Monthly Archives: May 2021

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

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

Effective Study Tips

Everyone knows the importance of good study habits, but studying and test-taking look very different these days. With remote learning, students often have to figure out for themselves how to study, organize their time, and manage the added distractions at home. What study strategies are best during remote or hybrid learning?

There are many study strategies out there. When tests are a source of stress and anxiety, it can be hard to determine which strategy suits a student’s needs. In SMARTS,  we believe that students should be explicitly taught a range of strategies and then given the chance to reflect and decide which strategies are best for them.

Recently, one of our favorite websites Mind/Shift posted an article listing 13 study effective practices and tips for students. Here are a few of our favorites.

Change Your Space

One of the most important ways to study effectively is to create a space where you can work productively. Limiting distractions, such as phones or video games, can be a game-changer when it comes to fighting procrastination. Creating a quiet space, or a space with the right amount of ambient background noise, will help students save their brainpower for getting work done instead of fighting off distractions. If possible, students may benefit from finding another place to work that is not their bedroom, as many of the most potent distractions can be found there.

Practice Breaking Down Tasks

Students need to learn how to break down large tasks into bite-sized chunks. Teachers should explicitly model and practice this process with students. In SMARTS, we love to make personalized checklists out of study guides and test directions. Give students a blank checklist along with a practice test or a new project. Students can work in small groups to brainstorm strategies for dividing up tasks and filling out the checklist.

Create a Study Buffer

A student’s typical study plan may save all the work to the last minute, hoping to get a 100% on a practice test the night before so they feel ready for the actual exam the next day. Students should plan for a buffer between the practice test and the real event (you may have heard of this strategy called spaced repetition). This buffer time will reduce the likelihood of forgetting important information (sleep is an important part of memory) and allows for more time to analyze mistakes and review challenging concepts.

“Knowing” Means Being Able To Explain

Active study strategies are essential. Students might think they know a concept through a passive review of their notes, but they can’t be sure they have mastered it until they can explain it in some way — verbally, written, or otherwise. This is one reason note-taking strategies are so important. A strong study plan includes opportunities for students to actively explain what they are studying, either out loud to themselves, to a fellow student, or even to a parent or guardian. The act of explaining is a great check for understanding and ensures that the student is ready to explain their thinking on the test.

What study tips from this article do you think are the most useful? What other study habits do you find work best for your students? Let us know in the comments!

  • Elizabeth Ross, M.A., SMARTS Media Manager

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Homeschooling: Building Executive Function Strategies, Part 2

Homeschooling is an ideal environment to address the executive function demands of both the home and school setting. Here are a few practical strategies for integrating executive function into homeschool teaching. (For more ideas, check out part 1 of this blog.)

Adapt Executive Function Strategies between Settings

As a homeschool teacher, you can help your child deepen their understanding of strategy use by applying strategies introduced in an academic setting to the home setting, and vice versa. For example, the strategy your child learns to estimate and prioritize their homework can be used to plan a weekend trip. Likewise, organizational strategies can be used for a bedroom closet or a homeschool workspace. 

Create Opportunities for Strategy Use

Since you are both teacher and parent, you have the opportunity to make time to help your child practice using executive function strategies and reflect on how effective the strategy was. Homeschool parents also have unique insight into the level of support that is necessary. For example, you can step back from planning your homeschool day and ask your child to take the lead. Provide support by adjusting the steps in a project to where your child can handle breaking it down and scheduling it for completion. You can offer calendars and other resources in the environment and then urge your child to use the tools available. These purposeful opportunities ensure that your child can successfully apply the strategies they are learning.

Role Model Your Own Strategy Use

One of the most important teaching strategies you can use to build executive functioning in your child is to role model when you are using your own executive function. (This true for both homeschool teacher and parent roles.)

Kids greatly underestimate the time parents and teachers spend doing tasks that require executive function processes. When students see parents and teachers, and parent-teachers, using strategies, they understand that even adults face executive function demands and need strategies to be successful. Share the strategies you rely on, such as your menu planning and agenda book, lesson plan schedule, and grading process. Make executive function visible and part of your daily conversation.

Using these methods, you are not teaching executive function strategies for the sake of teaching them. You are teaching them when a strategy is needed to help your child with a challenging academic or household task. This makes the learning of the strategy relevant, and a successful result can be very motivating for your child to use the strategy in the future.

By generalizing strategy instruction across academics and home, you can help your child build a strategy toolbox for any setting—home, school, clubs and activities, sports, college, career, and beyond!

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

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

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