Equity Metacognition Motivation

Promoting Metacognition through EdTech Tools

What does it look like when students use edtech in the classroom? If you picture students working independently at computer stations, you’re not alone. In this blog post from Digital Promise*(link opens in new tab/window), the author shares ideas for stimulating metacognition in the classroom by moving away from individualistic tasks and moving towards opportunities for reflection and connection.

Siloed Learning

After students read an article, watch a video, or complete an assignment, they no doubt have many thoughts to share. What happens when they don’t have a peer to share these ideas with or they don’t have a place to capture their thoughts? The author argues that this is where educators can leverage educational technology to ensure that students have opportunities to discuss, reflect on, and iterate on their learning with each other.

“How can we use edtech to provide opportunities for learners to exercise metacognition (thinking about one’s thinking), which is key for making sense of content and understanding ourselves as learners?”

Tech Tools to Promote Metacognition

  1. Discussions
    Opportunities for student–student and student–teacher interaction help develop metacognition. Consider creating online polls, using a quiz or game app like Quizlet or Kahoot, or allowing groups of students to record themselves answering discussion questions using Flipgrid.
  2. Reflection Journals
    When emphasizing the importance of reflection, the author quotes John Dewey: “We do not learn from experience…We learn from reflecting on experience.” He points out that tools such as Google Docs can be a simple reflection journal for all students. With speech-to-text available in multiple languages, all students can access this reflection option.
  3. Charting
    Data display charts can help students see how they and their classmates are working towards their goals. Teachers can share the data with their students to empower them.

Building Metacognition with SMARTS 

Metacognition is at the heart of the SMARTS curriculum; students need to know themselves and think about what they know and don’t know about what they are learning. Metacognition is so important that it kicks off the SMARTS curriculum. Lesson 1.1 in SMARTS Elementary (How Do I Think About My Thinking?) and SMARTS Secondary (What is Metacognition?) get students ready to think about strategies to reflect, self-regulate, and direct their work.

What edtech tools do you use to promote metacognition in your classroom?

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

*Digital Promise(link opens in new tab/window) is a global nonprofit that shapes the future of learning and advances equitable education systems by bringing together solutions across research, practice, and technology.

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Classroom Research: A SMARTS Pilot Study

When it comes to teaching executive function strategies, research has demonstrated that explicit, systematic, structured, and scaffolded approaches yield the greatest results. It is also important to consider that each teaching environment presents its own factors that influence learning.

Action Research: In the Classroom

Two teachers in Slovakia took matters into their own hands and carried out a review of their students’ metacognitive abilities pre- and post-SMARTS intervention. We’ll highlight their major findings in this post, and we encourage you to read their full report.

The authors of the article, Iveta Kovalčíková and Ivana Martinková, completed SMARTS training before embarking on this pilot study. The question that guided their research was: What is the impact of intervention through the metacognitive program SMARTS on selected metacognitive abilities (organizing and prioritizing) of examined pupils?

Research Overview

Kovalčíková and Martinková applied a number of SMARTS curriculum lessons (adapted to the Slovak curricular context) to stimulate their students’ abilities to organize and prioritize information:

  1. Purposeful Highlighting—highlighting to identify multiple perspectives when reading and taking notes
  2. Triple-Note-Tote—a three-column strategy for note-taking
  3. BOTEC—a strategy to help students organize and sort ideas (Brainstorming, Organizing, Topic sentences, Evidence and Conclusion)

Interventions lasting forty-five to sixty minutes were carried out in 25 sessions twice a week. The authors highlight case studies of two students, Emil and Vanda, who develop metacognitive skills and personalized strategies throughout the intervention.


Based on the outcomes obtained by observation and interviews, the impact of the intervention on the pupils’ metacognitive abilities can be assessed as positive.

We thank Iveta Kovalčíková and Ivana Martinková for sharing their study with us. SMARTS empowers students by helping them understand their strengths and weaknesses and teaching them critically important executive function strategies.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

Research Institute for Learning and Development:

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Launching the MetaCOG Surveys & Toolkit

Are you looking for a tool to better understand your students’ executive function strategy use and their motivation and effort? Join our free webinar to learn about the MetaCOG Surveys & Toolkit.

What is the MetaCOG Surveys & Toolkit?

The MetaCOG Surveys & Toolkit is an interactive executive function survey tool that features two surveys:

  • STRATUS (Strategy Use Survey), which highlights students’ perceptions of their use of planning, organizing, memorizing, shifting, and self-checking strategies
  • ME (Motivation and Effort Survey), which helps teachers understand what motivates their students and helps them persevere, and allows students to share how much effort they put into various subjects and academic tasks

Build Students’ Self-Understanding with the MetaCOG Surveys 

In addition to serving as a powerful tool for data collection in the classroom, the MetaCOG surveys help students understand themselves as learners.

