One reason why most students with learning problems don’t use learning strategies to improve cognitive functioning on their own is that they don’t understand metacognition, an important part of executive processing. It has two main parts: (a) understanding how you think, and (b) controlling your thinking.
To encourage control, we can use three stages of self-instruction training. First, the student learns to think aloud, then whispers to herself while taking part in self-regulatory (self-control) behavior. Finally, she talks silently to herself before and during the task performance. By the end of the process, she has internalized her self-control.
Metacognitive training usually involves teaching strategies related to specific tasks. This helps the student learn her weaknesses, plus how to pick the right strategy for the task at hand. Then she has to learn to monitor her own progress towards a goal, fix or change strategies when necessary, and to review her progress.
Planning is a key part of executive processing. This high-level process is essential for school learning and performance. Instructions should be very clear, and include:
- Teaching the student to use planning strategies.
- Discussing how planning helps her become more successful.
- Explaining why some methods work better than others.
- Requiring her to talk about her planning process; and
- Encouraging her to develop, use, and review her own planning strategies.
Planning interventions involving math. Planning is the foundation of problem-solving, a vital part of math. This may involve a teacher asking the student how she solved a math problem, then asking her if there are other ways to solve it. The goal is to get the student to think about the planning process and to use efficient problem-solving strategies. This works with more than just math. For example, a teacher may ask the student how she plans to complete an assignment, and then ask her to explain why.
Interventions for attention deficits. Many higher-level processes depend on attention. Problems with paying attention can be caused by poor self-control. Because they can have a negative impact on learning, treating attention disorders should be a high priority in school systems. Most research on ADHD interventions concludes that a combination of approaches is most successful. These approaches often include medication, behavior modification, and school changes that take the child’s disability into account.
Self-monitoring training. Self-monitoring is a critical self-control process that we know helps children with ADHD. One method involves a student listening to taped audio tones that occur at random intervals ranging from 10-90 seconds. The student is taught to assess herself by asking, “Was I paying attention?” after hearing the tone. She then writes down whether she was or not.
These executive and metacognitive approaches can be useful but are less common than the memory interventions discussed in earlier blogs. In the next blog, we’ll look at a few more uncommon interventions before wrapping up our exploration of cognitive processing.
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