Why I Failed High School
Do you remember sitting at your desk in school listening to your teacher go on about a subject as exciting as paint drying? You yawn and yawn some more until all you hear is “blah-blah-blah-blah” like Charlie Brown. The point is this subject was likely one that didn’t resonate with you. I’ve been there. I failed high school the first go around, there was very little that got me going. But this is precisely the problem: how do you engage students across all subjects? You can’t promote academic excellence if you can’t engage students on topics that they aren’t interested in.
Western education is structured so that a teacher disseminates information to the student who then must memorize and regurgitate via test or assignment to demonstrate their understanding of a topic. But why is this the primary way of learning? It’s mind-blowing that in the Technological Era, with such incredible advancements that we haven’t seen a significant upgrade to our education system. Shouldn’t this be a priority? After all, this is the future generation we’re shaping, and yet we’re still trying to fit a square peg (how much information) into a round hole (can your brain retain). And isn’t repetition looking for different results the very definition of insanity? That’s not to say there haven’t been changes to the education system, but overall, it’s remained untouched for decades.
I was listening to a podcast recently and the host said something I found hilariously disturbing. He told a hypothetical story about how shocking it would be to bring someone from the 1800’s into today’s society. They would be amazed by the buildings, the cars, the computers, and the cell phones, but if you showed them the classroom all that would have changed was the blackboards have become white. That is a funny reality that needs more attention.
Don’t get me wrong, I have had some incredible teachers in my life that really make the classroom a dynamic learning environment, but even they would agree things need a shake-up.
As an avid learner and a former class clown, I believe that this is where out of the box popular theories, like metacognition, come in. They offer a clever solution to the problem of keeping kids invested in their own learning experience by giving them a say. Simple enough, right?
By giving kids the proper tools, they can create their own pathway to educational success. It makes them the CEO of not only their education but of their life. And the better you do in school, the more doors open for you. It also makes for stronger cognitive abilities, an asset that employers look for hence all the quizzes built into job applications.
Your brain is a muscle; with enough introspection, you can train it to do anything, so why not flex your might for a mightier mind?
What Is Metacognition?
In a nutshell, metacognition is often referred to as “thinking about thinking.” The actual definition of metacognition from Merriam-Webster is the “awareness or analysis of one’s own learning or thinking processes.” To break it down further, cognition is our thinking processes (how you think, learn or study) and what helps us acquire knowledge — memory, problem-solving, attention and the methods used in thinking. Cognitive strategies also help with comprehension. While meta is more out-of-the-box or abstract thinking. Together metacognition is the skill of being aware of your thinking processes and strategizing to ensure you meet all your learning goals.
Three psychologists have revolutionized metacognition and how it applies to education, Jean Piaget, William James and Lev Vygotsky. They’ve broken metacognition down into two components:
- Metacognitive Knowledge is how a person thinks (processes, approaches to learning and requirements to achieve learning goals).
- Person Variables: Your learning strengths or weaknesses.
- Task Variables: The nature of the task and the processing requirements necessary for completion (e.g., reading a novel is readily absorbed, whereas studying legal text takes time to absorb said knowledge).
- Strategy Variables: Understanding what skills to apply to accomplish a task (if you’re reading legal text using the glossary for unfamiliar words or note taking to make sense of it).
An example of all three variables in action: A legal aid student may struggle (personal variable) with comprehension (task variable) so to overcome this hurdle they read a passage, write it out and refer to the glossary to make sense of any words they don’t understand (strategy variable).
- Metacognitive Regulation is adapting your learning style to meet the task at hand.
- Planning: picking the right strategies to tackle a task.
- Monitoring: self-awareness on one’s comprehension.
- Evaluating: performance review on the finished task.
Metacognition And Learning
People may learn at different rates using different learning styles and that is exactly what makes being a teacher so difficult, but just as being human unites us, there is one thing that can make learning easier for everyone, and that’s a better understanding, and teaching of, metacognition. Students test better, and because they become more self-aware, they can begin to recognize what resources are required to complete a task. Metacognition is something everyone can benefit from. It’s a good habit that I believe needs to be taught earlier on in the education journey.
Pause for a moment and think about how different school would have been for you if it were less about how much you could memorize and more about shaping the way you think; would you have done things differently? Performed better? Now fast-forward to your professional life. If you’ve embodied metacognition so that it’s become a reflex and a part of how you think on a day to day basis, think about how much more you can achieve. If studies in kids prove they learn and score better using metacognition, then think about how this will change your professional life and beyond!
