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Metacognition curriculum: advice from Paul Graham

November 11, 2010

So it has been a while since I’ve given my kids a specific metacognition assignment, and so at the beginning of this week, I decided to have my kids read this awesome essay by internet legend Paul Graham, titled “What you’ll wish you’d known” filled with advice for high school students.

I did this somewhat on a whim, so I came up with what I thought were three rather lame questions to have kids follow up on the reading.

  1. What, in your opinion, were the most meaningful pieces of advice you took away from the article “What you’ll wish you’d known,” by Paul Graham?
  2. How do you plan to implement this advice in your own life?
  3. Now, imagine you were tasked with writing a letter of advice to a student about to enter middle school (6th grade). Write a couple of paragraphs of good advice you have for that student.

That’s it. I was hoping to get kids thinking a bit, but I was blown away by some of the answers, which I’ll excerpt below. The students’ insights were incredible, and I surprised myself by just how much they think they really should have everything like a college major and career figured out now.

It just reminds me of the power of these assignments/conversations, and reminds me to do it more often.

Best advice taken from article:

  • I think the most meaningful is that you shouldn’t wait to be taught by teachers, you have to to be taught by your own curiosity. I also liked how the only reason people slack off and don’t do work is because they get bored. I never thought of it that way and I really liked that.
  • “I propose instead that you don’t commit to anything in the future, but just look at the options available now, and choose those that will give you the most promising range of options afterward.” I really like this idea, it’s very smart and all it takes is a some thought into the future. I’m glad I was exposed to this idea now.
  • Don’t make a decision on what you are going to do with your life when you are in high school. Relax and enjoy it.
  • I thought it was very interesting how the writer pointed out that your full time job shouldn’t be being a student. That is like you day job, and what you do at night and in you free time counts just as much. I often find myself getting caught up in school and I feel like I go to school, come home and do homework and then go to sleep and do the same thing all over again the next day.
  • think the part about wasting time was interesting because most of what teenagers do is, in essence, time wasting. Little of what teenagers do outside of school actually contributes to their own knowledge or skill set, with a few exceptions.

How I will Implement it:

  • I think that I should start making a list of just things I’ve always wanted to learn or figure out how to do. I think that starting small will lead me to follow my curiosity more and more. I think that I am bored a lot of times in school, and that doesnt mean that I dont think that it is hard, but I’m rarely motivated. I tell myslef work hard, but by the next day I have forgotten and gone back to bored. I feel like I need to remind myself daily of this so that I can start fixing it.
  • I think that reducing the time that I spend mindlessly flipping through inconsequential pages on the Internet would increase my productivity, and the tools that I have at my disposal are far too useful for me not to be utilizing them. I think spending a weekend learning or developing a new skill would be very beneficial.

Advice for middle schoolers:

  • Middle school is like the waiting place. You arent quite in high school but you are well past the curicculum of elementary school. You are sort of placed in middle school to let yourself grow and mature so that you can go to high school. You get to find relationships that will carry you to high school and you are mostly just waiting. School work is challenging so you have to make sure you have it down right, but not the same as high school so keep that in mind with what you do with your free time. Find some good solid interests that you can explore further in life, since it is the time to try new things and experiment. Make sure you have a good relationship with teachers so you feel comfortable talking to them about anything in high school.
  • I hope you are excited about middle school, because it is so much fun! Even though everyone acts like middle school is the tough time when you are changing, and your emotions are crazy, it’s not nearly as bad as some people make it. Sure you will go through some changes and meet new people, and make new friends, but many people over exaggerate the changes!

    When I was in sixth grade, I wish someone had told me to branch out. I was very devoted to my friends, and I wasn’t really interested in meeting new people. I had been at my school since pre-first, so I had known everyone for so long, and I was not willing to be friends with the new people. It wasn’t until end of seventh, beginning of eighth when I started to talk to new people, and get to know other people. I started to make some new friends, and I became more social, and liked getting to know people, but it was a little awkward because they had already been friends for two years, and then all of a sudden, I was kind of joining their group of friends. I wish I wasn’t so shy, and had become friends with them earlier.

    As well, I wish someone had told me that middle school didn’t count for college. Being the naive sixth grader that I was, I thought that middle school counted for college. I was under unnecessary stress to do well so that I could get into a good college. I didn’t know that middle school didn’t count for college until halfway through sixth grade.

    Lastly, I wish someone had told me to find one teacher to really connect with. So many great teachers surrounded me, and I wished I had taken advantage of that opportunity, and had gotten to know one, so that I could become comfortable enough to share my feelings.

  • Exams are NOT a big deal. They seem like this big scary thing when you’ve never taken them, but they aren’t that bad. Also, make a schedule. You probably haven’t had much homework in the past, so you’re not used to having to manage time. When you map out homework time, sports time etc. it’s so much easier! When you plan your time you have time to do all sorts of interesting things.
    Another big thing is to get involved. While classes are important, they are only half of your whole JH experience. Try things you’ve never done before. Now is the first time you really get to choose what you do. Your parents have been arranging everything from play dates to what afternoon basketball league you play in. You’ll be tempted to waste all this extra time watching tv or playing video games, but don’t. There are clubs, plays, sports, community service, all of this stuff you’ve never done before. Another thing is don’t be afraid to try different things. I went to just about every club my 6th grade year until I found one that I wanted.
    The key is, don’t be scared to be independent. Try new things, go out of your comfort zone.
  • Response:
    Dear sixth grader,
    things to know:
    -do NOT spend tons of time being a perfectionist about your homework. junior high has a lot of built in free time if you use your time wisely. Use it to explore your interests
    -be friendly to everyone: enemies made in 6th grade because of something as stupid as not sharing a pencil can last 7 long years. sad, i know
    -try new things. i know everyone says that in junior high but they are actually right. you’ll regret it if you don’t.
    Happy Explorations and Bonne Chance
    p.s. actually try to learn your foreign language because it is waaaay easier to learnat a younger age. this has been PROVEN!!!
3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 11, 2010 4:40 pm

    Great idea! I am stealing this. Shamelessly stealing it. I’ll collect student responses, too, and share them out.

  2. November 16, 2010 4:33 am

    I’m with Chris. *puts on black skimask and lifts blogpost over shoulder*

    • November 16, 2010 4:43 am

      I’ve gotten more positive feedback from kids on how much they liked this article than anything else I’ve given them, though a few found it long. Perhaps it’s because of Paul Graham’s edgy tone, or his dissing of high school. I’m just glad it connected with them.

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