Design Thinking and Metacognition

In last week’s post we talked about how our students can carry more of the cognitive load and what that looks like in all grade levels from transitional kindergarten through eighth grades. As I was reflecting on the thoughts shared last week and going over everything that we are already doing in our classrooms, I found that I wanted to learn more about what that might look like in all areas of the curriculum and in all programs that are being offered here at Feaster Charter.

3rd graders during their animal wax museum explaining their digital and physical projects to visiting students – provides a clear audience beyond the classroom, visualization of final produce helps support learners, gets students to develop project management skills

As I researched and really thought about this, I came across a great blog/podcast post from John Spencer that really described the process of metacognition with a focus on design thinking, or giving students time to think creatively and create productively. In  this blog post, five steps are shared:

  1. Use a gradual release approach
  2. Integrate self assessment
  3. Practice visualization
  4. Incorporate project management
  5. Allow mistakes and reward risk taking

As I walked on campus, I saw so much of this going on in all of our classrooms! I was most impressed with some of the ways that our learners (both teachers and students) provided each other with opportunities to visualize their objective. I was also really impressed with the strength of the classroom community, especially when I saw risks being taken and mistakes being reflected on and improved. These two aspects of design thinking and metacognition showed me more than what the students could do on a standards based test, it showed me that they are developing the skills to be successful learners, creators, community members and leaders.

  • Gradual Release (from all classrooms) – one fourth grade room in particular demonstrates gradual release and allows opportunities for students to go back and reflect on learning by posting QR codes next to posters that link to additional research, videos, and pictures that support the student
  • Self Assessment (from all classrooms) – so many KWL charts (know, want to learn, learned) charts are being used in all grades to students to share their existing knowledge about a topic, share what they are curious about and reflect on their learning
  • Practice Visualization (in Music Mindlabs) – students got to meet a guitar maker from Dood Guitars which helps them visualize a career that incorporates the RIASEC themes
  • Practice Visualization (in Technology Mindlabs) – students had a video chat with a video game designer who explained the skills that they are developing today that will help them be more successful in designing games
  • Project Management (in a primary classroom) – students were troubleshooting an app and communicating ways to resolve the issue which is a great example of students managing a bigger project when things do not always go as planned – students discussed their plans and adjusted them as needed and even brought up concerns about delays in meeting the assigned deadline
  • Project Management (during a middle school elective class) Hydroponic Greenhouse – students are learning how to graft plants to grow in the Feaster Farm hydroponic greenhouse which is a great example of project management because students are working towards a bigger goal of donating enough crops to feed a homeless shelter before the end of next month
  • Allow Mistakes & Reward Risk Taking (in an upper grade classroom) – students being supportive of each other as they work in a group to create a shared piece of writing – mistakes were made and discussed and appropriate solutions were provided by team members
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Visiting professionals helps students see how their learning will impact them beyond the classroom, the idea is formed that they do not have to wait for

Whatever you choose to take away from this post, I definitely encourage everyone to share their thoughts and to take time to reflect on what you are doing in your classrooms every day in order to help students really explain their thinking and to help them visualize a desired outcome in the process! Don’t forge to share your ideas to our Twitter hashtag, #FeasterLearns.


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!!


Focusing on Individual Needs Using Reports and Evidence

As we have been focusing on small group instruction, we recognize that there are two crucial parts to this – the first is what is going on with the teacher group and the second part is what the students are doing independently when they are not working with the teacher. I am not saying that one is more important than the other, but there is a clear difference between the two – one is that the teacher is gathering immediate data and information that will help to better understand the needs of each individual and the other is that the students are working to complete an assigned task and information about how they completed the task can be gathered at a later time.

We are privileged to have numerous resources available to us online! ImagineLearning, Achieve3000, SmartyAnts, Benchmark, TenMarks and other personal programs being used with your learners are all great resources that help meet student’s individual needs by providing supports and lessons that would not be possible without the technology at hand. How powerful would it be if we used the work that students are doing on their devices to better understand how they are learning and using that to impact our future small group lessons and, if needed, whole group lessons? I am also not saying that we should only be data driven, but it is important to recognize the needs of our learners and use their completed work as evidence to help us stay informed about their progress.

