The Metacognitive Cycle
By: Madeline Kaleel
I’ve spoken on this blog before about executive functioning, or the mental processes that allow for the control of behavior. Executive functions encompass decision making and behavior regulation skills, and difficulty with these functions can inhibit your ability to set goals, organize, self-monitor, or regulate your emotions. So, when you notice that your child, or even you, are struggling with executive functioning, what can you do?
That’s where the metacognitive process comes in. Metacognition, sometimes described as “thinking about thinking”, is the ability to step back and take a “bird’s eye view” of yourself and what you’re doing, developing self-awareness of what problem-solving strategies work for you, and which ones don’t. The metacognitive process, or cycle, involves three stages to coach you or your child through in order to improve their self-awareness and ultimately their executive functioning: Self-Monitoring, Self-Evaluating, and Self-Regulation.
To walk through what this cycle looks like, let’s consider the case of Ashley. Ashley is a new sixth-grade student that has been struggling with keeping up to date on her math homework. She often doesn’t turn assignments in, and when she does, they’re usually incomplete. How can we use the metacognitive cycle to help her?
Self-Monitoring is referred to as the observing stage, where you ask yourself “what am I doing?”. Taking a step back, you look at the strategies you’re trying to use, how you’re going to use it, and you make sure you’re following the plan. In Ashley’s case, she uses an academic planner in order to keep up with her homework. She writes down her assignments and tries to remember to check it daily to make sure everything has been completed.
Self-Evaluating is the judging stage, where you ask yourself “how am I doing?”. After utilizing a strategy or technique for some time, you look at your performance and outcomes and judge how well it worked. This could be as specific as looking at a grade for a specific assignment, or as broad as your grade for the semester. For Ashley, she looked at her math grade and realized she was not doing well. Even using the planner, most of her assignments are still missing, and her overall math grade is suffering as a result.
Self-Regulating is the modifying stage, where you ask yourself “what do I need to change?”. If you had poor outcomes during the self-evaluating stage, this is where you change your strategy to something more effective. Sometimes that means the strategy didn’t fit well with the environment, the task, or the person using it. However, you could also discover that your strategy resulted in increased performance and no change is necessary. Ashley reflected on different ways of tracking her homework, and decided to try using her Google calendar instead, as well as set reminders specifically for her math homework.
After the self-regulating phase, the cycle continues back to self-monitoring. By coaching your child through these steps, you ultimately increase their self-awareness and metacognition skills to a point where, in the future, they can coach themselves through the cycle. If you’re wondering how coaching them through the cycle works, check out Peg Dawson and Richard Guare’s books Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents: A Practical Guide to Assessment and Intervention and Coaching Students with Executive Skills Deficits.
What is Executive Functioning?
By: Madeline Kaleel
Sometimes referred to as cognitive controls, executive functions are mental processes that allow for the control of behavior. These controls range from basic to higher order, with higher order executive functioning requiring the use of two or more of the basic skills. Basic executive functions include attentional control (concentration), inhibitory control (self-control), working memory, and cognitive flexibility. Higher order executive functions, such as planning, organization, and fluid intelligence, require an individual to use multiple basic executive functions simultaneously. Sometimes described as “the CEO of the brain”, these functions allow us to set goals, organize, self-monitor, and overall get things done.
We aren’t born with these abilities, however. Executive functions are something that gradually develop and change over time, and they can be improved on at any point in your life. While growth in these areas typically comes about naturally through aging and experience, those with executive functioning issues may find one or more of these basic functions challenging. Executive functioning issues are not a diagnosis in and of itself, but it’s a common problem for those diagnosed with ADHD, a specific learning disability, or other learning and attention issues.
So how can I tell if my child is struggling with executive functioning?
Executive functioning issues present themselves different in each person. Kids may struggle with only one or two of the functions, while others may find all areas difficult. Similarly, different issues will present themselves at different points in life; the functions that a kid in elementary school struggles with are different than ones a high-schooler. Here are some possible signs that kids struggling with executive functioning may present:
My child shows one or more of these signs, how can I help?
There are countless online resources and activities that you can use to help your child improve their executive functioning skills and succeed in life and school. It’s important to work with your child and learn which areas they need to focus on and what best helps them. If your child needs extra help, it could be beneficial to enroll them in courses or psycho-educational group to get more in-depth training and attention.