When we engage kids early, Marilyn Price Ph.D. said this, “[kids] make greater sense of their life experiences and start achieving at higher levels.” Metacognition has a profound effect on fostering a child’s desire to learn. This could help keep a bored student’s interest in academics. And an aware and conditioned mind that isn’t burdened with roadblocks (e.g., comprehension issues) is more likely to achieve greater academic success because the path is smoother.
Metacognition, as it pertains to the education system, involves implementing five strategies to improve performance.
- Setting goals and developing plans
- Monitoring progress
- What are your strengths; what do you know?
- What are your weaknesses; what don’t you know?
- How to integrate flexible learning to adapt to different tasks
Schooling should be about more than just who can remember the most because that in itself doesn’t necessarily make you smarter, not unless you have a photographic memory and retain everything you read, which is only found in between 2% and 15% of children. There needs to be engagement for learning to be fun. The best way for kids to get excited about school is for them to make sense of what they’re learning. Without connection from child to the concept you’ve got just another bored, uninspired kid with the potential to do more, who like me, acts out, and gets identified as a problem child instead of unfocused.
Oh, if only I applied myself 😕.
The idea that the student becomes the evaluator since they know their strengths and weaknesses best is what equips them to advocate for themselves because they know what won’t work for them. An English savvy kid going into a spelling test can envision an A but a numbers kid, won’t have that same confidence. Teaching kids how to navigate the learning landscape is what will empower a child and make them believe they are in control of their learning. It also promotes independence and good self-esteem, all of which builds tremendously stable character.
Creating good learning habits is what encourages kids to want to learn. According to childmind.org, “Reflecting on our own thoughts is how we gain insight into our feelings, needs, and behaviors — and how we learn, manage, and adapt to new experiences, challenges, and emotional setbacks.”
It’s changing the “I can’t do it” attitude to a “ can do” proactive one. It’s taking the “I’m scared of tests” one step further by asking the questions: why are you scared of tests, and how can we fix it? Naturally, every child has strengths and weaknesses. But when confronted with a problem if they don’t believe they can conquer it, they’re more likely to give up because they haven’t been taught any other way.
We know as adults that self-reflection is paramount to a healthy mindset, after all, isn’t that a key component to mindfulness? So, why aren’t thinking about this more?
“Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them,” — Echart Tolle, A New Earth.
Thinking About Thinking, Beyond School
Does metacognition have a wider applicable outside of school?
Being metacognitive is a skill we all could benefit from. Awake or asleep, our minds are like vacuums circulating our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Suppose you wake up on the proverbial wrong side of the bed, is that a bad omen that your day is going to be utter crap? Or can you change the outlook of our day?
Now let’s say, you went to bed in a sinkhole of dark thoughts that leapfrogged between trying to find the money to pay your bills and studying to pass a course that’ll enable you to apply for that promotion at work so you can pay off your debt. It’s no wonder you woke up with an emotional hangover. If you are your thoughts, then yeah, it’s going to be a rough day. But if you’re aware that these thoughts are actually advisory statements indicating you’re overburdened, then you can do something about what’s stressing you out.
See the trouble with thoughts is that we:
- Never know what the next thought is going to be, and
- Like it or not, we attach a narrative to that thought that’s usually negative. To put the power of negative thoughts into perspective out of the 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts we experience a day, a whopping 80% are negative, according to the National Science Foundation.
- And then there’s the pesky fact that humans have a bad habit of dwelling on negativity.
Thoughts, in fact, are neutral. It’s when we believe in specific thoughts that we fall victim to them and give them power. What are your thoughts? They’re our ideas, perspectives, beliefs, or opinions on how we see the world and are generally born out of the experience. However, thoughts can change with age (you outgrow the concerns you had in high school) or with a shift in perspective. It’s fairly easy to get caught up in your thoughts; it’s like Google tracking ads constantly feeding you what you want to hear; thus, reinforcing your beliefs. The downside is it can also reinforce mental health disorders like anxiety. Anxiety is like thinking inside a box, if you want to break free, you have to overcome what makes you anxious, and the only way to do that is to take back the power. To change your thoughts and recognize that driving on the highway is scary the first time, but less so, the hundredth time. That’s why you want to open a mental door and let your thoughts come and go as they please, without judgment. Impartiality means you’re less likely to react to the thoughts (panic at the prospect of highway driving) instead; this awareness leads to greater self-control and mindfulness.
If you’re not one hot thought away from detonating at any given moment then you’ll be more emotionally and cognitively stable — which makes for a happier and more productive you. This is just another reason why you want to establish good thinking habits; it improves all aspects of your life.
The future of learning is in self-observation
Bottom line, we all want and need to see children succeed for their future and ours. Metacognition is one such way to help give them a chance to make the most out of their education. It’s also another way to create good thinking habits so kids can grow up to be more mindful adults.