Reading about Learning, Brains and Metacognition

Metacognition is “thinking about thinking.” I may have first heard the term when I was studying reading education for my Masters degree in 2000. I soon came to know it was important to teach children to think about their thinking as they read. It is only then that they can grow as readers and proficient users of comprehension strategies. It changed my reading instruction, but it didn’t radically change all of my teaching.

Now, during the past few years, I have begun to realize that it had to radically change ALL of my teaching.

Oh, that teachers can help children to know and love the process of thinking and learning.

I’ve been reading several blog posts this past week that remind me even more of the power of knowing about learning.

The first one  reminded me of Meera, one of my kindergarten students. When I asked her this spring, “What do you want to learn?” she responded with, “I want to learn about my brain.” What a lead in! It was awesome. I actually explained  to the whole class a bit about brains.

But not as much as I will teach the whole class next year, thanks to Carol Dweck’s work on Mindsets and this post I read recently: What Kids Should Know About Their Own Brains by Annie Murphy Paul on Mind/Shift. Kids are interested in brain research, especially when it “makes a big difference in how constructively kids deal with mistakes and setbacks, and how motivated they are to persist until they achieve mastery.”

The second article gave questions students should be able to answer. like:

  • “What do you want to learn about?”
  • “What’s worth understanding deeply?”
  • “How do you respond to complex texts or digital media?”
  • “If I get out of your way this year, what will you be able to do?”

And 22 more in the article 26 questions every student should be able to answer (by Terry Heick on Te@chThought).  It wouldn’t be easy to interview all the students, so this article also gives ways shared by teachers to get students answering these questions, like jigsawing and team building games. Students should not only be able to personally answer these questions, but they should be asked to answer these questions by teachers who care about their learning.

In another article, Helping Students See Themselves as Thinkers also on Te@chThought, and also by Terry Heick, he ties learning and thinking into citizenship, “In lieu of outward content knowledge, perhaps the goal of all learning should be self-knowledge–themes of identity and purpose, then connectivism and interdependence–ultimately leading to self-directed thinkers who care for their connections with others, and the consequences of their ‘cognitive behavior.'”

This self-knowledge goes along with his lovely and brilliant definition of 21st century learning:  intimate, self-directed learning experiences that serve authentic physical and digital communities, ultimately leading to personal and social change. In his article, Terry gives 12 questions to help students see themselves as thinkers, and as thinkers they can also become problem solvers, conflict resolvers, makers of masterpieces, and self-knowledgeable citizens of the world.

That’s certainly what I want for all my students, so I’ll be helping my little ones see themselves as thinkers!

What have you been reading and viewing lately about learning, brains, and metacognition?


Knight, Jim. “Instructional Coaching.” Unmistakable Impact: A Partnership Approach for Dramatically Improving Instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2011. 94. Print.

8 thoughts on “Reading about Learning, Brains and Metacognition

  1. Denise,

    Thank you for all the links! I’ll have to squeeze in some more reading before my school schedule kicks in.

    Annie Murphy Paul also wrote a related article about memory (which you may have seen) that has implications for the deeper learning that you discuss in this post. It may be helpful for all learners to remember the importance of memory (the organic kind, not the electronic kind) when it comes to deep and personal learning. It’s the kind of memorization I hope occurs during genius hour.

    Thanks again for sharing.


    1. Scott,
      Thanks for sharing the article about E-Memory and O-Memory. It is a good designation to teach and note the two kinds of memory. A commenter said after this article that she collects recipes in her e-memory and can go back to them whenever she needs them. However, she really won’t be a great cook until she uses her organic memory to check and balance the new recipes with connections to her past recipe experience. I think that will be true for doctors, as the article said, and for all of us in our lives. So, yes to genius hour and building rich connections as we “browse, elaborate and reflect” in our organic memories.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing the article. Sorry it took me so long to reply.


  2. Denise,

    I think teaching kids about the brain is a fantastic idea! Everyone should know a little bit about how their brain works. The articles were very insightful and a great read! In the article 26 questions every student should be able to answer, I find even myself stumbling on some of the questions. It would be great to see children so young being able to answer questions like that.

    1. Madeline,
      Thank you, Madeline, for visiting and leaving a comment. It is fun to teach the children about their brain. It’s only been the fourth day of school, but already my students are talking about brain research. Yesterday I shared this article called “Yet Another Reason to Learn a Second Language: It Makes Your Brain Bigger.”

      My students are all learning two or more languages, so it was delightful to be able to share that research with them. They get it, even though they are so young.

      Thank you again,

  3. Denise,
    Thank you for sharing these links! I think teaching students about their brain is a wonderful idea that will help to motivate them to try harder and do better. My favorite was the 26 questions article. As a college student and future educator, I found some of these questions very difficult to answer. I will definitely be thinking about these questions more often and looking for answers.

    1. Thanks, Brooke, for taking the time to leave a comment. I appreciate it. Yes, I agree, those questions are not easy of us adults and educators to answer. That says something about how we need to teach kids at a young age to think about their thinking and learning.

Comments are closed.