An important part of learning is the use of our metacognition. Metacognition is knowing how we think, process information, and learn. Helping children become aware of how they learn will expand their ability to retain and process information and advance their understanding of topics they are learning about.
How many times have our children or we had to write spelling words three times each? The thought process is that practice teaches them how to spell the word. This may benefit some students, but research shows that this has little impact on other students or the transfer to their writing. Some students acquire the correct spelling of words when writing answers or reading stories. As adults, our awareness has developed so that we know how we learn best. Therefore, it is important we work with our children and help them understand how they process information best. Thus, developing our children’s metacognition and understanding of how they learn is important.
Just talking about different things with your children starts the learning process. Surprisingly, they will give you clues about what works best. They’ll choose what works best for them if you ask them to draw a picture or write a sentence. Helping them learn to organize thoughts and information is another activity to help them become aware of how they learn. A great way to check on their metacognition is by having them tell what they have learned.
We don’t all learn the same way, so knowing how we learn and how others learn helps our children take on new challenges confidently. In 2013, John Dunlosky, a professor at Kent State University, wrote in an article, “Research has found that students vary widely in what they know about how to learn. Most striking, low-achieving students show substantial deficits in their awareness of the cognitive and metacognitive strategies that lead to effective learning. This suggests that the students’ struggles may be partly due to a gap in the knowledge about how learning works.”
Helen Askell-Williams of Flinders University in Australia found in 2021 that teaching students effective learning strategies leads to improved learning outcomes. She found that students who used learning strategies to understand and remember what they read and learned from others scored higher on national assessments, approximately one whole level and some close to two school years higher than their peers who didn’t participate.
To help your child develop these strategies, you can start by asking questions. What is the important idea? What do you already know about this subject? Can you relate this to something else you already know about? Is there something about this subject you don’t understand or are not clear about?
You can also help them with strategies to remember the information. Draw a picture. Say statements about the subject. Write comments about the topic. Make a timeline. Identify keywords. These activate the brain’s ability to process information and help our children become skilled at understanding how they learn and applying it to their lives using their metacognition.
Scott Smith is a Umatilla County educator with 40-plus years of experience. He taught at McNary Heights Elementary School and then for Eastern Oregon University in their teacher education program at Blue Mountain Community College. He serves on the Decoding Dyslexia-OR board as its parent/teacher liaison.
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