I am always looking for effective strategies to encourage and support young children in thinking about their thinking. While I currently use Harvard Project Zero's Visible Thinking Routines, Philosophy for Children, and pedagogical documentation, as a few examples, to enhance children's thinking, I am always looking for more ways that I can enhance this critical experience of thinking about process and thought. In fact, I often find metacognition - analysing one's own and other's thought processes & thinking about how one thinks and how one learns (as defined by 'Making the PYP Happen', 2009, p. 21) - one of the most difficult skills to address in the early years.
I came across a quote this week from a reading about observation and documentation in the early years that made me think about the ways I engage with children when they express frustration or discontent with their abilities. It emphasizes the natural connection between metacognition and "growth mindset" (Carol Dweck) and suggests how our conversations with young children might enhance this relationship and process:
We often hear a child say, “I am not very good at this” while attempting to draw something such as a face. This comment indicates that the child has evaluated his own ability. The child has done more than simply remember the last time he tried to draw a face. He also remembers his thoughts, his assessment of the quality of his drawing. The child is thus thinking about his thinking.
When we reflect on this comment with a child, we do not want to focus our attention on drawing skills. We want to focus on the child’s thinking, the reasoning behind his evaluation of self. So we don’t want to offer counter-examples of his drawing ability by saying, “Oh, I have seen you do this rather well.” This statement might well end the conversation. On the other hand if we ask, “What is it about a face that is difficult to draw?”, we potentially launch a dialogue with many possible twists and turns. We are encouraging the child to be more conscious of the details of his evaluation. In so doing, the child might well develop a drawing strategy that avoids, compensates for, or overcomes the difficulty that he has identified. If the child is too young to articulate his reasons for thinking that he is not good at drawing faces, we can summarize his thoughts by saying, “You remember doing this before and not liking the face you drew.” This statement provides a more articulated expression of what the child most likely meant when he said, “I am not very good at this.” Our descriptive summary orients the child to his thinking and creates a base from which he can begin to think about his thoughts." (Forman & Hall, 'Wondering with Children: The Importance of Observation in Early Education', Early Childhood Research & Practice, 2005)