Metacognition is thinking about thinking, knowing “what we know” and “what we don’t know.” This means students take time to think about what needs to be done and how to do it. These students understand how the mind works and use this knowledge to help them. They take control over their learning process.
Building Metacognition skills can help build Self-Regulation skills by helping the student focus well. Building Self-Regulation skills can then help build Executive Functioning skills, which will allow the student to plan and organize better.
Gaskins & Pressley’s chapter in Executive Function in Education, 2007 presents a curriculum that teaches metacognitive skills. They describe how a child with strong metacognitive skills approaches a task. Metacognitive Learners:
- Continually assess what they know.
- As they read, write and problem-solve they:
- Create images
- They are persistent; if the first strategy doesn’t work they try something else.
- Have concrete strategies for approaching tasks.
- Know success is the result of smart effort not just working hard.
- THINK: What am I supposed to do? Create a plan.
- DO: How do I do it? Follow the plan.
- CHECK: Did I do it? Check the plan.
Once they have memorized and begun using the mantra. Children will be asking themselves questions and talking themselves through tasks, thereby using metacognition strategies to help build executive functioning skills and behavior regulation skills.
Here are some examples of extended questions children can begin to ask themselves.
Then, THINK. Make a plan before I start the task: When I am beginning a task, ask myself:
- Why am I doing this?
- Do I already know something that will help me?
- What will the finished product look like?
- What is my first step?
- How much time do I have?
Next DO. During the task: When I am monitoring the plan of action, ask myself:
- How am I doing?
- Am I following the directions?
- What do I need to do next?
- Does this match what I planned?
- Am I getting enough done in the time I am spending?
- Is there something I don’t understand?
- Do I need to ask for help?
Finally, CHECK. After the task: When I am evaluating the plan of action, ask myself:
- Did the product match the picture I had for it?
- Is this better or worse than I expected?
- What could I have done differently?
- Is there anything missing?
Metacognitive strategies are teaching a child to be aware of his thoughts and control them. We are therefore trying to build behavioral regulation skills and executive functioning skills, which will in turn, activate the frontal lobe and hopefully build it. Brain research has shown that activity in the brain builds synapses, so we are taking a leap of faith (based on research and experience) that this will allow the child to attend better to tasks.
This is not easy; it requires constant reinforcement. Will it be successful? That depends on how well the plan is implemented. What I have noticed at our learning center is that we get a number of middle school boys (along with some girls) who have weak executive functioning skills. There is a developmental growth in middle school that helps develop executive functioning skills which is evident by around 9th grade. My expectation is that many students who need help with executive functioning in middle school will build (with guidance and support) the skills they need to be successful when they enter high school.