by Dr. Rebecca Stephan
Recent EdD graduate from the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Education
Metacognition…thinking about thinking…as educators we have the capability of fostering this critical skill in the children we teach. Research on metacognition tells us of its importance in impacting student learning and guiding students toward self-regulation and calibration of their learning. However, the ways that teachers consider metacognition in their instruction does not yet have firm roots in the research literature. We also do not know how to look for this teaching skill when we hire teachers. Metacognition is so important for children, and yet it is rarely a key indicator for teacher competency during an interview. Per the literature, most interviews are driven by bias, personal experience, knowledge, and perception, over specified criteria. Lack of focus on metacognition during interviews is largely due to limited time, and uncertainty about how to assess an applicant’s metacognitive teaching skills. As metacognition is so important for teaching, though, these barriers should be addressed. What is it worth to target a skill like metacognition that sets up learners to think deeply about how they learn? Imagine an educator’s salary times the span of his or her career coupled with the numbers of hours spent in front of children providing instruction. That amount of money and the learning that children are experiencing is what is at stake during a teacher interview!
Thus, I recently posed the question for study- is it possible to identify which candidates interviewing for a teaching position have the understanding of and ability to foster students’ metacognition? The answer turned out to be yes.
In a local Pittsburgh, PA school district, twelve interviewing candidates and five current teachers volunteered to participate in the study. Focused at the elementary level but could apply to teachers of any age learner, three tools were used during the interview: verbal questions, written questions, and a demonstration lesson with students or a classroom lesson. Then, responses to specific questions and the entirety of the lesson were recorded, coded against an originally designed researched-based criteria list specific to metacognition, and analyzed. Of all of the tools used, originally designed verbal questions best targeted understanding of metacognition, and the demonstration lesson provided for observation of applying this knowledge during a lesson. Some applicants showed regular use of metacognitive teaching practices by including “how” questions requiring explanation, scaffolding connected to time and frequency, instruction around thinking skills, and identifying and responding to how each student learns best. Adversely, other candidates questioned mainly on content knowledge, allowed for less wait time and little probing of thought, provided teacher vs. student-led scaffolding and less detail around thinking skills, and demonstrated their own knowledge when following up on a student’s answer vs. seeking the knowledge of the students. Ultimately, the majority of the teachers hired scored higher overall on the Response to Metacognitive Criteria than those who were not hired.
So what did we learn? It is possible to assess metacognitive teaching in an interview setting, and it is worth taking the time to do so. To learn more about how to incorporate this aspect of interviewing to your district’s hiring practices, see the link below that describes the interview protocol, key criteria, and scoring rubric.
Leaders have an exciting opportunity to turn this information from research into practice. We have an incredible responsibility to maximize the learning of the children we teach or the institutions we lead, and our due diligence as leaders hiring teachers begins the moment we invite a candidate to interview for a teaching position. With the use of a measurable, research-based set of criteria, we move away from teacher selections based on bias, personal experience and knowledge, and perception, and instead move towards teachers who demonstrate the ability to strengthen learners’ metacognition.
Click here for the interview protocol.