Metacognitive Learners

When teachers attend their Montessori training, one of the things that they learn about is how to teach children to be metacognitive learners. The word “metacognitive” means big learning and this concept essentially is learning about how we learn. Thomas Friedman, NYT columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner, among others, says that the key to success in the 21st century is exactly this skill; the ability to ‘learn how to learn’. This also happens to be a key feature of the Montessori philosophy-teaching each child to understand how learning works, how their best learning style is unique to them, and what they can do to set themselves up for success as a learner.

But how do we teach children to do this? One way that teachers do this is by modeling out loud their own experience of being metacognitive (sometimes called a ‘think aloud’ as described by Chris Tovani in her book I Read It but I Don’t Get It). This is commonly done with a read aloud, so the teacher will demonstrate their own experience as they read text aloud, verbalizing for students their internal thoughts as they read, describing which parts of the text they make connections with, which parts are confusing, and which parts they got lost in distraction during.  From here, children are encouraged to jot down their own metacognitions on a sticky note as they read, explaining what is going on in their own mind. This practice gets children to become familiar with when they are comprehending, and when they are not, so that they can take charge of their learning strengths and weaknesses, helping them to identify how they personally learn best.