Tag Archives: metacognition

#craftreconciliation: Metacognition

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In the fall of 2016, Wab Kinew wrote a Facebook post inviting educators to partner “mainstream” classes with First Nation schools/classes to discuss “What does reconciliation look like?”.  Jaclyn Calder and I joined forces (along with Shannon Simpson and Caroline Black) to design a project that offered students an opportunity to think deeply about the relationship between Natives and non-Natives in Canada, generally, and their understanding of reconciliation, specifically. You can view the project at #CraftReconciliation with SCDSB, Wikwemikong, and Rama First Nations.

Here I am summarizing and reflecting on the project. There are five posts in this series, and they are organized around the Ontario Adolescent Literacy Guide‘s five components:

I have also organized the posts in a way that I hope makes visible the teaching – learning process so that other teachers can ‘see’ the learning that emerged from this project.


refers to students taking active ownership of their thinking processes so that they understand themselves as learners, they understand a given task, and they understand a variety of strategies and how to use them in a variety of situations.

Metacognition means…

From theory

Learners identify their own understandings in relation to learning goals and success criteria

To practice

It took me a long time to think about how I could best make visible some of the metacognitive thinking that happened in this course. A big part of the difficulty is that student thinking about their thinking happened in conversation and/or their notebooks. Digitizing this process is something that I will definitely change for next year. Another issue though are the types of questions the students were asked. Because this is an English course, many of the questions focused on reading and writing. (We did also read long texts for literature circles and write about our reading.) I decided not to include those reflections here, so that the focus on #craftreconciliation remains consistent. I also decided to include reflections from only one student for this first point both for the sake of economy as well as to give you a sense of what that trajectory might look like.

At the beginning of the semester, I ask students to create learning goals based on what they believed they needed to learn next, including growth mindset, which I always teach to at the outset of the course. You can see that oral communication and media creation don’t make this student’s initial list.

Course goals set in February:

Here are the things I want to learn to get better at in this English course.

  • Writing stronger sentences will help me out a lot I think because it will help me express my writing make it look like it is not even me.
  • I would love to do is being able to read faster, so I can read a lot more in a short period of time. I would still love to be able to understand what I am reading so I have to work on all reading skills like think about what I am reading, re-read if I don’t understand etc. I think reading faster will also help a lot in college and for the program I am going in.
  • My growth mindset area is extending more effort or seeing effort as a path to mastery. I think that fits me best because I like to try my best to extend when researching in topics I enjoy. I like to see myself make progress instead of thinking negative and saying I can’t do it. 

Reflections post-Google Hangouts and initial literature circle:

One of my strengths is oral communication because I am better at listening and talking than I am at reading and writing. For example, during the Google Hangout for the #craftreconciliation project, listening to other students ideas helped me think about what I want to do for the project.

Mid-term Thinking: 

In oral communication … I was able to engage more because I could share my understanding [of reconciliation] with others [on Google Hangouts] which helps me out more by exploring people’s suggestions and what reconciliation means to them. My reading is a whole different ball game I am not as strong as I wish I could be with my reading.

Media: #craftreconciliation interview (not reflection on strategies and learning; just content)


Year-End Reflections on learning:

The listening strategies that help me the most is having good posture when listing, making good eye contact with the speaker, and taking notes on something that will help me when I am called upon to speak or write about later. In a group discussion I think it is good for me to talk and try keep it going because most the time I am paired up with people who are too shy to talk or even participate in. To make sure I am using appropriate language I will listen to how others are using their language and how they choose to pick their vocabulary. I will try and follow up and use similar vocabulary or language to match and make myself sound more educational or into the conversation. The strategies I use most when understanding oral communication is writing notes and really finding a connection to what the speaker has to say. I think writing notes will keep me on top of things when I am called to talk or finding a connection will help me because I will be able to really engage in the conversation and be able to share and express my own thinking more.

