It’s difficult to imagine having a conversation with children about their own thinking, the process we call metacognition. Can one simultaneously read; keep track of the meaning; think about questions, schema, inferences, images, and important ideas, and synthesize as one reads? Researchers have shown that “effective teachers of reading comprehension help their students develop into strategic, active readers, in part, by teaching them why, how, and when to apply certain strategies shown to be used by effective readers” (Duke et al. 2011; see also Duke and Pearson 2002). In other words, even very young readers, while listening to text, and the rest of us while reading, can think about thinking. We can all be more active and engaged readers when we use thinking strategies to understand. Being metacognitive helps all of us deepen our understanding, at least in some circumstances.
If that is true, why would it be any different to teach students to be aware of
their own level of engagement as they read? Why do we believe that “motivating kids,”
even engaging them, is solely our responsibility? Consider the questions we might
teach them to ask:
- Am I compliant−just doing this work because I'm asked to do it?
- Am I merely going along, participating in a group, or am I actively collaborating−am I learning from and contributing to others' learning?
- Am I motivated to do this work because I'm working for a reward of some kind, such as a grade?
- Am I motivated because I have affection and respect for someone who wants me to do something and I want them to like and respect me?
- Or am I truly engaged?
- Do I feel intellectual urgency?
- Am I having an emotional reaction?
- Am I changing my thinking, emotions, and beliefs because of conversations with others?
- Am I slowing down enough to recognize the beauty in the world and to create something of beauty or take action in the world?
Children throughout the age range can and often do pay attention to their thinking; they're metacognitive and they can learn to focus on the kinds of attention and engagement they're bringing to a given learning situation. Asking children to think about these questions−what do I think, what do I feel, what do I believe, and how can I act−allows them to monitor their engagement independently and upon finding themselves disengaged, they can use them to dig back into work that fascinates and touches them.
Ellin Oliver Keene has been a classroom teacher, staff developer, non-profit director, and adjunct professor of reading and writing. For sixteen years she directed staff development initiatives at the Denver-based Public Education & Business Coalition. She served as Deputy Director and Director of Literacy and Staff Development for the Cornerstone Project at the University of Pennsylvania for four years. Ellin works with schools and districts throughout the country and abroad with an emphasis on long-term, school-based professional development and strategic planning for literacy learning. She serves as senior advisor at Heinemann, overseeing the Heinemann Fellows initiative and is the editor of the Heinemann Professional Development Catalog-Journal.
Follow her on Twitter @EllinKeene