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Executive Function Metacognition

Lessons from ResearchILD’s 2020-2021 EF and Equity Fellows: Part 1

All educators play a crucial role in counteracting systemic racism and developing new and equitable approaches that support the success of every student. During the 2020-2021 school year, we launched our Executive Function (EF) and Equity Fellowship, bringing together six educators from across the US to explore how schools are addressing students’ executive function needs through an equity lens. This post, part one of a series, highlights the work of our 2020-2021 EF and Equity Fellows.

Meet Your Students Where They Are 

Considering the learning context in which students operate is vital for successful EF strategy instruction. Dr. Kayoung Kim, a 2020-2021 EF and Equity Fellow and assistant professor of psychology at Tennessee State University, a historically black college and university (HBCU), worked closely with her students of color to support them during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of her students were motivated but not college-ready, and she was aware that intergenerational trauma was affecting students. While students were balancing school, families, and work, barriers prevented them from accessing supports, ranging from students not knowing how or where to access supports to a lack of time

To address these issues, Dr. Kim implemented a trauma-informed metacognitive skills training course for first-semester freshmen that focused on time management. Her students completed time-waster analyses to understand the breakdown of their days. They then took time to reflect on their analyses to develop weekly or semester-long study plans. Self-reflection, explained Dr. Kim, was a critical part of this process.

Dr. Kim’s work is an example of trauma-informed teaching with students’ identities in mind. Throughout the academic year, Dr. Kim maintained open channels of communication with her students and held space for them to express how they learn best.

Equity Through Executive Function 

ResearchILD’s mission, under the direction of Dr. Lynn Meltzer, is to empower ALL students to learn how to learn and to promote persistence and resilience through executive function strategies that build academic and life success.

At ResearchILD, we work closely with teachers and administrators to integrate executive function strategy instruction into project-based learning with an emphasis on student and community empowerment. Teaching executive function strategies systematically through the SMARTS curriculum is a tool for equity—it ensures that all students have strategies to draw upon when they face novel challenges in their academic and personal lives.

Are you interested in applying to be a 2021-2022 EF and Equity Fellow? Learn more about the fellowship and application process

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Program Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

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Metacognition

Executive Function at Home: Metacognition

When it comes to school (in person, remote, or homeschooling), parents know a lot about their children. They can often describe, in detail, the strengths and challenges of their children’s academics, and they know plenty about their child’s personality, interests, and other unique features. That makes parents a valuable partner in their child’s education!

Parents also have a strong sense of responsibility to help their children engage with their learning and become independent and self-aware. Metacognition, or thinking about thinking, may not happen easily for many students, but the benefits of supporting metacognition in children are many. Students who understand their own strengths and challenges:

  • have more self-confidence because they don’t overgeneralize difficulties
  • know why they use specific strategies
  • can better monitor their own performance and behaviors. 

How can parents promote metacognition at home? Here are a few easy ways a parent can support the development of metacognition in their child.

Point out what you notice

In the beginning, lead the way by pointing out the things you are noticing about your child’s learning. Try to address the positive as much as possible and make sure your feedback is detailed and concrete. Whether you are monitoring homeschooling or homework, you may, for example, notice that your child has good sentence or paragraph structure or may need to work a bit more on using transitions. Specific feedback can help your child determine strengths and challenges and avoid making global statements like “I can’t write.” 

Ask questions

The simple act of asking questions can move your child toward a more metacognitive mindset. Ask your child, “What are you doing correctly on this math problem?” and “Where are you getting stuck?” When your child makes a less-than-great decision, ask “Why did you make that choice?” and “What could you do better next time?” Asking questions encourages students to reflect and explore their reasoning.

Help your child verbalize and document

Give your child a language to talk about metacognition. Teach what “metacognition” is and how to word strengths and challenges, how to talk about thinking, and how to explain why things are done or said by your child. Have your child create a “self” poster or write an autobiography, a great activity for homeschooling or any child really. Create opportunities to explore metacognition, make their thinking visible, and document your child’s thinking in words or pictures when possible.

Promote reflection

At the end of an academic or household task, ask your child to reflect on how it went: “What did you do well? How could you improve? What strategies did you use? What strategies could you use next time?” Following a social interaction, have your child look at the event critically. Was your child being a good friend? Reflection is the path to a growth mindset, defusing negative emotions, and instilling that kind of atmosphere in your home can benefit everyone in the family—at home and in other settings outside of the home.

Encourage positive self-talk

One important aspect of metacognition is acknowledging challenges with a focus on strengths. This translates to the type of self-talk our children use, encouraging them to be realistic but compassionate with themselves. Help your child to understand that thinking positively makes things easier. Encourage your child to say “I can” and to notice when negative self-talk comes around. Ask your child to reframe negative statements into positive ones so that the power of self-aware thinking can be used effectively.

