MECS Blog

Thinking about Thinking

Thinking about Thinking

Thursday, 19 March 2015  | Di - Assistant Principal - Primary
Recently in the newsletter you may have read about the Primary school’s focus for 2015 - Mel Dykstra shared that we are concentrating on ‘Thinking about our thinking’ (‘metacognition’).I need to fiddle/move around to concentrate.

Our recent Primary ‘Get Together’ led by SPD unpacked the idea of how we think about our learning and life. Do we have a growth mindset or is our thinking fixed? Can we move from the ‘not yet’ to the possible, or are we stuck with the thoughts of… ‘it’s too hard,’ and ‘it won’t ever happen’? What are the thoughts we have when we face a challenge? Mel reminded us that by embracing struggles as challenges and mistakes as learning we are able to move forward.

That’s easier said than done. In order to start thinking about our thinking we need to have some tools – as in any area of life, we need tools, skills, strategies, knowledge, practice and hard work. We can’t just learn to rewire a house by thinking about it. An electrician needs to have done his/her apprenticeship, know how things work, practice, passed the modules and been signed off on their A-grade. Then they need lots of experience doing the job to become sought-after for their excellent work. It is the same with an athlete. One can’t just run a marathon without conditioning, training and hard work. A marathon runner needs knowledge and understanding about the way their body works and need to have put in the hard yards with nutrition and rigorous training  that builds their capacity.

In the same way we all need to learn more about how our brains work and to understand that we can teach our brain to respond and to activate in certain ways. We are not at the mercy of whatever comes our way in terms of our thinking. We can learn to notice our thinking, activate our thinking and grow our thinking. We can become more active thinkers in life.
 
As students become more attuned to noticing their thinking and reflecting on it (meta-learning) they gain explicit understanding of the process of learning. They develop the vocabulary for talking about the process of learning and are able to articulate (talk) about how learning works. Claxton 2002

Many of our students are able to explain what to do when they come across a word they don’t know when reading. They have a range of strategies and are able to reflect on these and pick the appropriate one. They know they can break the word up, reread the sentence, sound the word out, read around the word, think about what would make sense. Good readers can talk about all of these strategies. In the same way, good learners can talk about their thinking and apply their knowledge to new situations. Good learners also have a strong sense of themselves as learners. They know they have strengths and weaknesses, and that some things are challenges that need hard work and other things will come easily. They have a growth mindset about their learning and they don’t give up!

I love to read in bed as my wind down at the end of a hectic day. Recently I was reading a very tricky book and feeling pretty good about how clever I was and how much I was learning, when all of a sudden I stopped reading - distracted by the sound of possums on the roof. That commotion jolted me back to the realisation I had no idea what I had read for the last 4 pages. I was reading the words but had no understanding. I wasn’t thinking. I wasn’t engaged. School can be like this for many kids. They are going through the motions but are not noticing what is really going on inside their brain. They are not learning with understanding. They are merely doing stuff.

Everyone is different and knowing what works best for you is important in knowing yourself as a learner and thinker.

Think about yourself as a learner and look at the list below and see if any these things resonate with you…
I learn best in the morning.
I learn best later in the day.
I learn best when I stand up.
I learn best by doing rather than by being told about it or reading it.
I like to try out things a number of times, working it out myself and checking the instructions after I have had a go (for example when setting up a new TV or computer).
I need to talk about it to understand it.
I need to mull on it for a while.
I give up on things that are hard. How can I change that? Do I need to learn to have small successes? (e.g. exercise with a friend twice a week rather than trying to run a marathon next week)

Some things you can do to grow thinking…
I can hook up new experiences with things I already know.
I make connections.
I can reflect and put things together in my mind.
I can ask questions. To become a questioner is to become a great learner.
I can use my inner voice to run things over in my mind, to talk to myself about what I’m learning and to make those important connections.
I can visualise things by drawing pictures in my mind or creating mini movies about what I am trying to understand or learn.
I can be OK with the fact that I don’t know everything and don’t have to be able to do everything perfectly, right now. I can say, ‘not yet’!
I can be curious, inquisitive and adventurous.
I can notice and be attentive.
I can manage the distractions around me.
I can stick at hard stuff and not give up!

So this year our challenge as educators and parents is to help our students (and ourselves) to switch on those wonderful God given brains - activate thinking, notice what is happening, become absorbed in learning, minimise distractions, value prior knowledge (what we already know about the topic) and have a growth mind set!

Further reading…
Claxton.G. (2002). Building Learning Power. Bristol, TLO Limited.
Dweck, C.S. (2012). Mindset, How you can fulfil your Potential. Great Britain, Robinson.
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