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Help Students Develop Self-Awareness (Metacognition)


Social-Emotional Learning All Ages Strategy

Help Students Develop Self-Awareness (Metacognition)

All students

How To Apply It!

  1. Self-awareness, or objectively knowing your own strengths and needs, is key to learning and life success. In school, self-awareness helps students know when and how long they need to study, which strategies work best for them, and when they can relax and feel comfortable that they "know what you need to know".
  2. Self-awareness is key to lifelong learning but it develops with age. While you cannot expect elementary students to have the same level of self-awareness as a middle schooler, it is important to nurture self-awareness through positive reinforcement and ongoing feedback at all ages so students progressively develop.
  3. Reinforce that every student is capable, but we are all different in what comes easily and what is more challenging. Recognizing and valuing our strengths helps us learn how to work efficiently and successfully. Recognizing what is a challenge helps us plan approprriately, expect to put in more effort, and feel comfortable asking questions.
  4. Teach the concept of metacognition or the importance of "thinking about their thinking". Metacognition enables students to pick the right approaches for the learning situation and context and not just "dive-in" without considering what will work best.
  5. Model metacognition for students. Think aloud and talk through problems. If a student hears an adult talk through their thought processes, the student implicitly begins to understand how to think through challenges.
  6. Discuss the Learner Profile and other objective feedback such as grades. Combining objective data along with observation can enable adults to have the most productive conversation about what is working for a student and help them discover opportunities for improvement.
  7. Recognize successful strategy use. If a student drew pictures to help him solve a math problem (without being required) and it worked, comment on the good use of a strategy. Recognizing which strategies are most helpful in a given situation is key to successful learning.
  8. Encourage new strategy use. If a student asks for help, suggest a few strategies to try rather than focusing on solving the specific problem. For example, answering a reading comprehension question you could tell the student to look in the first paragraph. Alternatively, you could ask them to visualize, annotate or paraphrase. The former might get them the right answer but the latter options will help them answer the question independently in the future.

Why It Works (the Science Of Learning)!

Giving students responsibility for their own learning can be key to building motivation and a growth mindset. Students with strong self-awareness are better able to figure out appropriate study strategies, how long they need to study, and when they need to ask for help. Students with weaker self-awareness may not study long enough or in the right way, believing they have mastered the material when they have not. Research from Dunning-Kruger shows how students are poor at self-assessing their own knowledge, both strong students as well as struggling students. Helping students use feedback and objective data can help them learn from past experiences and become more self-aware.