Metacognition with Michael Griffin, Part 1


Debbie 0:00
Now for the Crescendo Music Education Podcast – Episode 26. In this episode, I get to talk to Michael Griffin, an absolutely fabulous conversation. It made me think, I love things that make me think. We talk in this first part of the chat about practice and how to practice; some really great ideas there. Michael spent a lot of time thinking, researching, studying, and presenting in the area of metacognition. Fascinating.

We talk about growth mindset, and talk about motivation. Absolutely fantastic, intrinsic motivation, all sorts of things. The metacognitive modeling is also really powerful. Look, I want you to just get in there and listen yourself. It’s absolutely fabulous. Enjoy the first part.

Oh, and by the way, if you’re one of these people, that turns off my episode, just before the end, because you don’t want to hear the end stuff. Stay till the end, I tell a really good joke at the end of every episode. It’s really worth hanging in there till the end. My jokes are fabulous. Anyway, I digress.

Let’s go back to my chat with Michael Griffin, the first part, I know you are going to love it and you want to go and connect with him afterwards. It’s fabulous. Enjoy.

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About ‘Read the Episode’: Sometimes, we would rather skim visually than listen to a podcast! That’s a great way to learn too! The transcript of episode 026 of The Crescendo Music Education Podcast is below.

Episode 26 “Read the Episode” Transcript

Introducing Michael Griffin

Hello, everybody, and a big hello to Michael Griffin. Hello, Michael.

Michael Griffin
Hi Debbie.

Now, I’m going to start just reading a really brief bio. Okay, and many, many details aren’t included. So this is just a little summary. So here we go.

Australian Michael Griffin is an educator, keynote speaker, author, conductor, and pianist. Michael’s professional development for staff and enrichment lectures for students and parents examine the factors that impact continuous improvement toward exceptional achievement, face-to-face sessions, online courses, and published books, explore teacher and student mindsets, metacognition, intrinsic motivation, and deliberate practice. Now there were heaps more I could say, I just tried to get the essence.

So Michael, before we go on, what would you like to add, specifically to that quick summary of who you are, for those people who don’t know you?

Michael Griffin
I look, I think that captures what I’m interested in, certainly from the education perspective. I just love learning, and I get a buzz out of seeing learners be engaged and motivated and believing in themselves. So they are the areas that I study. And I think you summarised that well. Thanks, Debbie.

When we were thinking about having this chat, there are so many areas that we could talk about, and we sort of had a bit of a choice, really. So do you summarise your work in roughly three areas? Is that fair to say?

Michael Griffin
That’s fair to say when I started this part of my professional life, which is Teacher PD and speaking with parents and children too, I might add. How I saw it, what do I think can make a difference in the learning lives of people? What are the most important factors that separate learners that differentiate abilities?

So it’s an age-old question, but one that I frame a lot, which is, why do some people achieve so much more than other people? Why do they get better than others? How does that work? So in terms of three areas, being a music educator, for me so important that kids know how to practice music, or anyone knows how to practice music?

So I’ve investigated that in a fair bit of detail, as I think you know, hence, that book I wrote, Learning Strategies for Musical Success, is all about that, because I suspect from my experience that a lot of us have, we might say things to kids, like, you need to practice more, have you done your practice? But I think we need to be more specific on that.

The Importance of Practice

Michael Griffin
I observed that many kids don’t know how to practice, and we all know that to become a musician, it’s all about practice. It’s all about practice and understanding different types of repetition. And not just the drill or blocked repetition; some people will think that’s the sum total of repetition, no variable repetition, spaced repetition, or interleaved repetition. They all work in different ways on the brain and memory and, of course, chunking and slow practice, the fundamentals. So that’s one area, it’s skill development. How do I get better at what I do, and what will make a difference to my musical development?

Growth Mindset

Secondly, a big area that I’ve looked at is about growth mindset. Now, I know that a lot of teachers are aware and parents are aware of the idea of mindset. But the more I investigate this, the more fascinating it is just how deeply ingrained mindsets are in our minds.

