4 Strategies Designed to Drive Metacognitive Thinking

Metacognition is defined as thinking about one’s thinking or learning. More formally, “metacognition was originally referred to as the knowledge about and the regulation of one’s cognitive activities in learning processes” (Veenman, Van Hout-Wolters, & Afflerbach, 2006, p.3).

The ability to think about what we are learning, how we are learning, what we want to learn in the future are important skills that must be explicitly taught in classrooms. Click To TweetToo often students receive information, receive instructions, receive objectives, and receive grades without ever being asked to think about learning and the development of discrete skills. I believe that is a problem.

Teaching metacognitive skills that encourage students to become more aware of their learning can help them shift from passive to active participants in the classroom. If the teacher is the only person thinking critically about learning goals, progress, skill development, curriculum design, and assessment, that is a missed opportunity. Teachers must help students become active agents in the classroom who are able to make key decisions about what they learn and how they learn.

Here are 4 strategies teachers can use to encourage students to think about their learning:

1. SMART Goal Setting

Just like adults hoping to advance their careers, goal-setting is a powerful practice for students. That said, they need structure and support creating goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. Too often the goals students set for themselves are either nonexistent or too lofty to achieve in the foreseeable future. When students fail to set goals, they lack focus. When they set unattainable goals, they may get discouraged or frustrated.

Starting the grading period with a SMART goal setting session can help students focus their energy on specific goals they want to accomplish or work toward in that 6 week grading period.



2. End of the Week Exit Ticket

Exit tickets are great for collecting formative assessment data and checking in with students, but they can also be used to build a routine that encourages kids to think about what they learned, how they learned it, what questions they still have, and how they might teach a peer. End of the week exit tickets can encourage a quick, reflective practice while also providing teachers with invaluable information about what their kids think they are learning.



3. FlipGrid: Describe Your Process 

FlipGrid is one of those free tools in education that can be used for just about anything! Too often teachers give students a task and ask them to complete that task, but do not ask students how they went about completing it.

  • What was their process?
  • How did they think through the task?
  • What strategies did they use to complete the task?

Math teachers can ask students to explain in detail their process for solving a problem. English teachers can ask students to explain why they selected a piece of textual evidence to support a claim or why they organized a piece of writing in a particular way.

It can be challenging for students to articulate their process and why they made the decisions they made, so asking them to record a 90-second explanation helps them to build this vocabulary, develop a metacognitive practice, and learn from their peers’ explanations.


4. Ongoing Self-Assessment Documents

For each unit, I identify specific target standards/skills that we as a class will focus on. I share an ongoing self-assessment document with my students via Google Classroom. The document asks students to:

  • Rewrite the standards in language they can understand.
  • Select pieces of work from the week and reflect on the skills they are developing.
  • Assess where they are in relation to mastering specific skills.
  • Provide documentation to show their work.


Each week I dedicate time in class for students to sit and reflect using this ongoing self-assessment document to think about their learning. Building time into class for this activity is invaluable because students begin to connect the work they are doing with the skills they need to master. It also encourages them to be advocates for themselves as learners articulating what they need to make progress in relation to specific skills.

Ultimately, our classrooms are a training ground for life. To be successful beyond high school, students must hone the skills necessary to continue learning. That will be exponentially easier if they have been taught how to think about their learning and given time to practice concrete strategies designed to help them develop metacognitive skills.

Posted in Doctoral Work, Grades, Learning, Technology in the classroom | 2 Comments

10 Tips for Teachers Using the Station Rotation Model

Teachers are already blowing up my Twitter feed with awesome photos taken during their first few station rotation lessons! It’s exciting to see so many teachers trying this blended learning model and creating opportunities for small group instruction, real-time feedback, collaboration, and differentiated learning.

1) Use your teacher-led station for a range of activities beyond direct instruction. Model a process, provide real-time feedback, conference with students, lead a small group discussion, and create time for Q & A sessions related to your work.

2) Switch up your groups! Sticking students in skill level groups and leaving them there for an extended period of time can be detrimental to their confidence as learners. I understand that it is easier for us to support kids who are all at the same academic level, but it isn’t always what is best for learners. Mixed ability groups, interest-based groups, and strengths in a group dynamics are alternative grouping strategies that you can add to the mix for variety. Click here for more on grouping strategies and organizing groups.

