Monday, September 3, 2012

Metacognition, Formative Instruction, Next Generations Assessments and New Learning Standards

Think about the last time you had to study for a test or read a text passage that was difficult for you to comprehend.  What strategies worked for you?  Maybe you are a highlighter...and created pages of yellow and pink highlighted passages or notes.  Or, perhaps you are a flashcard creator - going through piles of 3x5 cards as you memorize vocabulary or important dates.  As your read the passage, did you find yourself going back and re-reading?  Most successful students have a toolbox of strategies to choose from when they are faced with a new learning challenge or an impending assessment. AND...they know which strategies to use when. Metacognition is the ability to recognize how you think and come up with a plan for your learning.  As we shift to Next Generation Assessments and New Learning Standards, it is important to also plan how to shift our students thinking about their thinking!  

Metacognition and Formative Instruction
Formative Instructional Practices (FIP) allow for time in a class to assess FOR learning.  One of the key activities in any FIP centered classroom is self reflection and the chance to review instructive feedback.  This time for reflection might be centered around a think-pair-share activity, which gives students the chance to reflect on their own understanding, compare it to a partner then build on it within the broader group.  Keeping a reflection journal is also a helpful tool to build metacognition. Time needs to be set aside at the end of class or a lesson to allow for this reflection.  In order to really build metacognition, it needs to focus not just on a "What we did in class today" prompt but more on "What I learned in class today...what didn't I learn, What do I need to learn more about and What helped me to learn today" prompt.  Students in a FIP classroom should also have the chance to plan their learning. Starting with a clear learning target, students and teachers can work together to decide how to best work toward achieving the target. Entrance cards and pretests give students information on where their existing strengths and weaknesses are. Students with good metacognition are better at predicting their success on assignments because they have a realistic view of their own knowledge level.  Activities that help students to connect new learning to prior knowledge also help students to reflect on how they are learning.

Metacognition and Next Generation Assessments
It is test day and a few of your students can’t wait to take the test because they KNOW that they are going to “ace” the test. And then when the test is returned with a low grade they are stunned, blame you for writing a terrible test and toss the test paper in the trash. These are students who have low metacognition. Spending time helping student to understand the types of questions on the test, talking through strategies for preparing for those types of problems and having students reflect on how they have prepared for tests in the past will help to build metacognition. The Next Generation Assessments pose a unique new problem. In the past, students taking state tests had a significant delay between when the test was administered and when the results were returned. There was a real disconnect between their taking of the test and how the results related to their actual learning.  The new assessments will be administered online. Students will receive almost immediate results. The new assessments will have built in tools that will help students who have an awareness of what testing strategies work best for them. Highlighters, scratchpads, and drag and drop fields will be available for all students to use. This means that students need practice in how to highlight key and supporting information, write out possible solutions to problems and organize information in a way that makes sense.

Metacognition and Ohio’s New Learning Standards
There are a lot of words that have been used to describe the new learning standards - rigorous, deeper, demanding, mastery.  If we really want students to have a deeper, more complex understanding of the standards, we need to also work at teaching them how to learn differently.  Just memorizing lists of vocabulary words or math formulas in order to take the test on Friday, then forget it and move on isn’t going to work anymore. In order to really read along a continuum of text complexity, students need to recognize when they aren’t comprehending a passage and draw from a variety of reading strategies to help them to build that comprehension. This is metacognition. Where to start? Giving students permission to “write in the books” - either in pencil or on post-its - allows for a “conversation” with the author by asking questions as they read, highlighting challenging words or key concepts, reading different types of text beyond the textbook all help them to acquire knowledge.   Helping students take effective notes - from “tagging” key ideas to using column style (or Cornell style) notes helps to build understanding and gives them a tool to use to study for summative assessments.  Graphic organizers, Frayer model notecards, responding to blogs and online discussions all help students frame their thinking.  Talk with students about how YOU learned the material.  Do “Think-out-louds” when you are solving problems in front of the class.  Use short term (one activity or period) collaborative groups with clearly defined roles and tasks to give students the opportunity to compare their learning to the learning of their peers. Try to pick tasks for the group that they could not accomplish on their own.  

As we move ahead this year with conversations about changing the way we think about teaching, let’s make sure we are bringing our students along with us!  


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