When was the last time you found yourself really thinking, or even saying outright, "I didn't know that," while simultaneously realizing the zing of new understanding? Your experience, as you may already know, has a fun term linked to it. Your moment of realization is called an “Aha Moment.”
“Aha Moments” are beautiful for both teachers and students. Sharing “Aha Moments” in a fun environment is beneficial to everyone. It's so empowering to vocalize and celebrate something learned and to feel safe asking questions if one is confused.
To get your own mind rolling with the concept, let’s start with an academic definition; perhaps it’s not your favorite way to learn, but consider how we don’t always hit every pupil with his or her favorite way of learning. We can, however, tweak lessons to foster the needs of most, and hopefully all of the kids, when we understand how they best learn.
What Does That Mean?
J. H. Flavell first used the word Metacognition, and it is defined as "cognition about cognition", or "knowing about knowing." He describes it in these words: “Metacognition refers to one’s knowledge concerning one’s own cognitive processes or anything related to them…” J. H. Flavell (1976).
No Such Thing As A "Dumb" Question
Did you just have an “Aha Moment” with the term metacognition? If so, yippee! Just like students’ brains, you may have celebrated inside and been intrigued to learn more. If you’re confused, yippee! That was a wordy and vague definition that means, in layman's terms, the awareness of one’s own learning. How often do learners feel lost without our knowing it? Some may “get” a concept right away. Others may be left in the dust, confused, and disinterested.
A good way to help everyone feel more comfortable with asking questions, is to choose a couple of children and have them role play the teacher and the pupil. Have them work through the process of not understanding a concept: the “pupil” questioning, the “teacher” providing answers until the “Aha Moment” hits. When it hits, the pupil must say, “Aha!”
The Power of Saying, “I Don’t Know”
It’s really important that we express to our students that we, as teachers, don't always have or know the answer to everything. Tell them when you have questions, and then ask if anyone in the class knows the answer to your questions. Empower them if they have the right answer, or let them know that you need to do some research and get back to them once you've done so. “I don’t know” is a really important thing to admit in front of your class community.
An offshoot of the metacognition concept has been teaching children the following: to relate their own experiences to the text they are reading:
- Text-to-Self: to relate their own experiences to the text they are reading.
- Text-to-Text: to compare one text to another.
- Text-to-World: to relate their own experiences in the world to the text they are reading.
When there is an existing cognitive link from one concept to another, children are better able to comprehend material. I use a simple and fun way to encourage individuals to feel comfortable sharing their learning excitement as a community. Check it out, and try it for a couple of weeks. I'm pretty sure you'll be delighted with the results.
Recall Learning in a Fun Way
While teaching first graders, I capitalized on the fancy word but simple concept of metacognition. I simply created a poster with the words “Aha Moments” across the top and numbers with lines for pupils to contribute their own moments of realization. Recognition of their own new understanding was my goal, and I approached it in a way that hit on various learning styles, such as visual, auditory, and sensory.
We began the year talking together about what an “Aha Moment” would look and feel like. Then, every Friday, I asked my first graders to contribute their “Aha Moments.” With raised hands competing to be heard, they would proudly voice their new awareness. Often, I would let them come up front and write their accomplishments on the simple poster-sized piece of paper. Posting their learning in a prominent place in our classroom for the week allowed them to continue to feel pride in their learning. We all voted on a place for the weekly posters to be displayed. Come Friday, they would beg me to let them do “Aha Moments.”
From The Mouths of Babes
Here are some “Aha Moments” from excited first graders. You’ll notice that not all of the ideas are academic in nature. Learning is across the board, and perhaps, those who didn’t “get” something in school, did “get” something at home. Thus, they felt safe in being a part of the contributing community. As we all know, feeling comfortable in the class community is key and will eventually lead to comfort in asking questions as well. It’s so important to discuss how we learn everywhere and all of our lives with our classes:
- Cameron learned that magic “e” turns “at” to “ate.”
- "I didn't know I could ride my bike for two hours." Zach
- Jake learned how to read rule-breaking words like "phone" in the book Knuffle Bunny.
- Chloe learned how to read a chapter book, her first one: A Lot of Hats.
- Cameron learned not to cry at school unless he's hurt or has his feelings hurt.
- Jada said, "When I was little, I rode my bike without training wheels on a steep hill."
- Kelsey learned not to go bare foot. Her friend Jet got a staple in his foot with bare feet.
Other teachers began to use the “Aha” idea in their classes. Parents were able to take part in their children's learning as I would post students' "Aha Moments" on our class website. Before I knew it, children would raise their hands and tell the whole class, "I just had an "Aha Moment!" They would let everyone in on something new that they just understood.
Parents or guardians may ask children what they learned at school every day or week. We teachers need to do the same thing. The feedback is so valuable for all of us. It’s great to hear what they’ve learned! It’s time for celebration and for questions from those who need further help. Who knows, maybe even parents and guardians will start hearing more enthusiastic contributions at the dinner table when the age-old question, “What did you learn today?” comes up.
Building on the joy and power of learning and expressing ourselves in a safe environment is examined in the following lessons and PowerPoint presentation.
Pupils brainstorm in groups how they would solve a particular problem, designated by the teacher. An example of a statement would be, “If I had the power to stop children from going to bed hungry, I would…” The groups then report how they formulated their plans and why they think those plans would be effective.
A fourth grader finished his poem with, “I pushed and pulled and got away from the pit of emotion, rubbing trust on my body like a lotion.” After reading and discussing his poem, entitled “Trapped,” learners pinpoint their feelings about their own chosen topic. A poetry reading finishes up this powerful lesson.
Digging deeper than the understanding of one’s learning, this PowerPoint presentation is aimed at an audience fifth grade and up. Some people innately understand how to read and dig deeper. For those who need the extra strategies, this could be life-changing.