You can support executive function development by making metacognition part of your home environment. Role model your own discovery of your strengths and challenges, why you do and say what you do, and your choice and use of strategies. Infuse the language of metacognition in your daily academic and household tasks. Become a more self-aware and reflective family, and then reap the benefits!

Empowering parents to support the development of executive function at home can support students in school and at home. If you want to learn more about building bridges between home and school, join us for “The Home-School Connection: Essential for Learning Executive Function Strategies” on August 3rd!

  • Mindy Scirri, Ph.D., SMARTS Trainer and Consultant

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

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Metacognition Uncategorized Video

Dr. Lynn Meltzer on Metacognition

Metacognition is the key to success in school and beyond, not to mention the use of executive function strategies. In SMARTS, we believe wholeheartedly that all students, with or without ADHD or learning differences, need explicit instruction in executive function strategies paired with opportunities to foster metacognition. Without these opportunities to promote reflection, students may develop unrealistic and unhelpful views of themselves as learners.

Dr. Lynn Meltzer, founder and president of the Institutes of Learning and Development and creator of SMARTS, explains:

“Metacognition at its core is thinking about how you think, learning about how you learn, and understanding who you are as a student.”

With training, students can develop a resilient and accurate view of who they are. In this video, Dr. Meltzer discusses the importance of metacognition.

Want to learn more about metacognition with Dr. Meltzer? Join her for our Summer Executive Function Summit!

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Categories
Metacognition

Visible Thinking Routines to Support Students’ Learning

How can we help our students develop into flexible thinkers? Thinking routines from Project Zero can help make students’ learning processes visible, offering a way to sharpen thinking skills and reflect on learning.

A thinking routine is a set of questions or a brief sequence of steps used to scaffold and support student thinking. As students work out answers to a question or problem, they may struggle to describe how they came to their answer. Verbalizing or visualizing their steps to get there can deepen their own learning, not to mention their peers’ learning.

The key is to encourage students to think metacognitively. With dedicated time to reflect on their thinking processes, students can develop a deeper understanding of the strategies they used and the ideas they developed.

Project Zero has more than 40 thinking routines for you to explore. Here are a few of our favorites.

 Perspective taking: 3 Whys 

  1. Why might this [topic, question] matter to me?
  2. Why might it matter to people around me [family, friends, city, nation]?
  3. Why might it matter to the world?

The 3 Whys routine (also available in Spanish) ensures that students begin by establishing a personal connection. Next students are asked to switch perspectives and step into the shoes of the people and the world around them. This thinking routine aligns well with cognitive flexibility strategies featured in the SMARTS curriculum, such as the “I’m wearing your shoes” lesson.

Developing ideas: What Makes You Say That? 

  1. What’s going on?
  2. What do you see that makes you say that?

Even seemingly simple questions can help students explore the patterns and ideas behind their thinking. What Makes You Say That? (also available in Spanish) pushes students to explain the “why” behind their answers, helping both teachers and students to explore the evidence. This thinking routine engages important executive function processes such as cognitive flexibility and exploring evidence from multiple perspectives. It also emphasizes organizing, as students sift and sort information to draw conclusions.

Question-asking: See, Think, Wonder

  1. What do you see?
  2. What do you think about that?
  3. What does it make you wonder?

The See, Think, Wonder routine (also in Spanish) can help spark curiosity among students and encourage them to formulate their own questions. Many students struggle to know what to ask when they have difficulty understanding a concept. Encouraging students to practice developing their own questions can sharpen this skill.

Thinking routines are simple, yet powerful, tools you can use to help students develop into metacognitive and strategic learners. You’ll find they are easy to integrate into existing lesson plans, including content subjects or even executive function lessons from SMARTS. Executive function and metacognition are both at the heart of our curriculum, a subject we look forward to exploring more at our next free webinar, Getting to Know the SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum!

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, SMARTS Intern

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

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Executive Function Metacognition Remote Learning

Learning Recovery: Re-Engage Students with Executive Function

This spring, many students will return to school and in-person learning. Executive function strategies will be key to helping students re-engage and recover from the chaos of hybrid and remote learning.

Remote and hybrid learning has been challenging, from constantly changing schedules and the challenge of supporting students to just not being very fun. As a result, many students have gaps in the fundamental academic skills they need to be successful.

Now is the perfect time to bring the transformative power of executive function programs, such as SMARTS, into every elementary school, middle and high school classroom. By infusing executive function strategies into your curriculum, you can help students tackle challenging academic tasks, restore metacognitive awareness, and bolster their ability to get back on track.  