Media: #craftreconciliation build final reflection and tour


From theory

Learners reflect on their learning and engaging in conversations about their thinking

To practice

Here are a variety of students’ responses to their learning in the project:

#Craftreconciliation did connect with the way I like to learn because I got to learn from other students from other places about what reconciliation is and what it means to them.—Tammara

#craftreconciliation definitely did connect a lot with how I like to learn [because] one of the ways I like to learn is creating stuff and getting all my creative juices flowing with something that I know that can really speak to someone or a group of people.—Austin

My favourite learning activity in the #craftreconciliation inquiry has been researching my own topic because I was able to look at how reconciliation has changed and became stronger over the years.–Seneca

However, the bulk of the digital reflections centred on the students explaining their vision of what reconciliation looks like to them, not on their learning, the way they accessed strategies or how they overcame learning challenges. I need to do more work here.

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If you have questions about #craftreconciliation or if there are parts of this post that need clarification, please use the comment box to connect with me.

Up next: Assessment and Evaluation

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I grew up in a place and at a time when communication beyond face-to-face interaction was limited to the phone. Long distance calling was exorbitantly expensive and so, rarely done. It was hard to imagine being an ocean biologist when the nearest ocean was a thousand miles away. It was hard to believe that you could do anything other what you saw in front of you, and most of the time, there was simply nothing there.

Nothing on TVCreative Commons License futureatlas.com via Compfight

I’m not even exaggerating.

I still live on the edge of the populated spaces in this country where there are no traffic lights, no stores open for evening shopping, and no line-ups for…well, anything. Waiting in traffic means someone is helping that turtle trying to get to the other side or a family of raccoons have decided to cross the road. And yet I don’t have to live on the periphery of  intellectual spaces any longer. I can participate in the most current educational thinking of Ontario, Canada, and beyond. I don’t have to wait for someone else to decide what is important for me to know about teaching and learning. I don’t have to hope that someone will provide me with inspiration for my work. I don’t have to draw on only the local resources to design courses that are meaningful, relevant, and intellectually engaging for my students.

What this does mean; however, is that others in my situation don’t have to either. This has been the challenge, then the difficulty, and now the problem facing me of the past five years. Why are the educators around me not embracing the opportunities offered via the current technologies to grow and learn past where they are physically located? Why rely on Nelson or Pearson solely to teach their students? Why do they think that what they have always done is sufficient today?

This brings me to this…..

MakeThingsDifferent screenshot Fryed

And Donna Fry’s blog is a source of inspiration for me. She tagged me in this post where she enumerates the 5 things that she thinks we need to stop pretending in order to #makeschooldifferent.

Here is my list…

#1.  We need to stop pretending that teachers can do this job alone. We need to recognize that planning time cannot mean that teachers work in isolation; nor can it only mean planning across grade teams. It must also mean having time to connect with educators beyond our four walls.  It means growing our PLN. It means honouring social media connection time as valuable.

#2. We need to stop pretending that all educators are de facto good learners. Tom Whitby has said, “To be better educators, we must first have to be better learners.” Agreed. And this does mean all of us who claim the title of educator: ECE, EA, Teacher, Coach, Consultant, Coordinator, Principal, Supervisor, Education Officer, Program Manager etc. We all need to expect of ourselves first what we expect of our students…to be risk-takers, metacognitive, and ‘learning ready’.

#3. We need to stop pretending that someone else is going to do the work. All educators at every level of our education system must engage in the actual work with students. The days of “walk-throughs” by administration need to end. Rather, administration needs to work in the classroom to remain connected to the ever-changing demands of the teaching-learning exchange.

Instructional rounds conducted by teachers and administration have taken hold in some places and work because they support/model a culture of ongoing learning. I have to believe that that culture is passed on to and/or picked up by the students, too.

There are other examples that demonstrate the importance/value of everyone doing the work. You can see here the Northern Ontario eLCs working with teachers and students of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board and the Trillium Lakelands District School Board. Another example comes from a session I attended for preparation work for a new e-learning course where Lori Stryker from the Assessment Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Education spoke about her work with teachers and students in classrooms to ensure that the work does not live in the theoretical realm, but moves always to practice.