“Using evidence to INFORM practice and move it forward in serving the child is crucial.”

George Couros

The Principal of Change Blog

Individualizing Instruction

When we look at the results of work that students are completing using our online programs, we can really create an individualized learning experience. Pulling these reports helps us as educators understand the needs of our learners. We recognize where they are excelling and can better understand these patterns and we recognize where they have deficits in their learning and need additional support. We can celebrate these successes and reteach and give alternate strategies in the areas where they are currently struggling.


Looking at the work that is being done online using our programs helps keep students accountable for being on task. They recognize that they are actually doing the work for a bigger purpose when we can look back and comment on what they have been doing.

Setting individual growth goals and supporting our learners in meeting these goals can help students thrive.

Using Results to Build Relationships

When students see that we are actually looking at the articles they are reading and finding out about what they are interested in, we can build relationships and connect with their personal learning. When students see that we are looking at strategies they are using to solve math problems, we can bring this up in whole group lessons and use their ideas to guide our instruction.

This takes the sole responsibility of planning and knowing everything off of the teacher and instead creates a community focused on learning and building relationships. This is done because we are recognizing the progress and needs of each individual learner instead of lumping them into an average that is not realistic for any of them.


When we see patterns in our online reports, we can recognize what needs to be taught again in whole group and what needs to be taught again in small groups. Depending on how many students were able to successfully meet the standards and apply the skills needed, we can identify areas of misconceptions and work to resolve those before they become habits that cause work to be done incorrectly on a consistent basis. We recognize this by looking at the reports, analyzing student work and by having conversations.

Pulling reports are just one way that we recognize the needs of our students. We are also working to hold conversations, hearing how they are problem solving with their peers and looking at more informal work that is being done by our learners. We can use the online reports as one tool to help make our instruction more strategic and purposeful. The first step is, of course, looking at the reports and understanding the needs of each individual! From there, we can make a plan on how to help use this as one of many tools that guides our instruction.




PLC Small Group Instruction (k-6) & Collaborative Study Groups (7th & 8th)

Starting the 2018/2019 school year, everyone on campus actively participated in building relationships school-wide by using the Sanford Harmony Buddy Up strategy. Teachers created intentional pairings for their students, tracked the buddy pairings, referred to norms for buddy up and accountable talk, provided clear topics and tasks and facilitated and monitored students.

Now that our students have made deep connections with each other and we have built successful relationships and a positive learning community, our lead teachers, admin and coaches have planed our next professional learning cycle, which will build upon the relationships we have built and help support our learners academically as well as socially and emotionally.

For quarter two of the 2018/2019 school year, our professional learning cycle will focus on small group instruction. This will help us better support our learners in all grade levels by providing a more individualized learning experience based on student needs. During the small group instruction, teachers will be implementing strategies that are most effective for their groups. Small group sessions in kinder through sixth grades will look a bit different from small groups in our seventh and eighth grades because our middles schoolers will be taking on even more of the cognitive load as they facilitate their own learning and hold each other accountable for increasing their knowledge in certain content areas.

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Teacher Behaviors

When conducting small groups in kinder through sixth grades will:

  • Teacher sets clear purpose or focus
  • Teacher takes anecdotal notes
  • Teacher follows the lead of the student (flexible based on student needs)
  • Teacher uses scaffolding techniques (cueing, prompting, facilitating, questioning)
  • Teacher pushes students to carry the cognitive load

Student Behaviors

When participating in small groups will:

  • Students understand the purpose of the lesson
  • Students apply focus skill in a new situation
  • Students participate in discussions or conversations with teacher and peers
  • Students carry the cognitive load (they do the thinking)
  • Students respond to and follow teacher prompts
  • Students explain their thinking