And we know when if we talk about, say, advocacy, I think the world could be a much more musical place if we avoid this notion of talent because the mindset is so related to talent. And people are very quick to judge themselves as not being talented.

If they crash and burn at something. Well, I failed at that I guess I’m just not talented. And if people think they’re not talented at anything, they don’t really try anymore, they’re done. And we see that in the world of mathematics too. Once a kid says I’m not mathematical, they will never put the effort in to get good at maths.

It’s so sad, Debbie. This is debilitating stuff. So, so mindset, and maybe we can thrash that out at some point in one of our talks, but the mindset is so crucial. And we all know, we’ve heard that many adults say, Oh, I can’t sing to save myself, I could never do this, I could never. Well, presently, you might not be able to, but that’s what the learning journey is all about.

Where’s the point where you can’t improve at something? Really Is there nothing more you can do? Now you don’t have to want to get good at anything. But let’s not sacrifice the future richness of life based on this idea that I could never do that.

So that’s a whole other area I look at Debbie and most recently, and I will say recently, but it’s been about 10 years.

Metacognition & Teaching

Metacognition is fascinating. And for me, metacognitive teaching represents the enjoyment of teaching, seeing kids engaged, and becoming self-motivated. Because both mindset and metacognition are originally associated with intrinsic motivation. So the effective teacher is thinking, how can I influence this child’s ability to motivate themselves, which is a shift, isn’t it from that my job is to motivate you and as a teacher, I have to motivate you.

Now it’s a funny thing, the more we actively try and externally motivate someone, the less responsibility they take to motivate themselves. And that’s the important thing, we must learn to self-motivate, hence, intrinsic motivation. So yeah, they are compartmentalized, I do often talk about them in the same because they interweave and cross and all are related but these days, some of my courses, Debbie, are in jurisdictions like New South Wales, and the ACT, where I have specific accredited teacher training courses. So hence, I have compartmentalized them for that reason.

Right, but they’re all, but actually, it’s like music generally. It’s like saying, I’m only teaching about this rhythmic element, you know, you can’t just take that in isolation. Oh, like, I’m only doing responding, or I’m only doing composing. You can’t. It’s like music. It’s all just interconnected, isn’t it?

Michael Griffin
Yes, that’s right.

And I think teachers are very guilty. Okay, I shouldn’t say that. No, I shouldn’t speak on behalf of lots of teachers. But you know, how many of us do say, Oh, look, you just need to practice more, but we don’t have the skills necessary to help them learn to practice well.

So I think it comes down to the teacher being upskilled in those areas, I need to be really good at knowing how to practice well, and how to lead my children to practice well. I need to really understand this mindset stuff because, again, mindsets are a bit bandied about, isn’t it?

In the education world, it’s very important you have the right mindset. Yeah, good, like anything that needs to be unpacked and understood, and then not only understood for you as an educator, but then you need to learn how to lead your children to those understandings. And then, as you said, metacognition is all intertwined into that. So fascinating, a lot to do with the brain, isn’t it?

Michael Griffin
Oh, it is, the brain commands what our bodies do, you know, the brain is, it’s all about the brain, memory is stored in the brain. And memory is the core of intelligence, you know, memory is the residue of what we think about, what we pay attention to. So hey it is all connected as the example you made with musical instruction too.

And the fascination of learning is making connections between disparate areas and getting creative, and seeing these connections. What growth mindset and metacognition have in common is they’re both richly related to the idea of teacher expectation. And we know even from the work of John Hattie, we know that the most consistent predictor of student achievement is the high expectations of a teacher.

So you think about this, every time we think to ourselves, if we do, oh, these kids are really talented over here, what does that say about what we deep down believe about some other kids? So if we go down this route of talent identification, then we don’t do it deliberately, we all do things with warm hearts, but we cannot help but have different expectations for other children.

And the expectation is palpable, and kids recognise it. John Hattie says as soon as you walk in that classroom, kids know whether you believe in them or not. It is so powerful, and why this is well known, there are no surprises about this. But in the world of psychology, the Govin effect, the low expectation is so perceivable that kids will achieve less based on our expectations, even though we might crow, but hang on, I treat everyone the same.

