I asked my students to write two, one-page papers for me. When they were done with that, I asked them to write a short reflection piece, telling me what the actual act of writing was like for them. I asked them a couple of leading questions (what came easily for you? What was difficult? Why?) and told them they could write an essay or a journal entry or a note to me – the format wasn’t important, but the self-awareness was.
My kids are obviously not used to being metacognitive.
So far, I’ve gotten a range of responses tha vary from plain vanilla apathy to outright hostility:
** “I don’t know what to say. I sat down and wrote. When I was done, I stopped.”
Or this one, cut and pasted – as is - from an actual studen email:
** “I dont like to write when im told to. When i get a thought or an idea that i just think is so cool or origional i write it down in this book that i’ve had for years. I have crazy theories and philosophies in it. I write about things i cant talk to people about because of argument of opinion. I like this class but i am having trouble writing ” ON CUE.” So im sorry but this is the best i can do. Hopefully later in the class ill get better.”
Then there was this one. I’m not really sure I understand what this student was trying to say, but do know for sure that we’re going to talk more about proofreading and what constitutes a complete sentence:
”I find it easer to write about an experience of a specific event that just recently happened in my life, appose to something like my dinne, where there’s not really much to say. Also writing about something vague, just relationships in general helps because you have so much to write about and so much you can add. Especially because almost everyone can speak from there own experiences and those usually leave an impact ona persons life. It’s almost like a guaranteed different point of view.”
Now, before anyone gets on me for making fun of my students’ lack of eloquence and… well… general command of their language, you all need to understand that I’m NOT doing that. I’m not worried about grammar and vocabulary and punctuation; I know I can teach those. What I am doing, however, is lamenting the fact that they’ve made it all the way to me without ever having been taught how to think about what they’re doing, how to be self-aware, and how to express that in ways that make sense to other people.
I think I’m going to be spending a good portion of the rest of my weekend thinking of exercises to teach them how to begin to think in ways that help them become more conscious of what they’re actually doing. I understand that being meta is hard work, and I understand that most people never bother to think about how they think, but I also believe that self-awareness is a critical – critical – component to an effective education.
I’m just not sure I’m a good enough teacher to get that across…