How often do you spend time thinking about your thinking? Seems kind of awkward, right? Well, it is more important then you may realize. Metacognition, or the act of thinking about thinking, is a self-regulatory process centered on managing your own thinking. But, in order to do this, you will also need to call upon your executive functions. Our executive functions are those self-regulatory actions that allow us to manage time, plan, focus attention, and handle multiple tasks in order to successfully achieve a goal. Self-regulated learners use the metacognitive process to select, monitor and evaluate their approach to a task. Thus, our EF and metacognitive skills function separately but are interdependent.
As lifelong learners, we want to continue to support our cognitive growth and to do this we need to bolster up our EF and metacognitive skills. For instance, if you are having difficulty completing a long-term project because you are distracted or have trouble organizing and planning… (all EF skills) …, being aware of this is the first step of metacognition. In order to not hit the same barriers the next time, if you reflect on why you were distracted or how you can plan more efficiently, then you are thinking metacognitvely.
Reflection is needed for lifelong learning. However, reflection does not just happen after you complete a task. It is essential to reflect on your process before, during, and after a task. Improved personal growth and learning happen when reflection is done prior to starting a task. Psychologist and educational theorist David Kolb illustrates in his learning cycle that experiences can be shaped when each stage of the cycle is utilized as an integrated process. When you monitor your efforts throughout all aspects of a task you are more likely to catch mistakes or adjust your direction early enough as to not derail yourself.
Consider using these questions at the various points in your process to reflect:
(thinking about what is ahead of you)
(thinking about your progress)
(reflecting on the process as well as the product)
· Do I have the information, skills, materials, strategies will I need to do this task?
· What are my weaker areas of executive functioning and what can I put in place before I start to support myself?
· Do I have a well-developed plan? Specific goals?
· What information is most important to learn?
· Am I following my plan? Is it working?
· What insights am I having as I experience this? What confusions?
· Is what I’m reading relating to what I already know?
· Am I able to keep up with the content/pace of (lecture, meeting)?
· What did I learn today? Can I summarize it?
· What would I do differently?
· What about your thinking, learning, or work today brought you the most satisfaction? Why?
· What are some things I did really well on today?
· Did I meet my goal?
While there is no shortage of before, during, and after questions, what is important is to not lose focus that our executive functions help us monitor and control our learning. If you recognize through the reflective process that you often get distracted easily, moving forward set yourself up for success by working in a low distraction area or schedule in strategic breaks to minimize the distractions and loss of attention. If you are someone that can lose track of time, use reflection strategies such as writing down your estimated amount of time then compare to the actual. It can be eye-opening!
Learning never stops, even if we are out of the classroom. Thinking about your process in order to do better is a concept we can all benefit from.