April 19, 2024
Close this search box.
Close this search box.
April 19, 2024
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

A Metacognitive Framework for Understanding School Language

The nuances of language tend to shift regularly. Often, word meanings narrow over time. Less frequently, the opposite occurs, where an expression broadens to encompass a wider meaning than previously acknowledged. Educational language is not immune to these trends. Even though many changes may be subtle, these fine distinctions may affect parent-school communication.

Before tackling language, let’s first ask from a metacognitive perspective, “What is the purpose of an elementary school education?” The way parents understand this question and formulate responses informs their subsequent relationship with school. A metacognitive approach recognizes that school is the laboratory for life where children will continue their journey, begun with their parents, to develop the self-reflective and independent skills to navigate academic, social and emotional shoals. The primary learning of elementary school is essentially a social transaction, where academic learning is designed to occur through the expert teacher-novice student dynamic, as well as through peer interactions. Metacognitive and self-reflective practices for character building and social enhancement have profound benefits for academic growth as well.

A primary purpose of elementary school is to cultivate this all-encompassing love of learning, develop children’s self-image as capable learners and inspire them to be lifelong learners. This represents both a Jewish and metacognitive ideal. Judaism strongly encourages “learning for the sake of learning” and what is commonly known as a Socratic approach. On the other hand, Judaism is also practical and emphasizes the importance of laying the groundwork for independence and real-world skills. A great school unites these two approaches with intentionality and sensitivity. Parents appreciate this thoughtful mindset and can ask themselves, “Does this approach match well with our Torah beliefs and parenting style?”

Now, let’s demystify some common educational language through the prism of a metacognitive school philosophy and what these terms should represent in a school committed to meeting each learner’s needs.

What constitutes “school readiness”?

There is a wide developmental range for the emergence of a variety of school-oriented skills. School readiness is not only about chronological age, and readiness encompasses a broader skill set than “hard” academic skills alone, such as memorizing the alphabet or identifying colors. Educators recognize that the emotional intelligence and work ethic (grit) readily perceived in school is extremely important for success in life and may emphasize these so-called “soft skills.” Schools think about readiness in terms of developmental behaviors, including self-regulation, social skills and emotional awareness, in addition to more traditional academic milestones. Another aspect of readiness that a school may note is the concept of a child’s “teachability” range, or how the child responds to direct, individualized instruction.

What defines “academic rigor?”

Academic rigor should be viewed within the framework of the development of higher-order thinking skills. Outward manifestations of a heavy workload, as may be indicated by large amounts of homework; long-term research assignments; and frequent, high-stakes testing, do not necessarily indicate academic rigor. Genuine rigor requires the training in strong foundational skills upon which a student can build creative and innovative responses. The ability to be an original thinker is first predicated upon having the fundamentals of learning and being able to self-monitor and reflect upon both one’s content knowledge and also one’s cognitive skills. True academic rigor informs a teacher’s daily instruction in many subtle ways that lead to real differences over time. The deliberate use of a variety of questioning and self-questioning techniques and language strategies are the tools that transport learning to a higher plane. Teacher and administration mindset play an important role in modeling this passionate, imaginative and metacognitive approach to learning.

What is “differentiated instruction?”

Differentiated instruction is a hot-button buzzword that has been subjected to numerous interpretations and linked to other terms such as “learning style,” “multiple intelligences,” “blended learning” and “personalized learning,” amongst many other fashionable terms that come in and out of style. Ultimately, schools should strive to see each child as an individual and adjust instruction accordingly. There are a number of concrete and practical tools to individualize instruction, with the added nuance of metacognition.

How is “assessment” used to differentiate instruction?

The first tool of differentiation is “assessment.” Assessment means the evaluation of student level for a specific skill or knowledge set. Assessment is important before, during and after instruction. Adept teachers do so both formally and informally, constantly using that information to inform planning. Assessment can be very low-key and self-reflective, both to include the students in the setting of the learning goals and also because it is not intended to be anxiety-inducing. During daily warm-ups and self-checks, teacher and students can see immediately who still needs review of certain concepts or procedures and who is ready to move to the next skill. Quick, daily end-of-lesson assessments, such as reflective exit slip questions, help teachers and students prepare for the subsequent lesson. Successful differentiation hinges on constantly assessing student growth. More formal benchmark testing may be helpful to make good decisions in certain areas of instruction. Technological tools, which track student progress, may also be helpful, as they provide additional, useful data to be interpreted by the teacher.

Sharing a common understanding of the language we use to describe the learning process will foster clearer communication as we work together to raise the next generation of Jewish children.

By Chana Luchins

 Chana Luchins is the assistant principal of general studies at the Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva (RPRY) in Edison.


Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles