media finally got to me.  A lovely family member of mine posted a rant about the Common Core.  It included something like this:  “The Common Core (and I’ve read them) are forcing our children to learn __________.”  Fill in the blank with something you disagree with. Untrue.  Unless he’s against reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic, there’s no problem with the CCSS.





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)

Back to Basics: Stop, Drop, and Read

book-863418_640I’m a huge fan of Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) / Independent Reading / D.E.A.R. / Stop, Drop, and Read in all of its permutations. Linking teacher-student conferences moves students forward.

Stephen Krashen’s 2004, The Power of Reading:  Insights from research,  shows that

“In-school FVR results in better

  • reading comprehension
  • writing style
  • vocabulary
  • spelling
  • grammatical development (p.17).”

And, according to Krashen, the more consistent over time the FVR, the better:

Results of Reading Comprehension Tests:  In-School Free Reading Compared to Traditional Approaches:

Duration                      Positive             No Difference           Negative

Less that 7 months           8                           14                           3

7 months – 1 year             9                            10                          0

Greater than 1 year          8                             2                           0 (p.2)

But I’m also a believer in explicit instruction–in reading strategies, spelling, vocabulary, writing, grammar.  I can’t imagine teaching reading without read-alouds, either. Not to mention including Guided Reading and other small group strategies.

How can a teacher fit it all in?  How can we balance our priorities?  Here’s some Do’s and Don’ts:

  1.  Don’t allow our schedules to push out independent reading.  “Studies show that reading enhances literacy development lead to what should be an uncontroversial conclusion:  Reading is good for you.  The research, however, supports a stronger conclusion:  Reading is the only way, the only way we become good readers, develop a good writing style, an adequate vocabulary, advanced grammatical competence, and the only way we become good spellers” (Krashen, p. 37).  It is student choice in reading that motivates them to read.
  2. Don’t ALWAYS confer when our students are reading.  Model your joy in reading by reading when they read.  Krashen’s research shows that “children read more when they see other people reading” (p. 85).
  3. Don’t sacrifice read-alouds, either. “In controlled studies, it has been shown that children who are read to regularly, at home or at school, make superior gains in reading comprehension and vocabulary (Bus, Van Ijzendoorn, and Pellegrini 1995; Blok 1999) (Krashen, p, 78).
  4. Do tailor the rest of instruction to our class’s personal chemistry.

A. If we pinpoint our students’ needs, we can target our reading instruction to meet those needs.  To know our students’ needs, we need to continually conference and assess.

a. For example, if many students in your class struggle in the area of fluency, have them tape repeated oral readings of a picture book that they choose.

b. If they struggle with comprehension, perhaps small group strategy sessions would work.

Dr. Goodreader at CDS

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 9.48.41 AMIn the last few weeks I’ve given short presentations on Dr. Goodreader to our teachers and our parents.  Here’s a link to the presentation: Dr.G

In the elementary teacher workshop, we used Dr. Goodreader to pinpoint where our understanding broke down when reading some upper level science books. It was a fun and revealing activity. As adults many of us use fix-up strategies instinctively, but we were not taught in such a way that they are internalized and easy to access.

That’s the value in Dr. Goodreader.  It’s not a new program.  It’s not some brilliant new discovery. It’s just a way to teach the brilliant old discoveries in a way that is efficient and effective.

Making Inferences

The other day I tried an activity from Deeper Reading by Kelly Gallagher about making inferences. What I did is post a few sentences, have my students find the ten possible inferences, and then I showed them to them and had them score themselves. I discovered that my 7th graders struggled greatly at being able to do this. Since making inferences is foundational to reading comprehension, I’ve added inferring activities to my daily work with my students. You can see how this works in my Fever, Plagues, and Mosquitoes unit PowerPoint about An American Plague by Jim Murphy.  We also read Fever 1793 by Karen Halse Andersen.

You can see the inference activity on slides 6,7,8,11,12,14,15.  The other slides have activities for inferring word meaning using context clues.  Enjoy!

In Mourning

booksI love books. Love the heft of them, love turning the corners of the pages on the top to mark my place and on the bottom to mark something incredible that I need to go back to when I’m finished. Love looking at them on the shelf–kind of like a miser looking at his gold, I guess.

But I’m in mourning. My classroom library isn’t much–just two bookcases filled with books. I’ve scoured Goodwill for years and then paid extra luggage charges to bring them to the schools I’ve taught at in Ecuador and Costa Rica. But my classroom library is in its last throes of dying. When I announce time for sacred reading, hardly any of my students pull out a book. They pull out their computers, phones, and iPads.

I’ve even succumbed. I got a smart phone for my birthday and discovered that I love to read on the phone. I choose books that I want to read slowly, in snippets, and then read in spare moments–on the bus, while on lunch duty. I love it, but I feel like a traitor.

My husband will be happy, because we won’t be paying extra luggage fees any more, but I, I just hate to see my library dying.

