As we at WATG work on our preparations for the fall 2020 conference entitled, “Hands On, Minds On,” at the Wilderness Conference Center in Wisconsin Dells on October 18-20, 2020, I have been thinking a lot about teaching, learning, and educational coaching, and how metacognition (minds-on learning) enhances the experiential learning (hands-on learning) that has become so popular.
With the myriad of learning opportunities that celebrate hands-on work (think Problem Based Learning, Project-Based Learning, Challenge-Based Learning, STEM, Maker Spaces, Genius Hour, Project Lead the Way, Service Learning, etc.), sometimes, it seems, the hands-on “doing” has become the holy grail, and the minds-on thinking processes behind the work may not be given their full attention or full credit.
So it was with great interest that I came across this article, Experiential Learning: Hands-On Doesn’t Mean It’s Minds-On by the late Grant Wiggins in December 30, 2019’s Teach Thought. In particular, this quote by Wiggins spoke to me, “ Just because work is hands-on does not mean it is minds-on. Many projects, problems, situations, and field trips do not yield lasting and transferable learning because too little attention is given to the meta-cognitive and idea-building work that turns a single experience into insight and later application.”
As a teacher, a parent, a grandparent, an educational coach, and a fellow learner, I have often focused on what I believe to be the three big components of learning -- Why are we learning this? What are we learning? And how do we do this? In teaching and learning, if one of these components is missing, I have found that the learning usually fails, or is not as complete, satisfying, or long-lasting. When we don’t understand why we are learning something, this can lead to apathy, confusion, or failure to connect the current learning to future learning. When we are unclear as to what we are learning, we may not understand the content, context, or the scope and sequence of the learning. When there is confusion about the how, we may have false starts, poor procedures or execution, or poor final products. Failure to adequately teach the why, the what, and the how almost always affects performance. In much of our hands-on learning, it is common to teach the what, and especially the how, but sometimes, I think, the why is not fully processed.
Wiggins, in his article, talks about checking for understanding by using metacognitive questions during the learning process to address this deficiency. He suggests asking these questions:
So how have you made hands-on learning come to life with minds-on thinking? What questions and strategies do you use? How has this enhanced teaching and learning? As always, I look forward to hearing your ideas. Together we grow.
Jackie Drummer, Past President
WI Association for Talented and Gifted
Gifted in Perspective
A column designed to link the gifted perspective to other perspectives, and to make you think.