Making the Magic Visible

It’s been a minute since I last wrote a post. With the ‘before winter break shenanigans’ in full effect the past couple of weeks, I just now feel like I can take a breath…in order to make a never ending list of things to catch up on—HA!

wizard of ozToday’s post is about how I am helping my students to see (1) that the magic of learning is not an invisible process…that learning isn’t something that is ‘done to them’ and (2) that in understanding the different ways they are engaging in class, they can become smarter learners. It reminds me of The Wizard of Oz…when Dorthy and her companions finally realize who the wizard actually is. The same way they pull back the curtain on his true identity, I want to pull the curtain back on the truth of the learning process.

In my last post, I wrote about providing opportunities for students to ‘make meaning’ in their learning process. That in doing so they are able to move their learning from short term to long term memory. And I also suggested the need to NAME these moments of learning transfer.

But what I realized after writing that post is that the critical point is the naming of how they are learning—this is where the magic actually lives. It is the how that needs to be explicit. It needs to be tracked. And then students need to reflect on it. In this way they will be able to take more ownership over their learning—they will be become more active participants in the process.

So what now…?

At the NCTE conference in Baltimore I had the opportunity to present with the Moving Writer’s team (resources from the whole can be found here). My topic revolved around how the workshop model is helping to prepare my IB and AP students for college/university life.

giphyTo get to how I am trying to set them up for their post-secondary life though, I need to first take a little detour. This detour takes us back to when I was in high school…to when I thought that learning was something that was done to me. I honestly thought that a big part of how I learned was a magical process and that I just happened to be a strong receiver of what the teacher was sending out. But then I became a teacher myself and I realized that although YES, learning is magical, it isn’t something that needs to be hidden. And I have been trying to help my students see behind the curtain ever since—to make the magic visible.

Okay….But How?

We always have the end in mind, but especially with seniors, that ‘end’ is trying to consolidate all of the skills needed for them to flourish on their own. For me, this means a mindset change.

So when students enter my room, it isn’t a case of students thinking: “What will I learn today? It is: “HOW will I learn today?” The semantics of those two questions are everything, and we talk about this on day one. (Or day two at the very least!) This is the beginning of a year long process of getting my students ready for life after high school.

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Here’s one way to make it visible…

On a given day I will explicitly name the activities, strategies, frameworks, etc… that students are engaging in. They then write it down in their notebooks and then reflect on it by responding to some of the following questions:

  1. What part of the process did we use the activity/strategy in?
  2. How confident are they in using it?
  3. How did it/didn’t it help them learn?
  4. What do they need to do to get better at it?
  5. Would they use it again in a different context?

Here is an example of one student’s list/reflection thus far this year:

They are seeing behind the curtain…they are connecting to the MAGIC.

Greg Evans, in his 2018 article, “Windmills of Your Mind: Metacognition and Lifelong Learning” [1], states the following:

The accelerating pace of technological innovation is making lifelong learning increasingly important as a competency for career success. As we move from a knowledge-based society into a global learning-based society, success will become less about what our graduates know and more about how easily they can identify, retrieve, process, and apply new knowledge. We need to shift away from serving up content, to helping students “learn how to learn” as a primary outcome; to enable and support future learning.

More simply: the content is the vehicle for skill development.

Our goal as educators is to create self-directed learners who can “assess the demands of [a] task, evaluate their own knowledge and skills, plan their approach, monitor their progress, and adjust their strategies as needed” [2] (metacognition in a nutshell). Our goal is to get students to experience themselves as being central to the learning process rather than perceiving learning as being a process that is done for or to them.


What methods do you use to engage students in metacognition? How do you provide opportunities for students to ‘see behind the curtain’…how do you make learning visible? Share your ideas with me on Twitter: @readwritemore

[1] Evans, Greg J. 2018. “Windmills of Your Mind: Metacognition and Lifelong Learning.” Proceedings of the Canadian Engineering Education Association.

[2] Ambrose, S. A., M. W. Bridges, M. DiPietro, M. C. Lovett, M. K. Norman. 2010. “How learning works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching”, John Wiley & Sons.

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