A blog to share information on literacy strategies across contents and grade levels. Metacognitive strategies included. "Metacognition is, put simply, thinking about one's thinking. More precisely, it refers to the processes used to plan, monitor, and assess one's understanding and performance. Metacognition includes a critical awareness of a) one's thinking and learning and b) oneself as a thinker and learner." -- Vanderbilt University
Not until we are lost do we begin to find ourselves.
Henry David Thoreau
recently went to a conference at the JFK Library in Boston with my
colleague Karen. Neither of us knew Boston geography well. It probably
would have been safer if we had taken the subway once we reached the
city limits, but we didn’t. Karen drove. Even with my talking navigation
tool (the one that tells you when and how to turn ahead of time), we
managed to miss a turn or two (or three). Once we'd missed a turn, my
navigation app would beep and after a few seconds call out directions
for a new route. Some of the roads eventually looked familiar, since we
ended up retracing our steps once or twice (or three times). We arrived
at our conference in time, but I had no idea where the JFK Library was
in relation to the rest of Boston until I looked at a map, and I
definitely would not be able to drive there again without my handy dandy
Throughout our tour of Boston, we relied on a digital voice.
She told us how many feet to travel, the names of roads, the turns to
take, and exactly when to take them. The roads were so confusing with
the diagonal intersections, merging cars, and traffic circles that we
did not even try to navigate independently. We had no idea where we were
going except for the name of the place. We had a wonderful day of
learning at the conference, but we had absolutely no new learning about
When we were driving home with a long stretch of highway in
front of us and no need to worry about turns and traffic circles, Karen
asked me about one of her fifth-grade students who is struggling with
research-based essays. The complexity of the task overwhelms him. He has
to read, take notes, integrate information, organize notes, realize
what information he might still need, locate additional resources...and
that’s all before he has to write an introduction, developmental
paragraphs with facts, details, and transition words, and then a
conclusion that calls readers to action. This task, to a student who
doesn’t read, organize, integrate, and write proficiently, must feel
navigating Boston without much of a road map.
As Karen asked about her student and I thought about our
experience, I made a connection. Even though I have written about the
zone of proximal development before, I had never made such a clear
connection to my own learning. Having someone tell me exactly what to do
every step of the way meant I didn’t even try to learn. I just waited
for my next direction, never trying to figure out a single thing for
Maybe I would have tried if I’d known something about Boston streets.
Maybe I would have tried if I’d studied the route and a map before.
Maybe I would have tried if an object next to me didn’t beep and speak in an annoyed voice when I made mistake.
I am sure that if I’d had no help and just a bunch of crazy
roads in front of me, I would have pulled over to find help, or I would
have just given up.
Karen and I talked more about her student, asking ourselves,
“What part of the task could he do alone, without a constant need for
As tasks become more and more complex for our students, I think
we need to remember the sense of confusion and panic when we are lost,
as well as the fact that when we receive directions every step of the
way, we don’t learn.
Now, if only I had a little more time to spend in Boston to break those navigation tasks into more manageable steps...
week we looking at teaching theme, a tricky concept that requires a
fair amount of navigational support from teachers. Plus more as always
Contributor, Choice Literacy
Meehan is the Elementary Writing and Social Studies Coordinator in
Simsbury, Connecticut. She has many fictional works in progress and
blogs with Melanie Swider at Two Reflective Teachers.
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