CNN Student News

Surprisingly, CNN Student News has added tons to our 7th grade literature courses this year, and the trend is catching on in other grades.

We watch at least the top stories of CNN Student News each day, and normally we watch the whole 10 minute show.

Benefits and uses:

  • Students are sharpening listening skills.
  • Students are obtaining tons of background knowledge about the world.
  • Students are learning to right great summaries as they write a summary of a news story about once a week.  We’re moving from watching the story 3 times, to 2 times, to 1 time, to writing a summary of a story without being given a warning ahead of time.  We’ve introduced paragraph GIST summaries, and 20-word summaries using CNN news.
  • Students are CAPTIVATED.  Many watch it at home on the days they don’t have literature.
  • Students are talking about current events with their parents and they’re often heard talking about news topics in the halls.
  • The funniest result is that my students–many of whom are ELL–are becoming adept at word play.  At the end of each broadcast, Carl Azuz, the anchorman, makes a number of word plays about the final story.  Today we counted 8 or 9 following a story of a 40 foot tall rubber ducky.

I know I sound like I work for them, but I just love this show and all it is doing for my students.


For Julia, in the Deep Water

I’m currently attending the National Writing Project in Kennesaw, Georgia–it’s a dream come true!  This morning we did an activity to teach about reading, discussion, and writing about a poem.  Take a moment and read the poem we read:

For Julia, In the Deep Water

The instructor we hire
because she does not love you
Leads you into the deep water,
The deep end
Where the water is darker—
Her open, encouraging arms
That never get nearer
Are merciless for your sake.

You will dream this water always
Where nothing draws nearer,
Wasting your valuable breath
You will scream for your mother—
Only your mother is drowning
Forever in the thin air
Down at the deep end.
She is doing nothing,
She never did anything harder.
And I am beside her.

I am beside her in this imagination.
We are waiting
Where the water is darker.
You are over your head,
Screaming, you are learning
Your way toward us,
You are learning how
In the helpless water
It is with our skill
We live in what kills us.

—John N. Morris

Have each student have three colors to write with.

1.  Read it and mark anything you don’t understand with color #1.  Write your interpretation and rate your understanding from 1 – 10.  My first reading I underlined little and rated my understanding as a 9.

2.  Discuss it with a partner.

3.  Reread it with color #2 and mark up anything you don’t understand now.  This time write questions about the poem and rate your understanding.  The previous discussion and my questions brought my understanding down to a 7.  Discuss again.

4.  Reread with color #3 and mark what is still confusing to you and rate this reading.  Putting it all together and connecting it to our experiences as mothers and readers, my partner and I came to an understanding of the poem as a literal swimming lesson and all the ways moms/parents have to let their children go–especially in cases of physical or mental or psychological disabilities–including addiction.  Now I’m not saying that is the definite interpretation, which is what makes this a great activity for your students.

Unit Planning Resources

I may be nuts, but I just love to create unit plans.  We recently had two student teachers at our school, and one of them said when given the chance to create a unit plan, “We were taught to find unit plans online.  Why reinvent the wheel?”  I love using Internet resources, but I don’t think I’ve ever used an Internet unit plan as is.  Every class has different weaknesses and strengths, I gather a number of Internet resources and pick and choose what fits.  Here’s my process:

First, using Understanding by Design I create the top of my unit plan–the Standards I will teach, the Essential Questions and Essential Ideas.  
I google essential questions and ideas when I’m working on this as even if I don’t use them, they often spark good ideas.

Then I work on specific content and skills I need to teach.  Some of those, I lift directly from the Internet, like the Big6 skills.

I also decide how to assess students’ achievement of the standards.  Our goal as language arts and social studies teachers in this assignment is to give students their first experience in writing a research paper.  We will assess the paper using the 6-Traits Scoring Guide from Education Northwest.  I always use the 6-point rubric because the research shows that teachers often choose the middle number on a 5-point rubric.  a 6-point rubric forces you to make a choice.

At this point I also write an explanation of the assignment ROME explanation for the students.



Now the fun begins–looking for Internet resources/ideas which I can use to teach the content and skills.  For teaching content, I almost always go first to Prezi where I find many dynamic presentations which often have embedded YouTube videos.

Then I troll my Pinterest boards looking for treasures I’ve tucked away for when I need them, like this visual about research which I’ll print out and have the students put in their writing notebooks.I like to teach vocabulary with every read-aloud, so I let my fingers do the walking and look for units designed around specific books and look for vocabulary that is transferable from one book to another.  I put the vocabulary on Quizlet.  Here’s my vocabulary list for The Bronze Bow on Quizlet.

Since we are working of the skill of researching, I’ll show the students some of my favorite search engines and also teach them to use Diigo to store their research.  They can annotate and highlight their stored web pages there.  I also look for some scaffolding for research papers to help some of my students who struggle with differentiation.  Having grown up in the days when ALL your research was done in libraries and from books that you hoped were not checked out, I rejoice in the plethora of tools at our fingertips!