3) Decide on a strategy for transitions. Students can take FOREVER to transition from station to station, so I always recommend explicitly teaching them how to transition. This goes for secondary students too! I like to have my kids organize materials, stand by their chair with materials in hand quietly, and when everyone is standing quietly, they head to the next station. It’s simple and efficient.

4) Project a timer onto your board so students can keep track of the time as they work. I use a free online time that also has a bell that rings at the end of the rotation. It serves as both a visual and auditory cue.

5) Make sure every station has crystal clear directions. Writing out clear directions takes time, but it means you won’t be bombarded by questions when you are trying to work with students at your teacher-led station.

6) Print paper directions (in plastic covers) for offline stations and create online directions (Google doc, class website, LMS) for online work. If students don’t need a device at a station, then I always print offline directions, so the devices do not become a distraction. If students are completing work online, I create a Google document with step-by-step directions, links, and screenshots to help them navigate that online work.

7) Have a strategy ready for kids who are having an off day or distract their peers. This can be as simple as allocating some desks alongside a wall or near your teacher-led station where a student can work in isolation if they are struggling to stay on task or are distracting their peers from the work at a station.

8) Put a “Next Steps” protocol in place so students know what they should do when they are done. You can create a simple list on the board of items kids can complete if they pace through the work more quickly than their peers. For example, my “Next Steps” list always reminds them to return to any work at a previous station that they did not get a chance to complete. I also include items like log into Vocabulary.com and practice our vocabulary words, read and annotate to page X, update your digital notebook, etc. This can eliminate that question, “What do we do if we finished early?”

9) Give yourself permission NOT to grade everything kids do in stations. If you feel pressure to put points on every paper or grade everything kids do in stations, you will not use this model for very long. I have become extremely selective about what I provide feedback on and grade. If I provide feedback, it is because kids are going to use that feedback to improve their work. If I grade something, it is an assessment. A lot of the work my kids do in a station rotation lesson is practice or preparation for an assessment. I don’t grade practice.

10) Mix it up! Variety is the spice of life so don’t let your stations become stagnant. Make sure you try a variety of strategies and technology tools in your different stations. This is more likely to keep kids excited and engaged.

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The Perfect Pairing: Virtual Field Trips and Scavenger Hunts

“Mrs. Tucker, why don’t we go on more field trips?” Every year students ask me this question. There are a couple of answers.

  1. Field trips are time-consuming to organize and plan.
  2. There aren’t always resources (e.g., buses) available to make a field trip happen.
  3. We are limited by our geographic location to the sights/museums within driving distance.

In an effort to expose my students to more experiences, I’ve embraced virtual tours and field trips. In a recent training, I shared “15 Virtual Field Trips for Kids of All Ages,” which has a fantastic collection of virtual field trips, and asked teachers to explore these virtual tours and brainstorm how they could use these online experiences to enhance their curriculum. One teacher asked, “How can you make sure students are paying attention and really learning something from these tours?” I explained that my favorite strategy was to pair a virtual field trip with a scavenger hunt.

The National Museums of Scotland has a “Discover Ancient Egypt” virtual experience that introduces students to Ancient Egypt through a combination of virtual tours and games.

Although the games are designed to keep students interested and engaged, adding a scavenger hunt component encourages them to think about what they are learning. When I used the “Egyptian Tomb Adventure” to create an online learning station, I paired the virtual tour with a Google Form Scavenger Hunt.

Students can tour the Louvre in Paris, the White House in Washington, or the Great Wall of China from the comfort of their classroom. These dynamic tours can be paired with offline pen and paper scavenger hunts or digital scavenger hunts using Google Forms.

As teachers create their scavenger hunts, it is important to add questions about what students will see and what they will read as they complete the tour. It’s tempting for students to simply look at the photos, artwork, and visuals but most tours contain text explanations as well. The goal of the scavenger hunt should be to encourage them to pay close attention to all parts of the virtual tour or field trip.

If you are inspired to create a scavenger hunt to complement a virtual tour or field trip, please consider sharing the link to the tour and your scavenger hunt here for other teachers to explore and use!

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