Thinking Metacognition: Understanding

Something that is not always at the centre of teaching is metacognition; teaching students how to learn and to become independent learners. Within the international baccalaureate these fundamental skills are called Approaches to Learning Skills (ATL Skills) and they intent to be the foundation of each unit.

Overview ATL Skills

For this unit about Globalization in MYP 3 (which is comparable to grade 8) the focus was on thinking skills, especially critical thinking and transferring knowledge amongst different disciplines. For this project, the website from Project Zero created by Harvard University has been consulted often and used as a guideline. Project Zero created a website called “Visible Thinking”, on which they explain four different thinking ideals that can be achieved by applying different thinking routines in the classroom.

For this unit the focus was on understanding. The goal for students was to understand benefits and disadvantages of specific elements of globalization. The thinking ideal of understanding from Project Zero was used to further clarify the meaning of understanding.

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Overview of the Understanding Ideal

On the website “Visible Thinking” one can find instructions on how to incorporate thinking routines in lessons in order to make the students aware of what it means to understand something and how to gain understanding in a particular topic.

A mind map was created at the beginning of the unit, which made students think about what it means to understand something. Thereafter, over a period of three months, students applied thinking routines/strategies needed for the skill of understanding, whereby the content of these excersises was the subject-matter of this unit. In this case the advantages and disadvantages of globalization in labor, tourism, languages, and division of wealth. Each of these thinking routines was done on the basis of a worksheet: worksheets for six thinking strategies can be found here. The worksheets were collected at the end of each lessons and formed together an understanding portfolio.

At the end of the unit, students wrote a letter to an imaginary student from grade 6 in which they explained what it means when a teacher says you have to understand something. This final exercise was the last document for their understanding portfolio, which was shared also digitally with the students.

In order to check if students grasp the meaning of understanding, they did an assignment of which the goal was to understand why football (soccer) makes such a great insight in current-day globalization via a google forms. The goal was to check if students were able to use the understanding portfolio independently. At the beginning of the assignment the students had to chose which thinking routine they would use to gather new knowledge related football and globalization. The students wrote down whatever was required by the first step of the thinking routine. Thereafter, students received information about the role of football in the interconnectedness of the world. After acquiring this information students applied the last step of their thinking routing, which is writing down new information. The last step of the entire assignment was to show their understanding of football as a great insight into the interconnectedness of the world. Ideally students would touch upon the six different elements of understanding when showing their understanding of this topic. However, after analysing students’ work it became clear that more explicit instruction is necessary to achieve that level of comprehension of the topic and the meaning of understanding something.

New information I have acquired from the text includes: many stages of industries are used to complete the commercialization and profit of football, football can have a negative affect on the workers’ lives, the commercialization of sport is growing, travel can affect the environment. This connects with past information because I already knew that football came from a working class people, and that planes taking fans and players may pollute the environment, causing harm.

Example of student work – Last step thinking routine 3-2-1 Bridge

Football is a very interesting and quite accurate in capturing what makes globalization. Products, like balls are produced in factories where labor is cheap. This shows a bad and good side for the workers, as they are taken advantage of, but still get work, which they want. Because of globalization, companies can put there business in a more efficient and cheap place. Tourism can also be brought to locations, as fans go throughout the world for a club’s game. These tourists affect the tourism aspect of globalization, as well as exchanging culture with locals. Due to planes existing and their reliability today, fans and players become more interconnected, as they come from all over the world. New stadiums and business from soccer, will bring attention to local businesses and give them jobs, like we discussed in our tourism part of the unit.

Example student work – Final assignment is showing understanding of football and globalisation

The benefit of making an understanding portfolio is that students can use this portfolio also for other subjects. Because when the goal is for students to understand something, it is easy to refer to their understanding portfolio and let them grabble with the content independently. However, independently does not mean without communication among peers, but it means without the teacher as the source of information or instruction. The thinking routines actually encourage sharing knowledge and communicating with one another. The role for the teachers, however, is merely facilitating the opportunities for these exchanges to take place.

This was the first time for me to have explicitly metacognitive goals at the forefront of lessons, rather than subject-matter. After creating the understanding portfolio with the students, I realised that it will save me more time with a next topic as the basis for acquiring knowledge is created with this understanding portfolio.

Collection of all the final “Understanding Portfolios”


  1. Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, Karin Morrison, Making Thinking Visible How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners (San Francisco 2011)
  2. Project Zero –

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