Well, we think we do but we don’t if we have different expectations. So it needs to be explicitly understood. And it’s so important for our children that we have this idea of open expectation. Who knows what you can achieve? I’m not going to put a lid on it, kids prove us wrong all the time, you know, and teachers, I’ve had many say to me, well, that kid really surprised me.

I didn’t think that they could do that. Or let’s not put a lid on anyone you know and, and the way this plays out with expectations. It’s interesting. Even when we’re young teachers, we did all sorts of things and with so much enthusiasm, but hey, we all make mistakes. And I remember, I used to say things like, yeah, he’s a B student, or she’s a B student. Now that’s putting someone in a box. Goodness me, I hope I’d never say something like that these days.

Yeah. Because the problem is though, that whole system, sorry, sweeping generalisation about to come, but the whole system makes us do that. But as long as our attitude with those children, don’t keep them in the box. I mean, I have to, my system tells me, I’ve got to put a label on them for their report cards.

Michael Griffin
Oh, yeah. But that’s okay. The grades are your snapshot in time. They don’t actually predict potential, it’s very hard to find any tool that consistently or accurately predicts future achievement. I think we can make that clear to kids and to parents, well right now you’ve earned a B, that’s where you’re sitting. But you don’t have to live there for the rest of your life.

And if I’m saying something like she’s a B student, it almost implies that that’s a global thing, that’s just you know, this kid is, okay, but they’re not really that musical, they’re never going to be a Mozart, which is a silly thing to say anyway, in my view.

And we often do compare ourselves to these sorts of people right up there, it’s about, you know, How good can you get? I don’t know, all I know is that the greatest predictor of getting good at anything, is the quality and the quantity of your own effort. You know, if it is to be, it is up to me. You got to do the work. And I can’t, I can’t do that. I don’t know how good you can get. So that’s an open expectation. And that is very powerful. It’s very powerful.

So how do teachers generally get themselves to that point where they have these open expectations? Is there, you know, what, what sort of thing do you recommend teachers do to get themselves in this right mindset to help children achieve whatever they wish to, to know that it’s open-ended?

Michael Griffin
Ultimately, having open expectations is a decision. Because if you think about it, it really does stem down, and this is a very challenging area when we talk about talent, because I know, and this is the thing about mindset, as you say, it gets bandied around. But the research tends to suggest that most teachers teach with a fixed mindset.

That’s why mindset courses for kids don’t work that well, because it’s not about the kids. It’s actually about the teachers, kids are born with a growth mindset, and the adults get in the way. So we need to examine things.

Now. I know many people believe in talent. Not everyone does, but many people do. And what’s interesting, Debbie is it doesn’t matter what the truth is about talent, if you want to, okay, there’s very little evidence to substantiate it.

Neuroscience Advocates for Brain Growth & Change

One of the greatest advocates of growth and the changing mindset is neuroscience. It’s the neural connection, you know, okay, you’ve got 86 billion brain cells, we’ve all got about the same but that’s not what makes you smart. What makes us smart are the connections between those brain cells, and 80 to 90 trillion.

As I say to kids, kids if you want mashed potato brain, just sit on the sofa and do nothing all day, and you’ll get mashed potato brain. If you want a beautiful, richly connected brain, well, here are the top three things that we know you can do. Read books, move your body and make music, not necessarily in that order, but they’re the best things we know of for brain activity right?

So, this is where everyone’s different. We’re not all, we don’t all have the same ability at things. We don’t always have the same comprehension of Maths and English and all these areas of intelligence because we decide to pay attention to different things.

So the first thing I’d say is, well I said two things there. One is that neuroscience is a great advocate for the brain that changes itself, which was the title of that book by Norman Doidge. I saw your notes, so you’d agree with that. Yeah. Quite a seminal book on the brain that does change.

But secondly, we come to that point. Well, as I said, if people want to believe in talent, okay, but it doesn’t matter what the truth is. It’s all about perception. And if a kid perceives or if a learner perceives that they are not musical, they will not want to engage, they won’t engage. Not much anyway, you know.

