Cognition is defined as “the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses” according to the Google online dictionary. In other words it is about learning and translating experiences and input from our senses into something that makes sense to us. The prefix “meta” has its roots in Greek and means “after,” “along with,” “beyond,” “among,” or “behind. When you put the two together you have the word “metacognition” which is defined by Benchmark Education in this way: “Metacognition literally means "big thinking." You are thinking about thinking. During this process you are examining your brain's processing. Teachers work to guide students to become more strategic thinkers by helping them understand the way they are processing information. Questioning, visualizing, and synthesizing information are all ways that readers can examine their thinking process. Through scaffolding and reciprocal teaching, students are able to practice the skills that lead to these overt acts becoming automatic.”
Metacognition is one of the Habits of the Mind that we want to help youth develop. In the afterschool program a natural place to support the development of metacognition is the homework component. During this period youth are working through the instruction they have had during the school day and attempting to translate the information into a deeper understanding of the material. Although it’s wonderful to find the “correct” answer, knowing what you did to find that answer is essential if we want youth be able to replicate the thinking on the next challenge and especially when that challenge is encountered in the real world. Metacognition is equally or more important when youth reach an incorrect answer as it is when they have a correct response. When there is an error, often the reason for that error can be found in the process of completing the task, and this “glitch” can be discovered as youth explain the process they went through to come to the answer they have recorded.
Sometimes our responsibility is to help them develop a process for coming to the correct answer. Consult 4 Kids has a great instructional video on helping youth think through working on a math problem. Check it out by clicking on this link and viewing “Solving Word Problems"