Room Environment

In order to run effective small groups, the lead discussed that the room environment should reflect the following:

  • Table or area of small group gathering
  • 4-6 students per group
  •  Procedures in place/posted
  • Evidence of small group expectations (including independent workers role)
  • Help charts accessible (as necessary)
  • Teacher and student materials (whiteboard, sentence frames, posters, graphic organizers, manipulatives, etc)
  • Schedule for groups (not every student everyday, student names do not have to be posted)

With our kinder through sixth grade classrooms focusing on effective small group instruction and our seventh and eighth grade classrooms focusing on cognitive study groups, we are putting more of the responsibility on our students to master concepts and work as a cohesive team. Together, we will spend this quarter working together to better understand the composition of effective small groups in k-6 and effective collaborative study groups in our middle school.

For more information, check out the video link that was shared during one of our professional development sessions: Meeting Students’ Needs with Number Talks and Small Groups


Three Reads

This past week, teachers met to review our professional learning cycle focused on 3-Reads. Our students often struggle with word problems for many reasons including – complex vocabulary, intimidation of length, difficulty visualizing the problem, and lack of comprehension. 3-Reads is a strategy for solving complex word problems. Each time the students read the word problem, they are reading for a specific purpose – retelling vocabulary, making a visual representation, and creating a question. The 3-Reads protocol helps our students because it breaks complex word problems into manageable tasks while helping them understand the differences in operations based on the question being asked.

The Three Reads protocol is one way to do a close read of a complex math word problem or task. It is designed to engage students in making sense of language rich math problems or tasks. It deepens student understanding by surfacing linguistic as well as mathematical clues. It focuses attention on the importance of understanding problems rather than rapidly trying to solve them. It allows for natural differentiation within a class of diverse learners.


The objectives of this PD were:

  • Analyze 3-Reads data
  • Clarify 3-Reads protocol

Elements of a 3-Read Protocol


  • Facilitates conversation
  • Models as needed
  • Refers to 3-Reads protocol
  • Strategic planning of problem situations
  • Modeling content/language vocabulary


  • Participate in partner/group talk
  • Explain their thinking
  • Active listening

Room Environment

  • Sentence frames to support conversation
  • Vocabulary – word bank created with students
  • Strategic seating
  • Manipulatives are accessible (paper, cubes, etc)


Before Teaching

Prior to beginning, it is important to select a problem stem – one without a question at the end. This will help the students focus on the contextual and mathematical information before solving the questions the could be posed.

  • Questions:
    • Are there multiple questions that can come from the information provided?
    • Is this a complex word problem or task?

1st Read – Retell and Vocabulary

This is the read where students develop a context of the story. An understanding of the vocabulary words, character, and situations are developed. The numbers/quantities are also identified.

  • Questions to ask students:
    • What is going on in the story?
    • Who are the characters?
    • What words are important?
    • What are the quantities/numbers in the problem?
  • Modifications:
    • Annotations
    • Word Bank

2nd Read – Visual Representation

A mental picture of the quantities in the problem is created. This will help students see how the numbers will change depending on the mathematical operation and the question.

  • Questions to ask students:
    • How can you draw what is happening in the story?
    • Think about a way you can draw out what is happening.
  • Modifications:
    • Manipulatives
    • Prompts and cues

3rd Read – Create a Question

Students work to create questions that can be solved using the given information.

  • Questions to ask students:
    • What words can we add to make this a math problem?
  • Modifications:
    • Sentence frames for questions
    • Reminder of accountable talk norms
    • Encourage questions of different levels
    • Have students solve each other’s questions

Students often struggle with restating word problems in their own words; 3-Reads gives them a strategy to use when they are solving a complex word problem. Throughout the Three Reads process, students are:

  • Restating the word problem
  • Identifying the operation
  • Visualizing the structure
  • Recognizing patterns
  • Breaking down the word problem into logical steps
  • Using various strategies
  • Justifying their thinking

Videos from SFUSD

**Video of Feaster Charter teacher will be coming soon**