Does ‘thinking about thinking’ mean anything?

Metacognition is often defined simply as ‘thinking about thinking’. Rather than simplifying the concept of metacognition, it always seems to me that this phrase obscures what we mean by metacognition and makes it, if anything, less easy to put into practice in a classroom. Try for a moment to think about the phrase ‘thinking about thinking’. What things come to mind?
Perhaps some vague form of introspection or meditation? Or perhaps you visualise psychologists pondering how the brain processes information? Maybe you make a link with daydreaming or conversely with someone unable to act on solving a problem because they are stuck in a loop of thinking about how they are thinking about the problem? Personally, when I consider the phrase ‘thinking about my thinking’, I end up in a philosophical meandering taking in ideas from such shibboleths as what is consciousness to how do I know I am thinking. Interesting though these speculations can be at times, as a teacher they do not help me to find ways to develop metacognition in my pupils.
It is hardly surprising then that most of the teachers I’ve talked to during the past eight years while researching metacognition in young children find the theory obscure and the suggested practices difficult to fit into their teaching. As a consequence many teachers end up paying a kind of lip service to developing their pupils’ thinking, using a variety of untested and intuitive methods, which range from checklists to posters, from asking ‘how’ questions to collaborative dialogues. While all of these strategies can be useful in terms of facilitating the development of
metacognition, most often they are used in an ad hoc way, when time allows and when the task is deemed suitable for reflecting on.
This chapter aims to demystify the theory of metacognition and to explain what we know about its development and its link to both academic success and self-fulfilment. Through real classroom encounters we will consider how teachers and pupils together can facilitate the development of this type of thinking.

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Lets Think Handbook Copyright © by Alex Black. All Rights Reserved.

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