#4. We have to stop pretending that learning is about isolated subjects driven by content. We need to design learning to be interdisciplinary so that students and teachers can tackle real world needs. This might mean solving real problems like how a school can acquire a new field for outdoor learning and recreation/training, or it might mean developing a program that responds to students’ desire to learn about the traditional life of their people (much like the  Specialist High School Major program in Ontario does). We need to see this kind of learning become the norm.

Frankly, it is becoming more and more difficult to explain to high school students why they need four English credits. They don’t dispute needing to develop and strengthen their communication/literacy skills, but many of them would rather do that work via robotics, student council, or a music business course.

Which brings me to …

#5. We have to stop pretending that only some teachers are teachers of literacy. Everyone needs to be able to speak, read, write, and create really well. Literacy is the set of skills that drives all other content–regardless of discipline. Literacy instruction needs to be built into every part of a students’ day because it is a set of skills that was, is, and will always be needed. Advanced literacy skills ensure that students will be able to think critically, communicate persuasively, and work collaboratively. In Ontario, the work of incorporating/embedding literacy into every grade 7-12 classroom is supported by the Adolescent Literacy Guide and the folks at the Curriculum Services Branch of the Ministry of Education. It’s up to our school and system leaders to make sure that every teacher is skilled at literacy instruction.

Of course, there are more than 5 things to stop pretending. Here are some other voices who have expressed ideas that I would add to my list too!!!

Heather Theijsmeijer

Colleen Rose

Ms. Armstrong

Deborah McCallum

And I would like to challenge my English teacher colleagues  @msjweir@arachnemom, @sarle83, and @danikatipping. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts ladies!!!


Filed under Literacy, OSSEMOOC, Professional Learning, Teaching

The Collaborative Inquiry. Still Messy.

Ah, the collaborative inquiry…

What is not lacking is the creativity or the knowledge to begin this work, and, in truth, much of it has been initiated already. What may be lacking, however, is the energy, discipline, and patience to study what is involved in the transformation and the courage to test our capacity for commitment to sustain such change.  -Emihovich, C., & Battaglia, C. (2000). Creating cultures for collaborative inquiry: new challenges for school leaders. International Journal of Leadership in Education. 3(3), 225-238. Taylor and Francis Ltd.

Last year, I was part of a teacher collaborative inquiry with a grade 2, 5, and 6 teacher. It was a time of firsts. We had never worked cross panel before. We had never belonged to a Collaborative Inquiry (CI) before. LLCI Glogster We had never dabbled with student inquiry before. We had  never made our thinking visible to our colleagues before. We had never presented our learning at a regional Ministry of Education event (Leaders of Literacy Collaborative Inquiry) before. I did write a post about our LLCI, and although it captures a snapshot of teacher learning, it does not capture the process. But, I can tell you that we had never had a professional learning experience like this before: Powerful.

This year, I have been part of a high school CI that has had its share of firsts, too. For some, it was the first time observing another teacher; for others, it was the first go at student-teacher conferences. We tackled the question

What is the impact of explicitly teaching reading strategies on students’ ability to comprehend complex text?

Here is a summary of our process and our learning:



Again a powerful learning experience.

That final note in the reflective video in the above Prezi is the thinking that moved us into our second CI of the year. How might we support students in knowing how to make their own decisions in their learning? How might we help students identify which strategy is the right one to tackle the task before them, and what tools will help them?

Identifying the student learning need is, I believe, one of the hardest parts of the CI process because we can think we know what the learning needs are, but can we be sure? What assumptions might we be making that stand in the way of us realizing what our students need? What is the combination of hard data and perceptual data that will direct the team’s thinking and support its decision?

We certainly had evidence from our work in first semester that students were not self-directed, independent learners, and on the strength of that perceptual data, we decided on a metacognition focus for our second CI. But metacognition is a tough thing to measure, isn’t it? Not for Jenni Donohoo.



We had met Jenni Donohoo, author of Collaborative Inquiry for Educators, earlier in the year, when she was brought on board to assist the CIs in learning the process. Jenni was back at our school at the end of January to deliver a workshop and to participate in our CI ‘celebrations’. I approached her with the problem of creating a tool to measure metacognition, and she responded with a statistically validated questionnaire (Metacognitive Awareness Inventory)! Very cool.

