Have you every found yourself talking to yourself, chatting through a problem, looking at ways to solve it more efficiently? I know I have. I also smile when I catch others chatting away to themselves doing the same kind of thinking. This kind of thought is called thinking about thinking or metacognition and it is the 5th Habits of Mind. Metacognition is being aware of one’s own thoughts, strategies, feelings and actions and their effects on others. It takes us from mindlessness to mindfulness. It changes our actions, impacts upon our choices and refines our ideas.

Research has shown that one of the key traits good problem-solvers possess is highly developed metacognitive skills. Great problem solvers know how to recognize flaws or gaps in their own thinking, articulate their thought processes and revise their efforts to improve the outcome (Brown, Bransford, Ferrara, & Campione, 1983).

Before we learn metacognitive strategies, we do not use tactics like planning out work or monitoring our problem solving skills. When we don’t use our metacognition skills we miss out on short-cuts to help us solve problems. So they are very important. As John Bransford observed, “The broader the range of strategies that children know and can appreciate where they apply, the more precisely they can shape their approaches to the demands of a particular circumstance” (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000, p. 100).

Thinking about thinking has a couple of parts. The first aspect is having an awareness of knowledge. This means being able to understand what we know, what we do not know and what we want to know. For example, ‘I know that I understand that plants need sunlight but I do not know why, or ‘I know that Clare understands how that puzzle works, so I’ll ask her to show me how and help me’Metacognition

The second aspect is having an awareness of thinking. This means being able to understand cognitive tasks and the nature of what is required to complete them. For example, ‘I know that reading this picture book will be easier for me than reading my book.’

The third aspect is having an awareness of thinking strategies. This means being able to understand approaches to directing learning. For example, “I am having difficulty finishing this puzzle so I should look at the picture on the box to help me find just the right piece.

Here at Thinkers.inq we work hard at developing these metacognition skills, talking about learning, why it matters and how to transfer these to new learning scenarios. For example if we are learning about growing healthy gardens, we take the learning about being healthy and apply it to ourselves, our pets and our friends. We are applying this sort of portable thinking in everything we do. It is part of our everyday conversations, play and fun. As a result we are able to solve harder problems, engage in deeper more meaningful play and strengthen our friendships.

Our challenge to you today is to stop for a few moments and think about your choices, your relationships and become aware of what you know about them and how you manage them. Then find try and find some new strategies to grow new ways of thinking and being so that your capacity and agency continues to unfold and have a positive influence.