Students Speak: Executive Function and Metacognition

How would your students define key concepts such as metacognition, executive function, and strategy use? Encouraging students to draw, write, or think about their thinking can help them build self-awareness. Having small groups of students think together about metacognition and executive function can deepen learning as well as strengthen peer-to-peer relationships.

Student Definitions

Throughout ResearchILD’s Student Ambassador Program this fall, students were encouraged to collectively think about their thinking, consider what executive function means, and contemplate how executive function processes impact their day-to-day experiences in school and at home.

Here are some of their ideas about what executive function and metacognition mean to them:

What does executive function mean to you?

  • “Strategies that can be used to make decisions.”
  • “Executive function, like a team, works together to solve problems, and helps you to be creative. In simple terms.”
  • “Executive function is goals that you set personally and ones that you don’t even realize.”

What does metacognition mean to you?

  • “Knowing how to organize thoughts to accomplish goals efficiently.”
  • “Understanding the way you think and learn.”
  • “Metacognition means to think about thinking and to adapt.”
  • “Understanding how you think so you can become better at what you’re trying to accomplish.”

The Power of Peers

When it comes to teaching executive function strategies, it can help to have groups of students work together to exchange ideas about what executive function means and brainstorm what strategies they use to learn and study. Harnessing the power of peers in the classroom can yield incredible results!

We encourage you to help your students build their understanding of metacognition, executive function, and strategy use. 


  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

Build Your Executive Function Toolkit in 2022

Are you interested in building your Executive Function Toolkit? Join us in February and March to hear from EF experts on topics such as metacognition and motivation, strategies to support students with long-term projects and project-based learning, embedding EF in the general education curriculum, and the intersection of EF and social-emotional learning. Learn more and register today

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

Research Institute for Learning and Development:

The Institute for Learning and Development: