Did you know learning actually changes your child’s brain as it’s developing? What if they understood this concept? Helping kids understand their brains can contribute to the development of a “growth mindset,” which enables kids to overcome obstacles and believe they can improve. That mindset leads to higher levels of motivation and academic achievement – and it starts with metacognition.
Metacognition is thinking about thinking. When kids learn metacognitive skills, they can benefit academically. In fact, research suggests that metacognition is a crucial characteristic for high academic achievers. The Education Endowment Foundation reports that students can gain almost a full school year of progress – about an average of seven months of additional progress – compared with those not taught this skillset.
Beyond academics, research has shown that this vital skill is an essential key to high performance across careers. While metacognition has great potential for increasing student learning, there is little evidence that it is explicitly taught in most schools.
In their first 18 years of life, kids spend only 13 percent of their waking hours in school. Using a portion of the remaining 87 percent, parents have an opportunity to support the development of growth mindsets and metacognition.
Parents who encourage kids to use metacognition at home help their kids think more about their own learning. We like to use the metaphor “learn to drive your brain.” Parents can support kids to drive their brains with these five strategies and questions.
Talk with your kids about thinking and learning. Parents who make learning seem fun and fascinating are likely to raise children who enjoy learning. Adults can model effective thinking by talking about how they learn aloud. Whentrying something new, for example, consider modeling questions such as: “What new skills will I learn? What do I want to learn? How will learning this likely benefit me? Is this connected to something I’ve already learned? What strategies do I plan to use to learn this?”
Discuss the importance of checking in while learning. For example, just as cars need regular maintenance, so do brains. Teach kids to ask themselves questions like, “Am I able to fully focus on what I’m learning? Do I need a pit stop for a brain break?” Or, “What am I learning now? What is clear to me? What is not clear yet? What questions do I have? Are the strategies I’m using working, or do I need to use different strategies? Do I need to ask for help so that I can get a better understanding?”
Help kids practice active listening. Every day, kids are expected to listen to and absorb important information, as well as actively engage in conversation with others. Yet how much time has been devoted to preparing them with ways to detach from their own internal dialogue (self-talk) and to focus their full attention on what people are saying? Key questions kids can ask themselves include: “How well am I listening now? Do I understand what is being said?” Teaching kids our HEAR strategy offers four concrete steps to improve and internalize listening.
- Halt. Stop what you are doing, free your mind of other thoughts, and pay attention to the person who is speaking.
- Engage. Focus on the speaker. Use a physical component, such as turning your head slightly so that an ear is toward the speaker as a reminder to be engaged solely in listening.
- Anticipate. Look forward to what the speaker has to say. Enhance your attention with the thought that you will likely learn something new and interesting.
- Replay. Think about what the speaker is saying. Analyze and paraphrase it in your mind or by talking with the speaker and others. Replaying the information will help you understand and remember what you have learned.
Become more aware of what your children want to learn about. Have conversations with your kids about what books, topics, and subjects they want to know more about.When kids are authentically absorbed and motivated to learn more, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released – the “feel good” hormone – and they are more likely to stay interested in thinking about a project until it is finished. After a project (or book) is completed, help kids consider what they have learned. When reflecting onlearning, for example, help kids think about what they’ve learned: “How can I summarize what I have learned? How can I apply what I learned in other situations? What new questions do I have as a result of my learning experience?”
Use family dinner time to reflect on something positive your kids thought about today. Traditionally, parents might ask kids, “What did you learn today?” When using the “Drive Your Brain” approach, parents can help their kids to develop a positive attitude about learning and thinking. A question might be: “What is something positive that you thought about today?”
Conyers, M.A., and D.L. Wilson. Positively Smarter: Science and Strategies to Increase Happiness, Achievement, and Well-Being. West Sussex, UK: Wiley Blackwell, 2015.
Teaching Students to Drive Their Brains. ASCD Streaming On-Demand, 2018. Retrieved at: http://streaming.ascd.org/teaching-and-learning
Wilson, D.L., and M.A. Conyers. Teaching Students to Drive Their Brains: Metacognitive Strategies, Activities, and Lesson Ideas. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2016.
Additional resources and references:
Education Endowment Foundation. “Metacognition and self-regulation.” Retrieved from: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evidence-summaries/teaching-learning-toolkit/meta-cognition-and-self-regulation/#closeSignup
Fleming, S.M. “Metacognition Is the Forgotten Secret to Success.” Scientific American (September 2014). Retrieved from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/metacognition-is-the-forgotten-secret-to-success
Kamil, M.L., and H.J. Walberg. “The Scientific Teaching of Reading.” Education Week, (January 25, 2005). Retrieved from: https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2005/01/26/20kamil.h24.html
Wang, M.C., G.D. Haertel, and H.J. Walberg. “Synthesis of Research/What Helps Students Learn.” Educational Leadership, 51, no. 4 (December 1993/Jan. 1994), pp. 74-79. Retrieved from: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/dec93/vol51/num04/Synthesis-of-Research-~-What-Helps-Students-Learn¢.aspx
Sarrasin, J.B., L. Nenciovici, L.-M.B. Foisy, G. Allaire-Duquette, M. Riopel, and S. Masson. “Effects of teaching the concept of neuroplasticity to induce a growth mindset on motivation, achievement, and brain activity: A meta-analysis.” Trends in Neuroscience and Education, Volume 12, Issue undefined (September 2018), pp. 22-31. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211949318300024?via%3Dihub