Hiring Teachers Who Foster Student Metacognition

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.


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Training Pitt’s Early Childhood Preservice Teachers in Social Justice, Diversity, and Equity

by Dr. Anna Arlotta-Guerrero, Director of Pitt’s Early Childhood Preservice Teacher Education Program  We are so excited to begin investigating the preparation of pre-service teachers with Dr. Shannon Wanless and members of the SEED Lab at the University of Pittsburgh!  As the coordinator of the Combined Accelerated Studies in Education (CASE) program my charge is to develop opportunities for our students to learn from teaching experts, gain valuable field experiences and begin to reflect on their own teaching practice. CASE is a comprehensive Early Childhood teacher preparation program that culminates in a B.S. in Applied Developmental Psychology and a M.Ed. in Instruction and Learning.  Candidates prepare for Dual Certification in PK-4 Early Childhood and PK-8 Special Education.  The segment of the CASE program that I have always believed to have the most impact on our pre-service teachers, as well as on their future students, is the Social Justice, Diversity and Equity classes integrated into the curriculum.  Our CASE students take two culture and social foundations courses, learn Best Practices in teaching English Language Learners, participate in a global teaching course, as well as our new course, Attentional Teaching Practices (ATP), on mindfulness and perspective-taking.  Since students have four different practicum and student teaching experiences we make sure to place each member of our cohorts in classrooms in urban schools.  Many students spend three or four of their experiences in urban settings so as to be prepared for their job search after graduation.  We’ve believed for years that the above-mentioned classes and field experiences have been transformative for our students.  Now, we find that it is important for our own practice to study the design of the CASE program and understand more fully how the curriculum not only supports student learning, but prepares each student to have impact on the students that they will teach in an ever-changing diverse world.  In partnership with SEED lab doctoral student, Jennifer Briggs, we completed our first round of data collection in the fall of 2016. This data is intended to kick start our exploration of the impact the Social Justice, Diversity and Equity-related courses have on student learning. Specifically, we used pre and posttest measures to track students’ comfort in talking about issues related to race, cultural, and ethnicity, and their understanding of such topics in relation to student learning. In addition, we offered students the opportunity to share with us the most valuable proponents of the course, as well as areas they feel could be improved upon for future cohorts. We are eager to dig deeper into the 50+ student responses to both advance our understanding of the program’s influence and create more enriching learning opportunities. We look forward to continuously improving the CASE program so that Pitt can continue to prepare early childhood teachers who are ready to work with ALL children and families.  Click here to learn more about CASE.

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Congratulations to SEED Lab Alumna, Dr. Laura Scharphorn!

Dr. Laura Scharphorn, Research Associate at High Scope and SEED Lab Alum, is Principal Investigator on a $3 Million grant to study self-regulation in Detroit Public Schools. This i3 Development Grant from the U.S. Department of Education, includes collaborations with Drs. Fred Morrison (UM), and Lori Skibbe and Ryan Bowles (Michigan State). Congratulations, Laura!!!



Join the SEED Lab at Spring 2017 Conferences!


The SEED Lab is proud to announce 5 papers and 2 symposiums have been accepted to national conferences in Spring 2017. Topics include race, social-emotional learning, cross-cultural self-regulation, and readiness for change. Congratulations to SEED lab doctoral students and lead authors: Cara Bliss, Jenn Briggs, Afton Kirk, and Ashley Shafer. Please join us at the National Association of School Psychologists, the Society for Research in Child Development, and the American Educational Research Association!


Wanless, S.B. (2017, April). Examining the role of SEL in young children’s racial development. Symposium to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association, San Antonio, TX.

Briggs, J.O. & Wanless, S.B. (2017, April). Teacher and parent beliefs about addressing race in preschool. In Wanless, S.B. (Chair), Examining the role of SEL in young children’s racial development. Paper to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association, San Antonio, TX.

Shafer, A., Wanless, S.B., Briggs, J.O. (2017, April). Toddler teachers’ responses to emotional and cognitive tantrums and relations with successful resolution. In Norman, N. (Chair), Fresh insights in social and emotional learning: Qualitative investigations of toddlers, teachers, and travel. Paper to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association, San Antonio, TX.

Kirk, A.R., Wanless, S.B., Briggs, J.O. (2017, April). Initial evidence for the utility of a multilevel assessment of a preschool’s readiness for change. In Malone, J. (Chair), Considering models for Educational Change. Paper to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association, San Antonio, TX.

Wanless, S.B. & Briggs, J.O. (2017, April). Identifying racially responsive teaching practices in early childhood education. In Zinsser, K. (Chair), Disparities start young: Explorations of the role of race in early learning success and inequity. Paper to be presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Austin, TX.

McClelland, M.M. & Wanless, S.B. (2017, April). Self-regulation across different cultural contexts. Symposium to be presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Austin, TX.

Bliss, C.M., Larson, T.K., Bagnato, S.J., & Wanless, S.B. (2017, February).  Consultation to support inclusion: How much is enough?  Paper session to be presented at the National Association of School Psychologists Annual Convention, San Antonio TX.


The SEED Lab Addresses Mayor’s Proposal to Expand PreK

The SEED Lab aims to advance local policy and practice to best serve local children. Recently, we had an opportunity to support our Mayor’s efforts to increase the city’s investment in prekindergarten. Specifically, at a City Council Meeting on November 14, 2016, lab member and Pitt doctoral student Ashley Shafer offered the following public comment about the importance of expanding public prekindergarten in Pittsburgh.


