How can teachers help students become more self-aware?

This is part 1 of 5 in “Mentor Me” questions about Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). There are five components of SEL: Self-Awareness, Responsible Decision–Making, Relationship Skills, Social Awareness, and Self-Management. Classrooms where teachers both overtly and organically teach these crucial skills help students develop essential skills and dispositions.

Like many teachers, I post a “daily learning goal” to inform students of the day’s objectives and to help them know whether or not these objectives were met. Formative assessment is crucial, but it sometimes removes the “did I learn what is needed?” emphasis from student to teacher.

To place the onus back on the student, I use what I call the “metacognitive minute.” I reserve one minute to ask students a question that helps them identify if they understand, are beginning to understand, or have no idea. By including students in this important step in learning, I’m acknowledging the social and emotional demands of middle school while providing students with strategies, tools, and a classroom environment that harness their natural energy and enthusiasm.

For example, the short story “The Most Dangerous Game” has a daily learning goal: “Explain how the author uses diction to impact the reader’s experience of the story,” so I pose the question, “What is the double meaning behind the author’s use of the word ‘game’?” The author is using the word to mean both prey and a game one plays. If I do not pose this question, those who didn’t make the connection may not even know a connection should be made! I ask a specific question that directly leads students to question their understanding and formulate self–generated feedback. As young adolescents continue to mature, they will need to decide for themselves what steps they need to take after they “think about their own thinking” and know what to do if they need help.

The Center for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines self-awareness as: The ability to accurately recognize one’s emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior. This includes accurately assessing one’s strengths and limitations and possessing a well-grounded sense of confidence and optimism. For those who don’t “get it,” I’m helping them to recognize their thoughts, enhance the ability to accurately self-assess their developing understanding, and communicate their uncertainties.

While I may have the wherewithal to ask a clarifying question or check with a co-worker if I do not understand, many middle school students are still developing these abilities. Providing an opportunity for students to identify their level of understanding and what to do with that information will set the stage for future successful interactions when they need to advocate for themselves.


  1. Yes, self-awareness is something that needs to be taught in schools. I think as educators we have to teach our students life long skills. Self-awareness is one of those. I also love your use of the “Most Dangerous Game”.