In learning, our goal is to have the student take control of his learning and move beyond just remembering facts for a test and then forgetting them at a later time. We want our homeschooled kids to remember information and be able to apply it in various situations. We want them to make neural connections that will allow them to access the information when it is needed and useful.
What Is Metacognition?
In the book How People Learn metacognition is defined as “people’s abilities to predict their performances on various tasks (e.g., how well they will be able to remember various stimuli) and to monitor their current levels of mastery and understanding… Teaching practices congruent with a metacognitive approach to learning include those that focus on sense-making, self-assessment, and reflection on what worked and what needs improving. These practices have been shown to increase the degree to which students transfer their learning to new settings and events.”
In simple English, metacognition is the point where learners can monitor and take charge of their learning. When students use metacognition, they are able to think about how they are learning. Metacognition allows learners to come to an understanding of concepts, not just a rote memorization of facts.
Metacognition is developed by encouraging home school students to think for themselves. As teachers, we want to provide help and many times do more than we should while we are trying to help. Asking questions that guide our kids to think helps them to develop the skills necessary to take learning to a higher level.
What Metacognitive Thinking Looks Like
Think about how science (or other content) vocabulary is learned. One way students study vocabulary is to repeat the definition to themselves ten times each night for a number of nights before a test. This helps them to memorize definitions and parrot them back on the test. The words are quickly forgotten and serve no useful purpose.
When a student is thinking about vocabulary in a metacognitive sense, they are asking questions about how these words work within a context. For example, learning that a molecule is “the smallest physical unit of an element or compound, consisting of one or more like atoms in an element and two or more different atoms in a compound”(dictionary.com) may help a student pass a test but they do not really understand molecules. A student using metacognitive thinking may ask what are atoms and how do they affect molecules? If I can identify the molecules in a compound, how does changing those molecules affect the compound? They have now taken the definition and have asked themselves further questions. As they do this, molecule becomes more than just a vocabulary word, it becomes an essential part of the chemistry or physics they are studying.
Metacognition allows students to learn deeply, to take information and make it a part of their long-term memory. They will remember what they learn and will be able to apply it when they see it again. They will be able to think about the importance of what they are learning and how they can learn it better. Learning becomes the student’s job and we as teachers become facilitators for their learning. Try to look for homeschool curriculum materials that allow your child to use metacognition and not only learn but retain information.