Psychology is a Generalisation of Human Behaviour & Metacognition

And this is like you said, you mentioned the word generalisation, well psychology is a generalisation of human behaviour. So we are speaking in generalisations of course, but that’s the thing about talent: it doesn’t matter what the truth is.

However, for teachers, it’s very hard to fake a mindset. If deep down, we believe certain things to be true. Now, the thing about talent is it’s almost a retrospective judgment. Because you don’t label anyone as talented until you see them do something, it’s a bit like, Gee, look at that girl playing, she must be so talented. How do I know she’s talented? Because she plays so well, you know? So it’s a judgment.

No one was accused of being talented before they did anything. You know, you don’t look at a four-year-old and say, Wow, that kid’s gonna be a great architect. They’re so talented. You know, so I prefer the word ability. It’s a simple swap. Yeah, that kid is competent, able, they’ve got good ability, they’re developing well, stuff like that.

So avoidance of that term is a great way, to hopefully ensure that kids don’t get this fixed idea that it’s about talent, because the thing about talent, and this is the power of mindset, and okay, it’s a generalisation. But kids with a growth mindset, which Harvard University said, What’s the big deal, it’s just a learning mindset, the definition of growth mindset is improvement through training, I can get better based on the quality and the quantity of my effort.

That’s really what it’s about. These kids work harder, they enjoy their learning more, they’re more likely to seek feedback from the teacher, they don’t get so hung up about their image, they’re more likely to take a chance and give me a challenge. They are less likely to settle for mediocrity, because they’ll back themselves. So they make more progress. They do get smarter over time, and happier.

Now, the fixed mindset , well kids don’t work as hard, of course, because the definition of talent is I don’t have to work. If I’m talented, I don’t have to work as much as someone else to get to the same level of proficiency therein lies the biggest danger of mindset. So if we tell a kid, they’re talented, they’re more likely to work less hard, they’re more likely to give up quickly. And that’s the big one. And you know, of Carol Dweck, of course, who wrote that book Mindset in about, what was it 1990?

Anyway, her seminal question was, why do some kids give up so quickly? That was the question that led to mindset. And then she found out well, it’s associated with this whole idea of, I’m naturally gifted, I’m naturally good at things. So gee you’re lucky you don’t have to work so hard, because she’s so good. So we see this play out in terms of like that coupling of words gifted and lazy. You hear that all the time. And we say things, parents say things with good intentions, like, Ah, you’re so talented, and you don’t darn well work hard.

Well, if you keep telling them they’re talented, they won’t work hard because it doesn’t, it doesn’t match, it doesn’t it’s almost chi, it’s a bad sign if you have to work hard. So kids are more likely to quit, less likely to work hard, less likely to seek challenges, more likely to be image-conscious as the talented one who’s got to look like they find things easy and haven’t worked very hard. This is where it gets interesting with character, 30% more likely to cheat in tests, 30% more likely to lie about their results to other people. Because of the protection.

That’s interesting.

Michael Griffin
I know it’s interesting, but protecting this image of self is paramount. They’re less likely to seek feedback from their teachers. They’re more likely to accept feedback as criticism and say, Oh, you don’t like me. When you think, Hang on. I’m just trying to give you some feedback to help you and they don’t enjoy learning as much.

And you see this a lot with musical prodigies, musical prodigies are an underperforming group when you go to adulthood. A lot quit as soon as they get an opportunity to quit. You know, a lot have not enjoyed their time as child prodigies. Sad, sad to say.

Yes. And I know some that have been very, not even necessarily in music, in academics generally, where they have been getting excellent results very easily. When it gets a little tougher, they actually don’t really know how to learn, because it’s just happened so easily for them. And like you said, they don’t have the work. Well, I guess you’d call it the work ethic or the attitude and the knowledge of how to work at something, it’s just suddenly too hard. So I’ll quit because I have to work at it.

