Embracing and Enjoying Thinking

Woman in a hijab with a computer open starting to the left.

Here at SMARTS, we talk a lot about metacognition, or thinking about thinking. It’s easy to understand why it’s so important for students to develop metacognitive skills as they move through the grades.

Metacognition Research

Metacognition also happens to be a hot research topic at the moment! The American Psychological Association recently published an article↗(link opens in new tab/window), titled “Thinking About Thinking: People Underestimate How Enjoyable and Engaging Just Waiting Is.” It highlights that most people tend to underestimate how much they might enjoy spending time just thinking without distractions. The authors suggest that most people keep themselves busy with distractions such as devices instead of using that time to think, reflect, and imagine.

Research Summary

The researchers conducted a series of six experiments with a total of 259 participants in which people’s predictions of how much they would enjoy sitting and thinking were then compared to the actual experience. The results are significant given the information overload and constant distractions that mark our modern lives. The results are also meaningful for students who spend extensive time playing digital games and don’t often immerse in unstructured moments of free thought.

Suggestions for Educators 

What’s the cost of not “just thinking”? Many studies have shown that spending time letting your mind wander has some benefits. These benefits include greater creativity, problem solving, and more.

Creating moments for thinking and reflection is important, and it doesn’t have to be an extensive endeavor. For example, simply allotting a few minutes at the beginning and/or end of class to let students pause and reflect can be beneficial. Even if students don’t have any questions to answer, encourage them to sit with their thoughts for a few minutes and embrace thinking about thinking.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org