Build Academic Strength

Everyone is excited to get back to business as usual; however, gaps in fundamental academic skills are sure to haunt students for years to come. But don’t despair! Remember that executive function is the key to successful learning. To boost literacy skills and reading comprehension, use strategies such as the SMARTS Skim and Scoop, that help students identify the main idea and supporting details of what they are reading. The SMARTS Triple Note Tote strategy is a versatile strategy for organizing information, perfect for note-taking, studying for tests, and more. By teaching explicit executive function strategies, students will not only be able to cope with the demands of their schoolwork, but they will also learn HOW to learn, which promotes self-understanding and perseverance.

Promote Metacognition

The isolation and uncertainty of remote and hybrid learning have damaged many students’ beliefs in their ability to succeed. Even as we begin the transition back to in-person learning, these students are at risk of feeling hopeless and giving up when challenged. To recover their motivation, they need to develop a greater understanding of their academic strengths and challenges as well as the ability to face academic tasks flexibly.

Self-understanding is at the heart of the SMARTS program. Strategies such as Know Yourself Venn Diagrams, the Executive Function Wheel, and CANDO Goals help students identify their personal strengths and challenges and use this knowledge to set personally meaningful goals. In fact, every SMARTS lesson includes a reflection component, boosting student’s metacognition, their belief in their ability to succeed, and their willingness to use strategies.

Help Students Learn to Focus

Remote and hybrid learning have undermined students’ ability to focus on their work. Working all day on a screen, with limited face-to-face interaction and access to every distraction the internet has to offer, is enough to take anyone off-task. (Looking for strategies to engage students online?) As we return to in-person instruction, use strategies to model what it means to focus and how to organize time and belongings to minimize distraction. Teaching students strategies for setting goals and self-monitoring will help boost their ability to pay attention, track their progress, check their work, and stay engaged in learning.

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Categories
growth mindset Metacognition Mindfulness

Maintaining a Growth Mindset in 2020

This year has been full of challenging moments that have disrupted our lives, making it easy to sink into negative thinking patterns and an apathetic mindset. By surrendering to apathy, however, we are yielding our sense of control. Believing that your effort matters is key to maintaining a growth mindset.

Time to Reframe

Many of the things that have made 2020 so challenging are beyond our control. However, rather than viewing our efforts to cope with these challenges as fruitless, we can reframe our approach. Even setbacks that we have no control over are an opportunity to learn how to persist.

Many of us, for example, have experienced disruptions in our daily and weekly schedules. We can reframe these disruptions as a newly allocated time to realign our lives with what matters to us. Whether we find new ways to re-energize or explore personal interests, finding small ways we can reclaim control allows us to move beyond bemoaning what we perceive to be missing out on. Small choices can allow us to regain our growth mindset, helping us be more resilient during tough times.

Ask Questions for Self-Understanding

We can also act on the internal monologue that drives our character by asking questions. For example:

  • What challenges am I experiencing?
  • What can I do to persist in the face of setbacks?
  • What criticisms of me have I been indignant towards?
  • How can I address them in a productive way to grow as a person?
  • Who can I channel as a model for the traits I aspire to embody?

By asking these types of questions, we understand ourselves better (key to addressing challenges strategically) and avoid surrendering to a fixed mindset. Even as we encounter injustice and the unknown, we can choose to apply what we know about ourselves to charting a course through, promoting hope instead of despair.

We are not what we feel, but we feel many things throughout the day as a result of our mindset and approach to the world. By shifting our approach from something fixed to something more generative, we engage with the potential that has yet to be reached.

  • Iris Jeffries, SMARTS Intern
Categories
Goal Setting Metacognition

Amishi Jha: How Can We Pay Better Attention to Our Attention?

At ResearchILD, we believe that metacognition — thinking about one’s own thinking — is an essential component of teaching executive function strategies.

The link between metacognition, mindfulness practices, attention, and meditation has been getting a lot of publicity lately, but it can be hard to figure out what ideas are supported by science.

Amishi Jha, a neuroscientist whose research focuses on attention, working memory, and mindfulness, sheds some light on the scientific research about what attention is, how it can be studied, and what mindfulness practices can be used to improve it.Jha explores the role of attention as “the brain’s boss.” How does attention control us? What can we do when attention is not helping us get our work done efficiently? Jha uses the experiences of a former Marine experiencing the symptoms of PTSD to explore how our emotions and thoughts affect our attention, and the power of mindfulness training to help us regulate our attention.

What did you think of Dr. Jha’s talk? Have you used mindfulness practices and meditation to help improve attention and metacognition? Looking for other ways to integrate opportunities to build metacognition into your teaching? Let us know in the comments!