Michael Griffin
And the resilience to bounce back, things look boring, as they do in everyone’s life. We all have things, you’ve got to come back, you know, so they’re more likely to give up quickly. Because if see, if it’s all about talent, it doesn’t matter what I do. I’m just not talented. I know. It’s a weird type of thinking but that’s what goes on in some young minds.

So they give up, you know, when I learned about this stuff, Debbie, I thought of so many instances with myself and with students I’ve taught. I remember one kid who was a fine trumpet player. And he was in my big band one at the school where I was at, and he wanted to quit.

And I said, Matthew, what’s going on? Why? Why suddenly do you want to give up, you’re a good trumpet player? And he said, well, because I used to find it so easy and now it’s getting hard. You see the fixed mindset. They don’t do difficult, they don’t like difficult. It’s meant to come easy to you.

The Important Metacognitive Role We Play as Music Educators

You know, all of this discussion so far. It just brings home to me how important our job is as music educators that are lucky enough to teach all of the kids in the school, right from like four years old, which sort of I think most of my audience would be primary/elementary music teachers. It’s so important. Like, I would like to think all my students believe they’re musicians, they are musicians, they’re musicians, they’re making music, they are all able to participate and able to grow and get joy from that.

And it’s also super important that they can take risks, that they don’t feel bad if they fail, because this is just an opportunity to learn. And if you have all of those things happening magically in your room, I think you’re doing a lot for those little people, aren’t you?

Michael Griffin
I agree with you and fear of failure again, that’s another hallmark of the fixed mindset. I won’t try because I might not be able to do it, pretty sad. Did you ever read that book? Susan Jeffers – Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. It’s a bit like public speaking.

I like the sound of that one.

Michael Griffin
Yeah, I like it.

What’s it called again?

Michael Griffin
Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.

We’ll put that in the show notes too.

Michael Griffin
You know, I think about public speaking, Debbie. Because when I was a young teacher, I was so scared of public speaking.

Oh, really.

Michael Griffin
I could talk to kids. And I know, I could talk to kids in the classroom but put me in front of the teachers in the staff room, and I would shake in my boots. And there’s so many times I remember staff meetings, I wanted to say something, but I was too scared and too fearful. And my teeth would chatter and I had a real problem with it.

And one day that’s why I read this book, it reminded me of these things. I thought, Michael, you’ve just got to get over this somehow. You just got to do it. And that’s the point she makes, the only way really to overcome something like a fear of public speaking. You just have to do it. And okay, small steps, incremental steps, just maybe read a very short poem one day, something like that. Just short steps.

So, yeah, overcoming fear. Well, what you’re doing the classroom sounds wonderful, because that’s so important that kids are prepared to take risks. Successful people fail a lot. You know, that’s how we, how you do it. Because you make mistakes, and you learn from it. And you know, that the furnace of experience, I like that quote from John Dewey. He says, You don’t learn from experience, you learn by reflecting on experience. And I like to actually take that a little bit further. We learn by reflecting on experience and acting upon that reflection.

That’s important. Yes, yeah, you need to take that extra step,

Michael Griffin
Even PD if it doesn’t change anything. What’s the point?

Yes. And it’s something that I know I’ve tried to add to my recent PDs. And that’s something that when Deb and I present together, we do this a lot at the end, you have time for reflection, you know, and try and structure that a little. And then what are you going to change next week? Or is there something you’ve got from this that you’re going to try in your classroom next week? What is it? We get to write it down and they discuss.

So that’s when it’s powerful. If you don’t do that, it’s going to be gone in a week or two. And I’m finding that as I’m going through my, I have behind me, if anyone ever gets to see this vision, three, it used to be four, full filing cabinets. Now it’s full of my stuff that was too important to throw away, I’m slowly getting through it, but I’m finding things from okay, the 90s.

And it’s too important to throw away and I’m flicking through and going, I remember doing that song or those activities, and then I never went and put it into action. And so it’s been moldering in that. You’ve got to take action, or it’s lost, you know.

