Teaching Meta-Cognition Skills To Your Student

Meta-cognition is a key ingredient in becoming a lifelong learner. It helps students use compensatory strategies, generalize learning, and seek help when needed.

Students need meta-cognitive skills in order to self-advocate and feel a sense of control.

It is possible to craft a very specific, measurable IEP goal for teaching meta-cognition. Below are a variety of meta-cognitive goals that can get you started.


Sample IEP Goals

  • Thomas will ask for clarification in at least 3 out of 5 sets of ambiguous directions.
  • David will accurately rate his reading fluency, as measured by no greater than .5 deviation from the teacher’s appraisal on the Multidimensional Fluency Scale.
  • Maddie will name and demonstrate at least 3 strategies she can use for editing an essay.
  • Beth will independently state her learning profile, including her affinities, strengths, and weaknesses.

You may introduce meta-cognition to your student by telling the story of The Tortoise and the Hare (or, you can show a little animation).

Then discuss how the tortoise knew himself, how he worked best and thought about the big picture, while the hare did not consider these important ramifications and paid dearly for that lack of insight. Similarly, your student needs to think about his thinking and the 'Big Picture' in order to be successful. In this article you will find concrete ways to teach about your student’s learning profile, learning strategies, and problem solving. You will also receive activities and tools for teaching, such as role-plays, rating scales, and video feedback.

Teaching About Learning Profiles

Students with dyslexia or specific learning disabilities tend to have 'peaks and valleys' profiles of strengths and weaknesses. Review your student’s learning proclivities and strengths, in other words "learning style" (e.g., auditory, visual, kinesthetic, or visual-spatial), with him. Next, discuss both his strengths and weaknesses. Conclude by talking about his interests. All of these aspects factor into your student’s learning, so making his aware of them can spur a giant leap in your student’s ability to think about his thinking. For specific scripts that you can use to help your student explore the way she learns see "Teaching Self-Advocacy to your Child".

Teaching About Problem Solving

If you try something and it does not work, will you continue to do it the same way, again and again? The answer is no. However, some students get stuck in the rut of doing something the same way again and again, because they do not have strong meta-cognitive skills for problem solving. The basic steps that students need to learn are as follows:

  • Identifying and describing the problem,
  • Observation/Documenting specific data,
  • Developing a hypothesis and possible solutions,
  • Talking about the problem with the parties that are involved, and
  • Determining if a resolution was achieved and whether further action is required.

Most people take these steps for granted. Nonetheless, many students with dyslexia need explicit instruction and practice to develop the requisite problem solving skills required for self-advocacy. It is often helpful to apply this sequence to fictitious, academically-based scenarios before moving on to personal challenges.

Teaching about Strategies

Your students need to have a “toolbox” of strategies that work for their best way of learning new information (i.e., learning styles). You may wish to review your student’s learning profile and then review a “menu” of strategies to see which ones seem like possibilities. Then, your student should be encouraged to experiment with these strategies in a sort of “learning laboratory.” You can help your student to evaluate the effectiveness of each strategy . Lavish praise on your student for trying a new way of learning, even if it is not “successful”. Then, encourage him to move on to a more suitable tool for the task at hand.

A key strategy for all learning styles is understanding how to locate information in the textbook. Titles, headings, the table of contents, and chapter organizers should be emphasized along with the index and boldface words. In the Information Age, students need guidance for how to effectively research on the Internet, and instruction on which types of sources are suitable for a paper.

Study Tips for Visual Learners

High Visual learners (e.g., those with strong visual spatial or visual problem-solving skills) tend to learn information by seeing, whether through reading or watching. Review the following strategies with your student who has identified herself as a visual learner. With a blue highlighter, mark the strategies that your student has already tried. With a yellow highlighter, mark the strategies that she would like to try.

  • Make your study area visually appealing and the lighting comfortable.
  • Look at people and professors when they talk.
  • Eliminate visual distractions.
  • Underline main points in an eye-arresting color; for example, neon highlighters.
  • Write new vocabulary words on colored index cards (or write in color on white index cards) with short definitions on the back. Carry these with you and reviewed them whenever you have spare time; for example, before class or when waiting in line.
  • Ask your teacher or librarian for videos on the topic that you are learning.
  • Take extra time looking at charts, pictures, and boldfaced words in your textbook.

