Know Thyself: 3 Strategies to Empower Students Through Self-Awareness

When I ask students about the strategies they use to study for a test, I often hear responses such as, “I read my notes six times” or “I don’t study.” Statements like these demonstrate not only a lack of understanding about the purpose of school, they also reveal a lack of self-awareness.

Students need to understand who they are in order to develop truly strategic approaches to school (and in life, for that matter). If our students do not understand themselves, then they will struggle to work efficiently or adopt new strategies when faced with new challenges. Too often our students distance themselves from their work. They struggle to learn from feedback, often ascribing their successes and failures to being “smart” or “dumb,” categories that do nothing to help them to make a plan for academic growth.

We’ve talked about the research behind why metacognition matters, but how exactly can we as teachers promote metacogntion?

  1. Quiz Them — Can your students explain what their strengths and weaknesses are? Have you asked them? You can use formal questionnaires and surveys to help get a detailed picture of a student’s learning profile. It is with this goal in mind that we created the MetaCOG surveys, a series of questionnaires that help track a student’s motivation, effort, and strategy use, which are then compared to a teacher’s or parent’s perceptions. Other favorite surveys include The Learner Sketch Tool from QED, an online tool designed to provide learners with a personalized profile across six neurodevelopmental areas (e.g., attention, complex thinking, and language). And remember, once you have collected this information, share the results with the students! Instead of viewing themselves as smart or dumb, students will see that they have clear strengths as well as areas of challenge.
  2. Make It Count  If we want our students to reflect on who they are as learners, we need to make it count. Reflection should be built into our day-to-day work. In SMARTS, we use Strategy Reflection Sheets to get students thinking about HOW they learn best. By adding a strategy reflection sheet to an assignment and making it count for their grade, students will see that developing self-awareness is a natural part of academic life. We can also use discussion questions to get students to think metacognitively.
  3. Put Students in Charge (when possible) — If you have ever sat in on a student-led parent-teacher conference or IEP meeting, then you know how inspirational this can be. During a traditional meeting, the goal is to get a clear picture of the student’s work, growth, etc. How clear can that picture really be without the student’s own voice? By coaching your students to take part in these meetings, they will have an opportunity to develop and demonstrate the power of self-awareness.

This is only a small handful of ways to promote your students’ self-understanding.