Homework & Studying

Metacognition: Size Up the Situation

Help your child’s metacognition with these tips for learning and applying problem-solving skills at school and at home.

A young girl with ADHD playing with blocks as a way to improve her problem-solving skills

Metacognition is the ability to stand back and see oneself when doing a task. You ask yourself, “How am I doing? How did I do?” A young child can change behavior in response to feedback from an adult. A teenager can monitor and critique her performance and improve it by observing others who are more skilled. Kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are often so busy with the doing that they don’t have time to register feedback. As a result, they are unaware that they may be failing a course or not studying enough to pass a big exam.

Metacognition In the Classroom

Ask metacognitive questions during the day. Before a test, you might say, “Class, let’s talk about how you’re going to study for your test. What strategies will you use? How will you know when you’ve studied enough?” After the test, you might say, “Did you do as well as you thought you were going to? What study strategies worked best for you? What will you do differently the next time?”

Give kids models to help them evaluate their work. If you’re teaching children to write persuasive essays, give them three examples and point out what works in each. Give an example of a poor essay, too, so they know what that looks like and why it’s unsuccessful.

Metacognition and Problem-Solving Skills at School

Teach a problem-solving procedure. Have kids answer the following questions: 1) What is the problem? 2) What is my plan? 3) Am I following my plan? 4) How did I do? Have them apply these questions to academic and social problems.

Give assignments that require evaluative skills. You might ask students to decide what grade they think they deserve on a paper or a report card, and to write a justification for that grade.

Demonstrate “thinking aloud” during lessons. The more you talk about how you think your way through a problem or an assignment, the more likely your students are to use self-instruction as a learning strategy.

Praise students when you see them using metacognitive skills. Say, “I like the way you went back and checked your work before handing it in. I saw you correct some spelling mistakes, and I saw you change a couple of sentences so they sounded better. That was good work.”

Teaching Metacognition Skills at Home

Ask your child to problem-solve. Ask her to think about what she might do about a problem she is causing. “I notice that whenever I answer the telephone, you find something you have to tell me. This makes it hard for me to carry on a conversation. Can you help me think of ways we can handle this?”

Have your child identify what a finished task looks like. If your daughter’s job is to empty the dishwasher, get her to describe what that means (no more dishes in the dishwasher, everything put away in drawers or cupboards). Write it down and post it prominently to help your child remember.

Give reasons for why you made certain decisions. We’re often tempted to say, “Because I said so!” but that doesn’t help children learn decision-making strategies. State the reason and move on.

Ask your child to notice facial expressions or body language — to use as cues for how people are reacting to her. Watch a TV sitcom together with the sound turned off, and see if your child can tell what the characters are feeling. Ask what clues she used to make that determination.

Praise your child when you see them using metacognitive skills. You might say, “I like the way you asked your coach why he took you out of the game — that way, you can learn what to do differently the next time. You used to storm off and fume. I think this works better.”

Tell your child when you’ve handled something badly. This shows that you’ve reflected on your own behavior and can take responsibility for it. Say, “I lost my temper with you, and I shouldn’t have. I was on edge because of something that happened at work, but I shouldn’t have taken it out on you. I’ll try to realize this sooner next time.”