Tag Archives: Metacognition

You. Don’t. Know…

It is 7:30 a.m.; you’re in your classroom, preparing the materials for the day. The classroom is quiet except for the music in the background–it’s become a routine you started a few weeks back to ground you in the day. No one ever told you teaching would be THIS hard. How does time pass by simultaneously both lightening speed and a snail’s pace? It’s your sixth week of teaching already. You glance up at the clock 7:32. Relief sweeps over you! 28 more minutes until students arrive enough time to finish what stockistockstresshelpchalkboardphotojuly2012youneed to do. You print out your lesson plans and the lay out the work for the morning periods. Another grounding staple of your day, now you know exactly what you planned to say and can see everything you planned to give. Your mind shifts to your students; will she be here today? She’s your most challenging student; feedback flashes through your mind, “Just ignore the behavior; its attention seeking.” “You’re too cold in the classroom; she’s reacting to that.” “She doesn’t like change, and you’re a new teacher.” you for her out of control behavior. What’s the right answer? None of this feedback feels reflective of your experience with this student. You’re at a loss as to what you should do. A part of you wills her to be absent today. 8:00, students walk in right on cue. You look up from the computer and see her with a big smile walk in. You remind yourself to breathe.

You don’t know what you don’t know. This idea feels almost like a theme in the field of education, administrators and educators alike–new educators in particular. It seems that the idea of not knowing or being told you don’t know is often received defensively as an offense. When in fact, it is actually more akin to a free pass for commonly made mistakes or assumptions–on made by teachers and administrators–and an invitation to learn. However, the willingness to learn means admitting to not knowing or worse: imperfection. Yet this ability to stand back and look with a critical and personal lens at the breadth of knowledge possessed and honestly admit that gaping holes exist does not come easily to many. Perhaps, because this exercise in humility requires both metacognition and mindfulness.

Metacognition according to Dr. Richard Guare and Dr. Peg Dawson is “the ability to take a birds eye view of oneself in a situation. It is the ability to observe how you problem solve. It also includes self-monitoring and self-evaluative skills  (e.g. asking: “How am I doing?” or “How did I do?”)  In order to fully be able to accept, acknowledge and understand that mind-fullyou don’t know what you don’t know you need to be able to step outside of yourself and view that self from a different perspective, yet also be able to be aware of yourself in each moment. Enter mindfulness. Dr. John Kabot-Zinn states, “mindfulness means

maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. In order to participate in these states of being, one needs intentionality, practice and an honest self-view, which is easier said than done, especially within institutions in which normed rolls have been established.

Learning, empathy and change cannot take place when conversations are entered into with established or implied hierarchical relationships, for example, the teacher and the learner. While exceptions exist, many institutions of education have an established dichotomy of superiors and inferiors. These can found throughout the school in different capacities. Yet, rather than promote an environment for learning by sharing knowledge and openly celebrating strengths and finding others to support weaknesses; a fake it until you make it attitude emerges, defenses are on high-alert and learning fails to take place.

Imagine how a conversation between an educator and administrator would go if both parties came to the table, coming clean about their knowledge gap.

The administrator would have to own up to the fact that she has very little knowledge about what happens on a daily basis in the classroom that may be enhancing or inhibiting classroom learning. A new educator may need to admit to not knowing the difference between off-task behaviors because a child is bored versus one who simply doesn’t understand. The point is both parties would be entering into a conversation with an honest self-view and the intention to truly listen and learn from the other.


This begins by admitting that you don’t know what you don’t know. People are imperfect, make mistakes, react to situations without thinking and often times hold others responsible for events they had just as much stake in. Inevitably it is easier to stay on the surface of one’s thinking, examine others but never oneself with a critical lens and turn off an awareness to oneself and the environment in which he is in. If this were not the case, “Ignorance is bliss,” would never have been excavated from Thomas Gray’s poem, “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College,’ written in 1742 and still commonly used today.

However, through that course of thinking, much is lost: personal growth, human connection and most importantly systemic change. So stop and think. Step outside of your mind so often on autopilot. What do you see? Ask yourself, “How am I doing today?” Do not leave this answer constrained to the cursory “good” or “fine” or related to your job. Dig deep and ask yourself, “How. Am. I. Doing. Today?” Stop.

This time, don’t think. Feel. Let your body become fully aware of the sights, sounds, and smells, physical sensations that currently surround you know. Ask yourself again, “How am I doing today?” Stay outside of your mind. Breathe. Slowly. In and out. Again. In and out. Again, in and out.

Now ask yourself, “How did I do today? Could I have done better?”

What don’t you know, that you don’t know? Imagine the possibilities if you did.


Metacognition is to Mindfulness (Not Everyone Can Always Teach…)

Big buzz words, both of them in the title of this article. One featuring a significant process of the Pre-Frontal Cortex, and the other, affectation of awareness from the entire brain, based upon the driving of the Pre-Frontal Cortex. However, let’s simplify the language of Metacognition and veer away from the “thinking about thinking” cliché (albeit that is what that is, the repetitive use of the definition is overused).

