Carrying the Cognitive Load

During our most recent PD, I was sitting with a group of teachers and the conversation was focused on what it means to “carry the cognitive load.” What does this look like for our students? How are we going beyond just the generic DOK questions to really provide opportunities for students to think critically and creatively on their own? How powerful would it be if we used the supports like sentence frames to actually help students make real world connections during times when they do not have those supports available? How are we, as a school, moving towards this goal?

After reflecting as a whole staff about our guided visit data, a lot of the conversations that I heard were focused on how we get our students to explain their thinking. Everyone does this just a little bit differently in their classrooms. How is it that we get students to go beyond just explaining a procedure to actually explain the reason why the procedure they are doing works?

The great thing about this concept, metacognition, thinking about thinking, is that it will build on itself, so it not necessarily grade level specific, but it is more focused on the thought process behind the skills being taught. This means that in kindergarten through eighth grade, if we can get students in the habit of going beyond just saying, ” I am doing ___” to really say “If I ____, ____ will happen because ____,” their thought process will develop and grow as the content gets more rigorous.

DOK Questions

As I was researching for this post, I saw a lot of videos about metacognition and ways to verbalize thinking. A majority of those videos referred back to the DOK Question Stems that a lot of our teachers have been using:

Screen Shot 2019-02-02 at 5.52.21 AM.pngI started thinking about a lot of questions…What does it look like when students explain their thinking? How do we get beyond an explanation of a procedure? How powerful would it be if the students explained the reason behind the procedure?

I do not have the answers to all of these questions, instead, I see this as more of a collaborative process where we all work together to help our students get into a thinking routine where it is an automatic reaction to dive in deep with their verbal explanations about thinking. This is going to mean a huge shift in mindset for our learners, getting them to really go beyond explaining the process or procedure to give an in-depth explanation of their thoughts causing the process to work.

Think Time

Resource Video (from an upper grade class): Independent and Group Work with Metacognition 

  • Grade: All grade levels
  • Time: Done throughout the lesson
  • Purpose: Giving time to think

Do our students understand the difference between explaining what they are doing and explaining what they are thinking? Providing time to think before collaborative conversations can help our students get their thoughts in line so that they are prepared to say more than the steps they took to complete a task. This is metacognition, we are getting our students to think about their thinking.

When we discuss metacognition, thinking about thinking, we are supporting our learners to go beyond just explaining what they did. This video from Edutopia discusses the process of metacognition:

Students ask 7 questions that gradually get more in depth to the point where they are explaining more than just the procedure:

  • What should I do first?
  • Is anything confusing me?
  • Can I explain what I have learned?
  • Should I ask for extra help?
  • Why did I get this answer? (original video, says “Why did I get this answer wrong, but that is not applicable in all situations)
  • Can I apply this in different contexts?
  • How can I do better next time?

The third question, “Can I explain what I have learned,” is where a lot of learners will go back to explaining the procedure to complete something. Instead of going over steps, it is much more relevant if students explain why they are choosing those steps. This is where the learning is really internalized and becomes routine. When students make it a routine, they are more likely to recognize experiences and times outside of school when the learning is applicable.

Collaborative Thought

Resource Video (from a grade primary class): Student Collaborative Thought

  • Grades: All grade levels
  • Time: Beginning of a lesson
  • Purpose: Pictures that spark curiosity about a topic

During this strategy, students work in groups to analyze a picture. They look at the pictures about a topic. These inquiry groups encourage curiosity centered around a specific topic. Students work to ask and answer their own questions and the questions of others as they continue their learning. Starting a unit of study with this strategy helps teachers understanding more about the student’s prior knowledge and help them develop new knowledge that is more than just completing a procedural task.

Thinking Logs

Resource Video (from a dual language fifth grade class): Thinking Logs

  • Grades: All grade levels
  • Time: Throughout a lesson
  • Purpose: Recording thoughts in writing (for primary, could be done as video recording where they explain in words instead of writing)

During this strategy, students are encouraged to tell more than just the process because they are showing the process through the product of their work. Students record wonderings, thoughts, questions and reflections. At the end of the lesson, they explain what they learned and how they know they have learned this concept or skill.

I would love for our entire staff to start sharing some of their own strategies and ideas for incorporating ways for students to go beyond explaining what steps they took to complete a task. This could be done during collaboration or as a collective whole by sharing to our Twitter page using #FeasterLearns.

A lot of this blog post focuses on metacognition and bridging the gap between thinking about the process and explaining the learning. John Spencer wrote a great blog post about the metacognitive process – Five Ways to Boost Metacognition in the Classroom -it is also a podcast!!


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