We eventually generated our question:

What’s the impact of explicitly teaching metacognition on students’ abilities to know and apply appropriate strategies when needed?

The second hardest part of the CI process is identifying the teacher learning need. This should be straight forward, right? If I know the student learning need, then I know the teacher learning need. If my students need to learn how to become more metacognitive, then I need to learn how to explicitly teach to that need. So we develop teaching tools, we design lessons around a Strategy Evaluation Matrix, we challenge each other’s thinking around learning goals, we revise, try again , revamp the tools, and run out of time.


CI Concluding Statement

It’s messy, this business of learning.

But it’s ok. We’ll go back at it in September because what we know we have is the energy, discipline, and patience to see it to the end.

What are your collaborative inquiry experiences? What part of the plan, act, observe, reflect cycle is challenging for your team? Please share your thoughts and comments below.


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How metacognitive are you?


“Metacognition is not something you plan into your schedule, but rather, something you do in your day-to-day teaching.”                                                                             Guylaine Melançon, 2005

There has been lots of talk about self efficacy, students learning to choose from all the information offered online, learning to see what is ‘out there’ that they need, and to be both independent and interdependent learners. How do we learn to do these things? What’s more,  how do we develop that sense of agency that will support us as we  take on new, and possibly, unknown learning environments?

Part of the answer lies in students’ abilities to be metacognitive. We usually refer to metacognition as thinking about your thinking, but what really does that mean?  Well, let’s think about being a student in ETMOOC.

How’s it going so far?

Some people feel overwhelmed with the volume of information, some are pressed for time, and others are scrambling to learn new tools like blogging. You are probably using a variety of strategies to help you cope, but what strategies are using to help you learn? And are you cognizant of them?

I am a mooc newbie. So much of what is happening is new to me that if I don’t rely on what I know about myself as a learner, I will be done, burned-out, or disengaged and gone before I ever got started.

I have a pretty good tool kit of personal strategies, but you can teach an old dog new tricks, so my first strategy in a new learning environment is to get used to the landscape. For this mooc, that meant setting up my Google calendar with the dates of all ETMOOC sessions, reading the etmooc.org site (a few times), preparing my blog, and then previewing some of the early bird submissions. Then, I run the old checklist:

Twitter, Tweetdeck, and Tweetchat  √

Blog with tags, profile, first what am I doing here post    √

Calendar set up    √

Google+ profile and join community    √

Blackboard Collaborate at the ready    √

Attend all scheduled sessions-especially the first one-live    √

These steps, or organizational strategies, help me stay calmish, and prepare me for the new learning environment, or at least for what I think I can see. Other strategies I have already used include reviewing sessions for which I needed more processing time, searching beyond the course materials and blogs to help clarify ideas, terms, and products, and importantly, trying strategies/tools others suggest that I have not used before (remember you can teach an old dog new tricks-that’s this part) like using Google Reader to manage blog reading (thanks Sue!).

None of us are new to strategy instruction. We teach self-regulatory strategies, we teach organization strategies, we teach collaboration and cooperation strategies, and we teach academic strategies. No problem. The connection between strategy instruction and metacognition is where the gap often exists. Once students have some strategy tools in their toolkit, we need to create opportunities for them to think about how and when they use them. This is the metacognitive process. Teaching to the strategies is not enough. We need to engage students in thinking about their thinking. What did I do? What helped me finish this task? What helped me be successful? What didn’t I do that I could have done to help me be successful?

We need to teach students how to do this process, give them lots and lots and lots of practice, and then release it to them.

This is hard work.
This is time-consuming work.
But if we are serious about preparing our kids for Dave Cormier’s or Alan Levine’s  university courses, then I think this is it. Our students need to begin to learn in kindergarten to be

  •   Independent
  •  Self-regulated
  • Interdependent


Here are some resources to support your work in this area:

Grades 7 -12 http://www.edugains.ca/newsite/literacy2/adolescent/metacognition.html

All grades     http://www.hent.org/world/rss/files/metacognition.htm

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