Michael Griffin
Indeed, and you talked about, I like those two themes you have in reflection at the end of your PD, okay, what are you going to do different now, you know that’s what metacognition involves, it’s a lot of reflection in the moment are planning ahead. And reflecting on past action, there’s one that I like too and it’s a good routine with children is where they do a unit of work, at the end of it. I used to think this, but now I think that.

Oh, yeah, that’s good.

Michael Griffin
So yeah, because it monitors kids need to perceive, learners need to perceive that self growth is happening, that they’re learning something, learning that changes who we are. And that’s a lovely routine, to help them see that they are growing. It’s like feedback. Most of us I think, before the wise old owl gives feedback to a child and they play some music.

How do you think you played? Now that can be pretty tough for kids to learn how to self evaluate, but they have to eventually come to that position, they can’t rely on external judges of their competence forever. And what I encourage teachers to do is to be specific with kids. So let’s imagine for example, they play something in the classroom or on their instrument. So rather than just say, how do you think you’re played, I might say, tell me two good things about your playing right now.

Because kids can be really hard on themselves can’t they. So this really sort of enables and encourages the student to focus on two positive things. Now, I know that some kids will say, Oh, I thought it was pretty terrible, or I did this wrong and that wrong, it’s all about what’s wrong. Well what’s good about it? And that’s really important, because the greatest motivator, according to Teresa Amabile at Harvard University, is making progress. So we need kids to see that they’re making progress in their learning in whatever context that is.

Yes and I think we have to give them that language to use as well. So we need to feed them that language like saying to little kids, they’ve just performed a little cannon for you and you say, Oh, how could you improve? Could be one of the questions, if you ask that one you generally get, I could practice more, you know, you need to give them, build into your program. I think vocabulary and understanding.

Michael Griffin
Spot on and this is, you could call this, metacognitive modeling. We are thinking models for our students.

I like that. Metacognitive modeling, very flash and I liked the sound of that.

Michael Griffin
Well, it all sounds flash, but it’s pretty straightforward stuff. But it is powerful. And we do that by thinking out loud. I mean, self talk and thinking out loud, is a great metacognitive strategy. And I know, years ago Debbie I designed a keyboard music course for general music kids. When I was teaching in Dubai, I used to live over there. I had the section at the back of the book, which was a reflection page, what did I find? What did you find challenging about the piece that you’re working on? And what could you do different, all sorts of things, but it was a reflection page.

So I would model what could you write because kids will say, what do we have to write? It’s something you have to write, you know, it’s funny. So I say, well, here are the sorts of things you might consider. So I’m the thinking model, and they learn from us and the vocabulary is very important. Being specific is very important. And you know, in feedback, we can feed back cognitive verbs, and I know in Queensland you know, Marzano and those cognitive verbs, you guys are big on that.

So you can give feedback, you know, justified your opinion based on evidence, or use supporting data, you’ve compared and contrast. You’ve explained that clearly, you’ve defined, we use these cognitive verbs that helps guide a students thinking because you’re right, it’s important languages is a great directive for the mind. And so the more we can empower students with words, the clearer their thinking will be, it’s usually associated with thinking.

Sign Off

This podcast is brought to you by Crescendo Music Education, connecting, supporting, and inspiring music educators. You’ll find links to Crescendo’s social media platforms in the show notes. Please connect with me and be part of the Crescendo community. You might consider becoming a Crescendo member. You can access hundreds of files, worksheets, printables workbooks, repeat workshops, and webinars for a low annual fee and receive great discounts on events. So come and connect with me, Debbie O’Shea. See you in the socials.

Just for Laughs

As we know laughter relieves stress. Don’t lose sight of the funny side of life. How do they answer the phone at the paint shop? Yellow.

Reminds me of Jack Black in School of Rock when he calls the girl forward and said what’s that big thing you were playing the other day? Says yes. Like see this. This is a bass guitar. You take that thing you were playing. You turn it on its side and cello you’ve got a bass. I love that movie.

Links Mentioned in the Episode:

Metacognition: Teaching Children to Think

Feel the Fear…and Do It Anyway

Michael Griffin has created a discount coupon code:

Michael’s personal website is and contact

Where to find me:

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