Study Tips for Auditory Learners

High Auditory learners (e.g., those with strong auditory processing and auditory memory skills) benefit from listening – hearing the information and processing it accordingly. Auditory learners focus easily on sounds and have good memory of what they have heard through lectures or on tape. The following hints are useful for Auditory learners.

  • Try studying with a friend or family member so that you can talk out loud and hear the information.
  • Recite out loud the things you want to remember.
  • Record yourself reading the notes and listen to these notes while cleaning, walking, or waiting in line.
  • Record your lectures and review your notes while listening to the your tape.
  • Sub-vocalize as you read your textbooks or notes.
  • Use audio books and videos.
  • Make up songs, rhymes, or chants for remembering key information.
  • Give oral reports when possible.
  • Take tests orally.
  • Explain what you’re learning about to a novice.
  • Find a quiet place to study. You might prefer playing classical or instrumental music in the background.

Study Tips for Kinesthetic Learners

Kinesthetic learners acquire knowledge best through manipulation – doing, touching, hands-on, and writing. In addition, kinesthetic learners remember best from experiences they’ve had, so hands on learning can be done through building, cooking, experiments, crafts, gardening, going on a field trip, etc. Kinesthetic learning involves use of the whole body rather than just hands-on.

  • Use manipulatives for problem-solving.
  • Role-play or act out a scene in a book.
  • Provide a demonstration for the class.
  • Take a field trip to a museum, historical site, or library.
  • Attend the lab activities.
  • Find coloring books for Geography, Anatomy and Physiology, and of other topics of interest.
  • Find or make models whenever possible.
  • Take a 5-minute stretch break every 25 minutes.
  • Make a song, panorama, or skit related to the topic at hand.
  • "Volunteer" to help in class.
  • Take notes to stay focused.
  • Jiggle your legs or feet, or try hand/finger exercises.
  • Handle a koosh ball, tennis ball, or putty.
  • Seek out computer games/software for a given topic.
  • Sit on an exercise ball or rocking chair while studying.
  • Walk or use the treadmill while studying.
  • Complete a craft, cooking project, experiment, or related activity for the lesson at hand (note: many textbooks suggest these types of extension activities).
  • Doodle or use colored pencils while the teacher is lecturing to help you focus.
  • Chew gum or suck on a piece of hard candy while studying.
  • Keep something in your hand that is malleable. Knead or tap to a rhythm as you study.
  • When learning new information, make flashcards, card games, floor games, etc. This will help you process the information.

Tools: Role-plays

Once your student has selected a real-life situation to problem solve, it is useful to have him role-play the interaction with you. He will pretend that you are the teacher, parent, or staff person whom he needs to address. You can try giving the "easy" or "helpful" response, then redo the role-play with more resistance or "push-back." This will give your student the opportunity to plan out his wording, use assertiveness, and get feedback from someone with whom he is comfortable. You will want to make sure that your student is using assertive word choice, eye contact, loudness/diction, and posture during this role-play. An excellent way to improve these skills (as well as your student’s self-awareness) is to provide video feedback.

Tools: Video Feedback

One of the most effective ways to teach self-monitoring skills and self-appraisal skills for oral reading or presentations is to provide immediate video feedback to students. Initially, so much energy is concentrated on completing the task that students have very few resources left to simultaneously evaluate their accuracy and effectiveness. An easy way to provide this feedback is with a web-camera (built in or mounted on the computer) or a Flip Video Camera that plugs directly into the computer and is ready for viewing (no USB cables or transferring of files required). A web-camera is most effective for tasks that are stationary, while a Flip Video Camera is excellent for tasks that require movement around the room (you can either hold the camera or utilize the mini tripod that comes with it). You will probably want to try combining video feedback with a rating scale, as described in the following section.

Tools: Customized Rating Scales

Rating scales help you and the student evaluate performance and track progress. Generally, a numerical value is assigned to a specific qualitative description. You can quickly formulate your own rating scale for many different tasks, such as following written directions, drafting a paragraph, editing, giving oral presentations, and reading orally. Your rating scale can be as simple as "did not use a topic sentence" (rated as a 1) and "used a topic sentence" (rated as a 2), or it can be as complex as the oral fluency scale below. The important thing is to have your student evaluate himself and then compare that score with your own rating. Given video feedback and specific examples, your student will develop his ability to self-monitor.