Hello, my name is Ashley Shafer I am a resident of Point Breeze, an applied developmental psychologist, and a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh. I work in a research lab in the School of Education with faculty who are trying to figure out how to improve the quality of pre-k in Pittsburgh so that it offers maximum benefits to all children. In our research we have moved past wondering whether high-quality pre-k is good for all children. Research states, …unequivocally…that it is. What we try to figure out in our lab is how we can make this good experience, a great experience for each and every child who walks through the classroom door. This is one major way we can lay the foundation for children’s lifelong academic, social, and economic success.

I want to thank Mayor Peduto and the Council for focusing on extending pre-K in the City of Pittsburgh. For we know that the relationships and experiences children have in their early years lay the foundation for future success in school. This is a crucial time for young children, particularly those most at risk. We are responsible for diminishing the opportunity gap before it starts, and this can alleviate the need for costly interventions later. By extending public pre-K, we are helping to support the families in our community that do not have the means to send their children to privet programs. All children, regardless of their parent’s income deserve high quality education and care too. Did you know that private pre-Ks in Pittsburgh can cost up to $15,000 per year? For many, this cost far exceeds family budgets, especially considering that most pre-K programs do not cover the entire workday, and need to be supplemented with extra care for children whose parents work full-time. Likewise, the range in quality of pre-k programs is vast, but the public pre-K that Pittsburgh currently offers is really raising the bar to make sure that all children receive academically stimulating and rich social experiences that make them ready to learn when they arrive in elementary school.

Research tells us that children who attend high quality pre-k are more prepared for the transition to kindergarten. They are exposed to various learning opportunities, relationship building with peers and adults, and taught how to preserver and master new and challenging skills. Studies have found that children who attended pre-k programs earn more money, are less likely to participate or be convicted of criminal activity, and that every $1invested in pre-k programs repays the general public $13.

Giving all children in the City of Pittsburgh access to high-quality pre-K care and education will improve not only these children’s educational and life outcomes, but as a City will progress us forward. For we know, the children are our future and expanding the access to high-quality pre-K in the City of Pittsburgh will result in an improved future for all of us.

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The SEED Lab Makes an Impact

As the director of The SEED Lab, I bring my passion for making an impact to everything we do.  My approach to research is defined by my identity as an applied developmental psychologist and my background as a Head Start teacher and Fulbright scholar. It is grounded in relational theories, empirical evidence, and my own experiences with learners from across the lifespan. At the SEED Lab, we conduct research that is useful to practitioners and has an impact on the field. To achieve this aim, we spend time in classrooms, provide professional development training, and engage in local early childhood events. We work hard to stay calibrated to real-world settings. By listening to educators, we are grounded in their most pressing questions, and can account for the real world constraints they face everyday. This strategy eases the translation of our research findings to practice. We are fortunate to have many opportunities at the University of Pittsburgh and in Pennsylvania to act on our research findings and share them with others who are in positions to do the same.

Our lab’s impact includes regular outreach to the community, and some of that can be seen in our media coverage below.

Positive Racial Identity Development in Early Education

Understanding racial identity issues in our children and US, Lynn Hayes Freeland Show, CBS Pittsburgh, May 22, 2016 [link]

Study: Your toddler knows about race and everyone should be talking about it: Beaver County Times, April 19, 2016 [link]New Pittsburgh Courier, April 14, 2016 [link]

New report from University of Pittsburgh says we need to talk about race with children, NEXTPittsburgh, April 18, 2016 [link]

Peduto, Humphrey, researchers release report on race and education, The Pitt News, April 15, 2016 [link]

Pitt report promotes positive racial identity in local children, Pittsburgh Business Times, April 14, 2016 [link]

Research notes, racial perceptions report to be discussed, University Times, April 14, 2016, [link]

University of Pittsburgh report looks at racial bias in early childhood education, Pittsburgh City Paper, April 14, 2016 [link]

A+ schools education update understanding PRIDE in Pittsburgh, A+ Schools YouTube, April 11, 2016 [link]

Developing positive racial perceptions in children, Pitt Chronicle, April 11, 2016 [link]

Positive racial identities can help children learn, The Pitt News, April 5, 2016 [link]

Early positive racial identity could help close achievement gap, 90.5 WESA, Essential Pittsburgh, March 28, 2016 [link]

Peg + Cat: Developing Preschoolers’ Early Math Skills

Fred Rogers Company receives National Science Foundation grant, Animation World Network, October 7, 2015 [link]

Readiness to Implement Social Emotional Interventions

Like a game of poker, school programs’ success can hinge on principals going all in, Science Daily, November 15, 2012 [link]

School success tied to principal’s enthusiasm, Pitt News Services, November 15, 2012 [link]

Taiwan Social Skill Development Study

Connecting the dots between play and learning in the classroom, 90.5 WESA, October 23, 2013 [link]

Well-behaved children? Don’t count out the boys, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 17, 2013 [link]

Classroom gender bias may hurt male students in the U.S., Healthline News, May 24, 2013 [link]

Gender differences in young children, The British Psychological Society, May 24, 2013 [link]

Simon says, do better at school, The Toronto Star, December 26, 2012 [link]

Can you teach self-discipline?, Mom stories, July 29, 2011 [link]

Self-regulation game helps preschool-age children in different countries improve academically, Medical News Today, July 20, 2011 [link]

“Simon Says” teaches self-control, Mercatornet, July 19, 2011 [link]

Preschool-age kids in different countries improve academically using self-regulation game, (e)Science News, July 18, 2011 [link]

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