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Your Child Can Become a Strategic Learner

Recent advances in educational psychology and neuropsychology have increased our understanding of how children learn and study. As a result, teachers and psychologists have developed impressive and effective tools and techniques to help children be more active students. To what extent a student is able to have access to these tools has an enormous impact on what they are able to learn as youngsters and throughout their lifetime.

Learning is a complex and transformational process of knowledge acquisition in which students become aware of their own mental processes, and construct meaning out of what they hear and see in and out of the classroom. Learning requires good instructional strategies as well as the student’s active identification and use of his or her strengths and capacities. The child’s brain adjusts to reflect his or her learning of new material.

Weinstein and Hume (1998) have reported that “…strategic learners have the skill to learn successfully” because “they know a lot about how to study, they use study and learning strategies and they use thinking skills”. Further, they say, “students must also have the will and desire to want to use these skills and processes” (students must value the skills, be motivated to use them, and believe they can use them). Finally, they say, learners must possess self-regulation to manage their learning.

Self-regulation involves planning for goal accomplishment, taking a systematic approach to learning and studying, completing tasks in a reasonable amount of time, evaluation of one’s own work, responding appropriately to feedback, and self-monitoring, or metacognition.

Metacognition was described as “how your child thinks about how they think” in Dr. Courtney Rennicke’s recent post “Drawing Restraint: Marshmallows and Metacognition.” It also refers to active control over one’s own thinking processes.

Some examples of metacognitive processes are:

1. The ability to reflect on the demands of a particular task and independently select and use the appropriate strategy
2. Awareness and knowledge of one’s own performance strengths and weaknesses, and one’s collection of problem-solving strategies
3. The ability to “know what one knows”
4. Assessment of one’s own ability to generalize a problem-solving strategy, and use it for more than one problem
5. The ability to forecast the outcome of a problem-solving strategy
6. The ability to strategically allocate attention to the task at hand (such as described in Dr. Renicke’s post and attributed to Walter Mischel, Ph.D. after his famous Marshmallow study)
7. Knowing how to use a strategy most effectively to get desired results
8. Being aware of one’s own mental processes and being able to speak aloud about those processes
9. The ability to monitor or keep track of the degree to which one understands information, recognize when one does not understand, and use good strategies to understand better

Research has shown that students who use metacognitive stratgegies perform better in school than those who don’t, and need to allocate fewer cognitive resources to more effectively manage the excess of information coming at them. Our schools are full of children who have not been taught metacognitive strategies, and who have not become independent learners aware of their personal strengths and weaknesses. It is not enough for a child to learn the science curriculum of the 4th grade, without knowing how to learn more about science or how to think scientifically about the world.

The good news, as said in Dr. Rennicke’s post, is that these skills can be taught. Our children need teachers to help them take more responsibility for their own learning, and move beyond the knowledge and comprehension level, to more advanced levels of thinking that will help them navigate an ever more complex world.

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