Metacognition in Early Childhood

While reading Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick’s chapter, Dispositions: Critical Pathways for Deeper Learning (from Deeper Learning, 2015), I found myself wondering and brainstorming about metacognitive practices in early childhood classrooms, specifically with children who cannot yet fully read and write, or whose skills in these areas are still emerging.

Metacognition, or the ability to “think about your own thinking” is defined by Costa and Kallick as:

our ability to plan a strategy for producing what information is needed, maintaining that plan in mind over a period of time, being conscious of our own steps and strategies during the act of problem solving, and reflecting on on and evaluating the productiveness of our own thinking. 

Whoah.  Seems like a pretty tall order for little people and their teachers.  In classrooms where play reigns supreme, the idea of including metacognitive practices might seem daunting, too prescriptive, or too teacher-directed to some early childhood educators. But think about it: who better than young children (who love to narrate their play, explain every detail of their block structure, or painstakingly dictate a caption of a photo of their work) to benefit from (and even teach us about) thinking about their own thinking.

I love this blog post about metacognition and the assertion that incorporating metacognitive practices into classroom life, can “blur… the lines between teacher and learner” – giving children’s thoughts, ideas, and voice more power into the planning that goes into classroom curriculum.  Isn’t that what we should be doing anyway?  Shouldn’t we look to the children first — their interests, loves, developmental levels, academic abilities – before we plan for them?  How can we use metacognitive strategies to help us with that?  And – what are some of those strategies that we can use with our littles?

For that, I turn where I always do – to the amazing teachers I am so blessed to work with.  This year, one of our classrooms experimented with the idea of children’s “play plans.”  The classroom teachers, Liz Aull and Stacey Whalen, after discussing the available materials within the classroom, ask the children to make plans of what they would do during the day.

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Initially, the children would dictate these plans to their teachers, who would write it on the white board.  Teachers would then allow children to play, but did not direct or re-direct children to complete their plans. At the close of the day, children would revisit their plan and talk about whether they fulfilled their plan (or not).  Over time, the children grew in two areas:

  1. their ability to identify the materials or center they were most interested in (i.e. to make an accurate plan), and
  2. their ability to talk about and discuss their work.

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The teachers were able to expand on these play plans through other high-level project work in the classroom as the children’s metacognitive abilities grew. As children grew in their ability to represent their thoughts, their plans increasingly involved drawing and sketching.

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The play plans, and the act of back and forth, give and take conversations between teachers and children in the classroom around them, allowed this classroom community to become a more emergent learning environment where children’s interests and voice, coupled with teacher passion and engagement, produced a deeper learning environment for these children.

Reflecting on this amazing year, and these amazing teachers, I am left wondering:

  • how can we expand on this work to incorporate all aspects of metacognition highlighted in Costa and Kallik’s definition?
  • are there other ways that young children can evaluate their planning and execution skills?
  • how can we scale this experience into other classrooms – particularly those with younger children?
  • how can we give teachers more time to think about their own thinking – to allow for teacher reflection to really drive classroom learning?

As in every summer, I am so excited about the possibilities of what this year can bring.  I look forward to exploring it with all of our #mvlittles

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