Self-reflection, a key component of the MetaCOG Surveys process, is essential for students to think metacognitively, understand their strengths and challenges, and begin to plan their future strategy use. Once students complete the MetaCOG surveys and review their profiles, teachers are encouraged to build in time for independent student reflection or small-group/whole-class discussions.

Group shares on topics like strategy use and motivation can create a sense of community in the classroom. The discussions that arise from these reflections can help students build their self-understanding, which is at the heart of developing a sense of identity and belonging.

It is important to embrace students’ identities and promote self-advocacy to build better learning experiences for all students. Promoting students’ metacognition can also help them to develop the flexible mindsets needed to build positive social-emotional relationships with teachers and peers.

Learn more

Attend our free webinar to learn more about the MetaCOG Surveys & Toolkit and the relationship between motivation, effort, and executive function strategy use.

Date and Time

  • Thursday, February 2, 2023, 3:30-4:30 p.m. ET


  • Lynn Meltzer, Ph.D., President and Director of the Research Institute for Learning and Development (ResearchILD)
  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., ResearchILD Associate
  • Manu Shahi, B.B.A., Educational Consultant and SMARTS + MetaCOG user

We look forward to sharing the ways MetaCOG can help you and your students understand their executive function strategy use, motivation, and effort!

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

Research Institute for Learning and Development:

Equity Metacognition Quick Tip

Examining Implicit Biases Through Metacognition

On the third Monday of January, we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As we honor Dr. King’s work in the Civil Rights Movement, we invite you to consider one way to answer his call to combat racism — to examine implicit bias in education.

Behavioral Science & the Civil Rights Movement

In September 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered an address entitled The Role of Behavioral Scientists in the Civil Rights Movement. In the last year, behavioral scientists have answered the call(link opens in new tab/window)↗ and begun examining the role they can play in combatting racism. They describe that, while outward expressions of racial discriminatory behavior are widely unacceptable, there is a gap between “expressed behaviors regarding race (explicit) and what is thought: implicit bias.”

Implicit Bias in Education

Implicit bias in education can manifest as unconscious racial or socioeconomic bias towards students, which can affect how teachers help students set goals and understand their learning profiles. Assumptions about a student’s background and aspirations can be harmful as it is important to consider the student as an individual and understand their unique identity and goals. This is a topic ResearchILD staff have explored with our 2022-2023 cohort of Executive Function and Equity Fellows.

How Educators Can Answer the Call

One way that educators can answer the call to combat racism is to examine their own implicit biases(link opens in new tab/window)↗; this is an important part of developing metacognition and self-understanding to become more equity-minded in our approach to EF strategy instruction. To understand your assumptions about students’ learning profiles and their capability for academic success, explore these tools for measuring implicit bias(link opens in new tab/window)↗.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

Research Institute for Learning and Development:

focus growth mindset Mental Health Metacognition

Mindful Holiday Moments

Happy Holidays from everyone on the ResearchILD and SMARTS Executive Function teams! We wish you a relaxing break, and we hope that your 2023 is filled with effective executive function strategies.

Making Time for Mindful Holiday Moments

The holiday season can be an overwhelming time of year, so it’s important to make time for mindful moments. Why not take time to incorporate mindfulness practices while reflecting on the past year and setting intentions for 2023?

Before the holiday break begins, it can help to carve out quiet times for students as well. Over the past two decades, school-based mindfulness programs have risen in popularity to help address the stress, anxiety, and dysregulation students are facing in their daily lives.

To get started at home or in school, check out these mindfulness-centered blog posts:

Build Your Executive Function Toolkit in 2023

Are you interested in building your Executive Function Toolkit? Join us in February and March to hear from EF experts on topics such as the intersection of EF and social-emotional learning, time management, Universal Design for Learning, and goal setting. Learn more and register today.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

Research Institute for Learning and Development:

The Institute for Learning and Development:

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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:

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Executive Function Metacognition Webinar

Free Webinar: Executive Function Strategies as a Blueprint for Academic Success

Success in our fast-paced, high-stakes schools is dependent on executive function processes. Why do so many students seem to struggle with executive function? How can teachers and parents support students to handle the executive function demands of academic and everyday life?

Join staff members from ResearchILD for an in-depth explanation of executive function and the SMARTS curriculum in our free webinar on Tuesday, October 11, at 3:30 p.m. EST (link opens in new tab/window).

Why Is Executive Function Important? 

Executive function is a hot topic in education these days, but what does it mean and why do so many students struggle with it? In our 21st-century schools, a large gap still separates the strategies that are taught from the skills needed for success in school and in the workplace. Classroom instruction often focuses on the content, or what, of learning rather than the process, or how, of learning. Furthermore, students are not taught to understand how they think and how they learn, a process known as “metacognitive awareness.”