Meta (after, or beyond) cognition (conscious mental activities : the activities of thinking, understanding, learning, and remembering) is that ten second delay before the thinking is decided upon as the last answer or decision. It is the pulling yourself out of your own awareness to look at the process that is involved in your own thinking: from the first suggestion of an idea to the last decided action. Metacognition then is the conscious mental activity that is after or beyond the activities of thinking, understanding, learning and remembering.

The Metacognition Phase
The Metacognition Phase

It’s what we commonly refer to as THINKING ON YOUR FEET. When you rely on the automatic responses of behavior that you tuck in the memory bank for the ‘rainy days’ and successfully combine these responses without reference to a specific technique or to a pattern, you have successfully practiced the art of metacognition. Most of us use the metacognitive process in its basest sense that its application is usually muted.

Labels, both rigid and tailored to testing have been directing the voice of education. Plotting one’s education based on the ability to test versus improving the quality of the inquiring mind has recently been winning the battle of what standards should look like and what ‘schooling’ should seem to be in the eyes of a successful community, and in the grander picture, what the world expects of a citizen belonging to a particular first-world geographical location. Teaching to the BRAIN inside the human being has been scoffed in skepticism and propaganda by purists of testing protocol, and worse, by those who insist that the BRAIN is a static piece of software that can only evolve in, well, the dog-eat-dog thriving situations to effectively learn (forgetting that the BODY is attached to it, inconveniently).

And yet, there are those who do acknowledge that there is a BRAIN that echoes its decisions on the shadow called a MIND (which apparently is highly controversial for those who have either no imagination, philosophical inclinations, or even quantum physical understanding of cause and effect). The MIND is not simply an artistic, metaphorical description of romantics or serialists.

The In-Between Phase: Anticipation From Metacognition to Mindfulness
The In-Between Phase: Anticipation From Metacognition to Mindfulness

Mind (the part of a person that thinks, reasons, feels, and remembers) fulness (the eventual quality or state of being full). Mindfulness then is inherently a state of consciousness. Although awareness and attention to present events and experiences are given features of the human organism, these qualities can vary considerably, from heightened states of clarity and sensitivity to low levels, as in habitual, automatic, mindless, or blunted thought or action (Wallace, 1999).  Therefore, Mindfulness is the eventual quality, state or part of a person that thinks, reasons, feels and remembers that is full.

Conscious activities of thinking lead to filling up the state of a person that thinks, feels, reasons and remembers. Conscious and purposeful filling, which is aimed at harnessing powers of understanding from genetic, evolutionary biological cognitive methods, now contrast with teaching-to-test. Conscious and meaningful activities where learning is matched with the learner’s natural aptitude while harnessing multiple abilities of learning.

Teaching with the Meta-Mind process is the ideal, not necessarily realistic. The Teacher, broken as Teach (to cause or help a person to learn how to do something by giving lessons and showing how it is done) -er (person or thing belonging to or associated with something) fulfills this process with such subconsciousness if you ask him or her the process of the real teaching, they would have to pause and trace the Meta of how they begin. And when there are words to describe this magical process (taking away the paperwork load and the political requirements), the Teacher’s Metacognition  begins with an idea, a seed, a stage either theatrical, comical, empirical or thoughtful. The Teacher  is actively immersed in the conscious mental activity that is after or beyond the activities of thinking, understanding, learning and remembering.  The preparation for every scenario entails an almost see something-say something proactiveness; student temperament will never be the same in spite of the occurrence in the exact classroom, having the exact community of students, and/or support through the same rules and regulations. Only homeostasis remains similar as learning experiences are emotionally, memory-dependent.

The students come, the dance begins of giving and taking…sometimes with upstarts and hiccups; however, with the arsenal from the Teacher’s Meta phase, the learning is curved to where it momentarily docks. After the last word on the subject, the wards attach the knowledge to a memory base, perhaps a mnemonic one for future reference. And the Teacher? He or She goes into the Mind phase: Mindfulness of students sharing, discovering, uncovering and maybe not fully comprehending what just had happened in the minutes before with the topic at hand. The Teacher in this phase enters into that eventual quality, state or part of a person that thinks, reasons, feels and remembers that is full.

The Mindfulness Phase: Is  it the Silhouette or is it the Canvass?
The Mindfulness Phase: Is it the Silhouette or is it the Canvas?

How then can the teacher be unreasonably requested to match the learning of a subject that is not only too cognitively complex for the developing brain of the current roster he or she is given, but also when there is a predetermination of the worded script, the presentation of the activity or knowledge base, and/or finely trimmed boundaries they are unable to be flexible with? How is that called common core really a commonality? The Meta-Mind cycle is interrupted, the learning process is artificial, and citizens are not created, rather parrots with haphazard training preparation for the competitively overflowing sea of professional niches. The Teacher ceases to have a democratic role in the abilities and skills he or she thought was hired to use in the classroom; amazingly, all that’s needed to do this newly reinvented job are professionals with paper pedigree to continually beat down their passion or dedication…unless the latter is just a bad dream someone decided to share with us.

Please allow the teachers to teach again. Respect the Meta-Mind Process of Learning.