Metacognition…Through the Eyes of a Seven Year Old

When I went to the National Reading Recovery Conference last week, I had the privilege of taking a session from Tanny McGregor.  You can find her work and links to her books on the Heinemann Books’ website by clicking HERE.  She was, in one word: amazing.

Tanny is the author of the book Comprehension Connections.
In her session, Tanny shared fabulous ways to make comprehension strategies concrete for students by using everyday objects.  One of the most important things that I took away from her session, was the need to teach students how they learn. When I got back home, I went to work creating the lessons Tanny shared with us in her session, especially, teaching students how and why to think while they read!

I realize lessons on the importance of thinking while reading the text are ones typically done earlier in the year.  While I had definitely discussed these topics with my students, after seeing Tanny in action, I didn’t feel my kids really understood it.  Why? I had not made the lesson concrete enough.     *Note* The following lessons are not my creations or original ideas. They come from Tanny’s book, Comprehension Connections. I just want to share how I used them in my classroom. 🙂
I used a wonderful picture book: Recess at 20 Below.  Every year, my students LOVE this book. It is perfect for connections, inferences, discussion, and most importantly – LOTS of thinking about the text and the beautiful photographs!
Click the book below to check it out on Amazon.
For the first few pages, I modeled reading the text and then thinking aloud about what I just read.  Every time I read the text, I put a red Text strip into a salad bowl.  Every time I shared my thinking aloud, I put a green Thinking strip into the bowl.  (This is Tanny’s famous “salad lesson” from her book.) After a few pages of this, I asked the children what they noticed about the salad.  Most of them said “There are more thinking papers than text papers!”  
Yep! This led to a great conversation about how important it is to think while reading. I continued this for the next few pages and added Thinking strips every time a student shared his or her thoughts.

Recess at 20 Below has so many vivid photographs, it always takes me a week to go through the book with the kids.  So, the next day, I used this thinking bubble I had made out of poster board and cut a hole in the middle for a head.  (Apparently, I over-judged the typical size of a child’s head by…. a lot!! haha).

Again, I modeled thinking aloud while I read the text.  This time, I held the thinking bubble over my head while I did my “thinking.”  This made the kids giggle at first and they were SO excited to share THEIR thinking with the class as well! (Remember, we are making this concept concrete for kids!)
When we got to this page in the book, the kids had A LOT of things they were thinking! 
The kids discussed their thinking with their carpet buddies and jotted down what they were thinking in their interactive notebooks. Our thinking stem for this lesson was simple: “I am thinking…”

My favorite part about teaching the concept of metacognition to my students came today! Again, this is an idea Tanny talked about in her session.  I gave every child a picture of a brain that I found and asked them to draw what the inside of their brains looked like while they were reading.  Take a look at a couple of my little smarties!
This little boy was AMAZING.  When I asked him to share what his brain looked like, he told me that he had drawn “the strands in our brains.  My brain strands are weaving in and out because I am practicing reading. They are all getting stronger.”
Um…WOW!   I had briefly discussed how we all have neurons in our brains with my kids. (I didn’t actually think any of them would “get it.” It was one of those moments when I thought “Why did I explain that since it was way above their heads.” Regardless,  I had given them the example of riding a bike and told them that when we learn to ride a bike, our brain’s neurons makes lots and lots of connections.  As a result, our brains get more and more powerful! I explained that this is what happens when we read and write. The more we practice, the more connections our neurons make and the more powerful our brains become. 
This little boy drew himself thinking, reading the words, and talking to a friend while he was reading.  Both boys had truly learned about how their brain works when we read and the idea that thinking and talking about what we read is SO important!
I was so happy about how our discussions for these lessons turned out.  It was super engaging, concrete, and meaningful for my students.  These lessons may not have improved their fluency or helped them to better identify the central idea of a fiction book…but I left school today knowing that my students were starting to really understand HOW they learn, how complex reading is, and how important it is to think.  Those are the lessons that will help foster an understanding and an attitude of a life-long reader. 🙂 

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  1. Thank you so much for sharing this!! I loved this post, and am going to check out that book! I know some of my struggling readers would benefit from more concrete examples of thinking while reading. One thing i do is read a page from a book, beginning from the bottom and reading up. I ask them if i had READ this page. Their responses are priceless when they have to think about the favt that i did indeed read each and every word…but they didn't get any meaning from it! Why?!!… So reading is not just word naming. Interesting! I love teaching second grade. Thank you for all of your wonderfulproducts that I use! KZ

  2. What a fantastic thing to share! Thank you! I teach strictly science and computers, but I use science based stories to teach the little ones a concept. I think teaching them to think about the text with this method would be SUPER effective! Thank you sooo much! I am totally going to get this book now!

  3. I love this! I did the reading salad with my class this morning. Do you have a copy of the brain paper that you can share? Thank you!

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