Nevertheless, academic performance depends on students’ self-understanding as well as their ability to plan their time, organize and prioritize ideas, think flexibly, monitor their progress, and self-regulate.

These executive function processes have become increasingly important from the elementary grades onwards as students complete complex reading and writing assignments as well as online research for long-term projects.

Webinar Topics 

SMARTS is an executive function curriculum that empowers all students by helping them understand their strengths and challenges and teaching them executive function strategies for academic and life success.

In our free, one-hour webinar, staff members from the Research Institute for Learning and Development will explore:

  • How understanding executive function and providing strategies at school and at home can support students across grades and content areas
  • The history and research behind the SMARTS Curriculum
  • Different ways schools use SMARTS
  • The structure and format of SMARTS, how to create a unique scope and sequence, and how to measure student strategy use

Learn More and Register

You can learn more about executive function and the SMARTS curriculum in our free webinar on Tuesday, October 11, at 3:30 p.m. EST (link opens in new tab/window). We look forward to seeing you!

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

Research Institute for Learning and Development:

The Institute for Learning and Development:

Metacognition Quick Tip Teaching EF Tips

Teaching Metacognitive Talk in the Classroom

Students are often told, “Complete the assignment independently and quietly,” or “Be quiet. Your peers are trying to focus.”

Encouraging students to think in their heads and work quietly can suggest an air of academic and behavioral success. It also raises a question: Does this silent way of thinking benefit student learning?

Thinking Out Loud

Metacognitive talk is a concept that encourages students to think aloud as they work through their ideas. When students work through the steps of a task out loud, they gain a deeper understanding of their thinking processes.

For students to learn this method of deeper thinking, it is essential to see people modeling the behavior. In the classroom, teachers can show metacognitive talk in action by verbally breaking down a problem into smaller steps.

Asking questions is a vital aspect of metacognitive talk. When teachers model and then explicitly teach how to ask questions and what questions to ask, students can build a “question toolkit” to aid their metacognitive understanding.

Questions to Promote Metacognition

Some questions that could be used are:

  • What previous knowledge do I have on this topic?
  • What am I trying to find out?
  • What do I need to do first?
  • Who could I ask for help?
  • What strategies can I use? (Think about the EF toolkit)
  • What can I do differently next time?

While a classroom full of students talking and exploring their ideas could be perceived as raucous to an outsider, I challenge you to rethink this perception and look closer at the possibilities of creative collaboration and metacognitive talk.

  • Julia Ronkin, SMARTS Student Intern

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The Stories Students Tell: Narrative Building to Shape Neural Networks

At ResearchILD’s 37th Annual Executive Function Conference this November, we are honored to feature a session on “Building Meaning Builds Students’ Brains: Implications for Re-inventing Schools” from Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Ed.D, Professor of Education, Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Southern California and Director of the USC Center for Affective Neuroscience, Development, Learning and Education (CANDLE).

About Dr. Immordino-Yang

Dr. Immordino-Yang studies the psychological and neurobiological development of emotion and self-awareness, and connections to social, cognitive and moral development in educational settings. She uses cross-cultural, interdisciplinary studies of narratives and feelings to uncover experience-dependent neural mechanisms contributing to identity, intrinsic motivation, deep learning, and generative, creative and abstract thought. Her work has a special focus on adolescents from low-SES communities, and she involves youths from these communities as junior scientists in her work.

Narratives that Shape Neural Networks

Dr. Immordino-Yang and her colleagues are investigating how patterns of thinking and feeling influence the growth of students’ brain networks(link opens in new tab/window). Analyzing students’ narratives reveals their dispositions of mind. When students effortfully deliberate on their internal narratives and engage in deep thinking for themselves, their patterns of brain activity demonstrate developmental effects over time. These changes in their brain networks were driven by students making meaning of their lives in both concrete (here-and-now) and abstract (big picture, systems level) ways.

How can we recognize, model, and promote deep thinking? It is important to focus more on the way that students think instead of focusing on what they know as well as to empower adolescents to build strong relationships with their peers and teachers. At the 37th Annual Executive Function Conference, Dr. Immordino-Yang will discuss these concepts and how we can reinvent schools by redefining what is relevant to our students.

Learn More

You can learn more about Dr. Immordino-Yang and her work:

Looking to build your executive function toolkit? Join us for the Executive Function Summer Summit (July 26, July 28, August 2, and August 4) and the SMARTS Executive Function Summer Workshop (August 9, August 11). All summer professional development opportunities are available online via Zoom and through recorded sessions.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

Research Institute for Learning and Development:

The Institute for Learning and Development: