focus Memory Metacognition

Thankful for Thinking

From all of us on the SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum Team, we wish you a very happy Thanksgiving! We hope you find time for moments of tranquility and reflection while you connect with family and friends.

Here’s some food for thought for this Thanksgiving: What are the benefits of letting our minds meander? We often push our students to remain on-task and focused during the school day, but it’s impossible to avoid letting our minds wander once in a while.

For biological and psychological reasons, humans hardly “do nothing.” When we add in the constant connection, noise, and busyness of our modern world, we’re probably always doing something (like checking email or sending a message), even when we feel like we’re doing nothing.

It turns out, however, that there are many benefits to mind wandering(link opens in new tab/window), including creativity and a positive mood. When we allow ourselves space to brainstorm and wonder, we can shift out of auto-pilot and make new connections.

Mind wandering requires shifting into a reflective space. This is a good reminder to make time for reflection and giving thanks in the classroom, too!

In SMARTS, empowering students through metacognition is the name of the game. We use strategy reflection as an opportunity to ask questions that build students’ self-awareness. These reflections can take place at the beginning or end of a lesson, after a major assignment (such as a test or essay), after students receive a progress report or report card, and even in preparation for a parent-teacher conference or IEP meeting.

One idea for reflection could be to encourage students to list everything they are wondering about before or after learning new content, and they can also list thoughts that pop up along the way.

This Thanksgiving, let’s think about and give thanks for reflective thinking and letting our minds wander!

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

Research Institute for Learning and Development:

The Institute for Learning and Development:

Memory Metacognition Teaching EF Tips

The Power of Protocols in Facilitating Learning

Protocols are tools that can be used to facilitate learning in formal or informal settings, whether it be a class on executive function strategies or a meeting with the purpose of product brainstorming.

Developed by school reformers in the 1990s, protocols consist of a set of agreed-upon guidelines for conversation that groups use when exploring ideas. According to EL Education (link opens in new tab/window), using protocols as a routine of every independent reading time, discussion, or collaboration will allow students to learn effectively and develop the habit of taking responsibility for their own learning.

The Pros of Protocols

Protocols have many benefits because they teach important skills such as:

  • Giving and receiving safe and honest feedback
  • Analyzing complex problems carefully without rushing to judgment
  • Grounding interpretations of complex texts on evidence

Ready to Give Protocols a Try?

Here are four of our favorite protocols:

Drawbacks and Suggestions

Common criticisms of protocols are that they may have too much structure and lead to limits in creativity and organic conversations. Additionally, protocols could unintentionally reinforce inequities in participation in a group discussion if someone constantly dominates the discussion. In these cases, the facilitator or teacher can modify the protocol to address the needs of students and the activity.

Remember to Reflect

Reflections at the end of a protocol allow students to develop their metacognitive skills. Encourage small groups or the entire class to reflect by asking, What worked well? What might we do differently the next time? Through using protocols and carving out time for reflection, educators can help students elevate their ability to think critically and shift flexibly.

  • Andrea Foo, SMARTS Intern

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

Research Institute for Learning and Development:

The Institute for Learning and Development: