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Six Simple Steps To Help Students Own Their Own Learning
posted by: Cindy Omlin | June 01, 2016, 09:31 PM   


I stumbled onto the greatest discovery about teaching and learning accidentally. I was mentoring a learning community of university students years ago, when one of them sent me a note asking who was choosing the topic for the next week’s session. When I saw the inquiry, I grabbed my laptop and typed in my reply: “I can do that.” 

At least, that’s what I thought I said. 

Without knowing it, however, I had mistyped. Unwittingly, I sent the message back: “u can do that.” 

At our next meeting, the students showed up ready to go. They proceeded to facilitate the discussion, the learning, the experiments and the outcomes. They were brilliant. In fact, they didn’t even need me.  I never told them it was a mistake. 

What I learned was all about metacognition. Metacognition (or thinking about thinking) is the secret to and the driving motivation behind all effective learning. If we want our students to learn as much as possible, then we’ll want to maximize the amount of metacognition they're doing. It's a relatively simple equation. The more they reflect on their learning, the more they learn. The better they engage in the subject and how they might communicate it to others—the more they actually own it. This is what every instructor dreams about for their students. Our problem is that most classrooms are set up to promote metacognition in the teachers, not the students.  We are far more engagedthan our students. Most students sit back and wait for their teacher to simplify the material and make it easy for them to digest it. Some kids even want you to “spoon feed” them. 

How Learning Really Works

So how do we increase the amount of metacognition students do? Just ask Harvard physics professor, Eric Mazur. Eric was teaching some of the smartest college students anywhere, but soon discovered how little they really understood. It was startling to him. Dr. Mazur decided he must push his students to think more, so he began making them teach each other. In summary, he transitioned his traditional classroom into a transformational one: 

Traditional Pedagogy                            Transformational Pedagogy

1. Students are Consumers                     1. Students are Creators

2. Teachers are Commanders                 2. Teachers are Consultants

3. Fosters Complacency                          3. Fosters Contribution


Eight Conclusions About Metacognition in the Classroom:

 1. Students support what they help create.

Some athletic coaches are empowering students to decide how practice goes, what athletes do, how long they do and when they do it. They’re getting surprising results.

How can you give ownership of a subject by letting students to direct the learning? 

2. Students learn better when they expect to teach what they learn.

My friend George is a college professor who now has his students prepare each other for final examinations. Grades have soared as they actually engage their peers.

What portions of your topic or ideas can you assign students to teach to peers? 

3. Students are incentivized if they know why a topic is relevant beforehand.

Two math teachers did an experiment. One taught in a traditional style; the other took time to cover “why” each section was important. Predictably, grades went up for the latter. How can you share the “why” behind the “what” before you teach your subject? 

4. Students bond with an experience more than a lecture.

As I stated earlier, some colleges are now using “project-based learning, where the class becomes an experience not just an explanation and students are loving it.

In what ways can you create an experience from which your students learn? 

5. Students absorb more when more than two senses are involved.

Finland teachers have shared that students grasp and retain more when they don’t merely listen to lectures but they touch, smell, taste and see the topic in class.

How can you cultivate an environment that includes all five senses of the students? 

6. Students understand a larger percentage when they must practice it.

Students learn on a “need to know” basis. They learn “just in time” (when they must apply it) not “just in case” (future theory). As a rule, application accelerates learning.

How can homework be expanded into enabling students to actually apply the topic? 

7. Students connect with a subject when allowed to connect with each other.

Decades ago, Russian psychologists taught that learning occurs best in community; that we learn better in circles than in rows. Life change requires “life exchange.”

When could you incorporate smaller discussion communities in your classroom? 

8. Students remember data when an image is utilized in their learning.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Images can help form leadership habits and attitudes, as pictures are handles for data. How can you leverage a visual, metaphor or image to anchor your big idea? 

Becoming a “Free Range” Teacher Today

We can take some simple steps, however, to move students toward metacognition: 

1. Create problems without offering solutions. Ask don’t tell. Bring up a genuine dilemma in our world and suggest the students consider how to resolve it. 

2. At least once a day, refuse to answer a student’s question. Instead, encourage everyone in the class to look up answers and see what they find. 

3. Create disequilibrium. This is that awkward period of silence between the time a problem is clear and the moment a solution arises. Allow for silence and discomfort. 

4. Instead of traditional grading of papers, tests or essays, communicate how many mistakes were made on their project and turn them loose to find each one. 

5. Choose a day and let students plan the entire lesson for the class period. In fact, let them record themselves teaching it, evaluating themselves afterward. 

6. In your next exam, write in the wrong answers on blanks—the very wrong ones students have given previously in class. Let students grade the test, find the proper solution, and in effect, answer their own questions. 

Discuss: Choose a lesson plan. Brainstorm ideas to insert metacognition.

Originally posted by Alana at AAE.

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