The Metacognitive Musician

Metacognition – awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes.

Say the word back and you will instantly feel more intelligent. The thing is, if we can make our students more Metacognitive then we will literally make them more intelligent.

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. I have been introducing my students to it over the last week or so and I am already seeing some changes in their behaviour.

I think 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 we are doing, why we are doing it 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 and learn and the mindset that we are applying to our schooling and teaching.

So let’s think practically about this and I will share with you some of the things I have been doing with my students.

The first thing I have done at school in the last week or so is introduce the topic of Metacognition and broken it down for students to understand. This is an important part of the process, we need to understand what it is that we are doing with Metacognition.

Secondly I have applied it to the musician and I have focussed on 3 areas that are crucial amongst GCSE & A-level students:

1. Composition

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.

2. Performance

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 as the one that does. 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. they need to think about how they might solve a problem with a piece – a long scalic run might be improved by playing more scales for example.

3. Essay Writing

When students sit down to write an essay they need to think about what they are doing, plan what they are going to do and gather the tools around them that they need to do it. An essay isn’t just going to happen, and so they need to plan and prepare. 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 and I will let you know how I get on. 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!


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