Metacognition – awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes.
Say the word back and you will instantly feel more intelligent. Metacognition and Music Teaching is crucial to helping our students become better, more efficient learners.
So what exactly is Metacognition?
Metacognition is the process of “Thinking about Thinking”. It is standing back and observing how we think and the processes that we use. In essence it is all about how we learn and how our students learn.
Metacognitive strategies can be used to ensure students meet learning objectives and ultimately make progress. Examples of metacognitive activities include planning how to approach a learning task, using appropriate skills and strategies to solve a problem and evaluating progress toward the completion of a task.
I am quite excited by the whole Metacognition thing and I think it is hugely important for us to think about it as music teachers and music students. A simple introduction to my students over the last week or so has already yealded positive results.
Metacognition is a word that we can easily shy away from simply because it sounds a little bit much, a buzz word, another fad. We therefore need to break it down and make it an approachable word and concept so that we can fully embrace it and get the most from it.
A big part of Metacognition is thinking about the processes that we use to learn and the monitoring of how we plan, rehearse and work. Sometimes we need to break things down and consider what & why we are doing, and how we can improve it next time. It links in with the concepts of developing a positive mindset that were written about by Carol Dweck in her important book “Mindset”. We need to think about how we think apply this to teaching.
A Practical Approach
So let’s think practically about this.
The first thing I have done at school in the last week or so is introduce the topic of Metacognition. I initially broke it down for students to help them understand. This is an important part of the process and a good place to start.
Secondly I have applied it to the musician and I have focussed on 3 areas that are crucial amongst GCSE & A-level students:
Being a Metacognitive composer is very important. How often do we see students sit at a computer and just hope that the composition happens? No real planning or thought process. Or what about the student that is frustrated because their piece isn’t going anywhere. Have they thought about the process they have adopted so far?
A Metacognitive composer will think about the process they are going to use to create their composition. They will consider the tools that they need – Metacognitive tools – and these may include the brief, a chord pattern a melody etc. When they start their composition they are constantly thinking about what they are doing and reflecting on it.
The most important part of a GCSE or A-Level performance is the practice that goes into the performance. But the student who doesn’t apply Metacognition to their own personal rehearsal time will not be as successful. A Metacognitive performer will be constantly thinking about how they can improve and the apply that to their playing. They won’t be simply playing a piece from beginning to end and assuming that is enough practice. They will reflect on past performances, look at past processes and then work out what bars, or sections of a piece they need to work on. Students need to think about how they might solve a problem with a piece. A long scalic run might be improved by playing more scales.
3. Essay Writing
When students sit down to write an essay they need to think about what they are do. Then they plan and gather the tools around them that they need. An essay isn’t just going to happen, and so they need to plan and prepare. Use my previous essay blog to help with this – Perfect A-Level Essay?
They are working towards the exam at the end where they won’t have anything but their brain. So they are training their brains to think and process in the correct way. When they are Metacognitive they will regulate and monitor their thoughts during the essay process and not simply write because they have a deadline.
Metacognition is now a key word for myself and my students. I am going to be continually looking at the concept with my classes. I will also be reading a few books on the subject that I will let you know about.
Let’s get our students thinking about their thinking. The results will be clear – they will learn more and make more progress.
Now go be Metacognitive!