New Year Study Resolutions: using 'metacognition' to inspire children's learning
By Elizabeth Holtom
21 Jan

Elizabeth Holtom is the author of the Galore Park book Study Skills: Building the study skills needed for 13+ and beyond. As pupils follow this step-by-step, interactive guide they become confident and resourceful learners ready for the challenges at prep school and beyond.

January is when we make our New Year resolutions. How good are you at keeping them for the rest of the year? I’ve usually failed before we even get to February. Here is a popular resolution: to lose weight. How many of us achieve and, crucially, maintain that weight? I certainly don’t. It is an established fact that most diets do not work because we put weight back on again as soon as we go back to our usual eating routine. It is much better to make small, specific changes to our diet that become lifelong habits. This could be as simple as cutting out a biscuit with a cup of coffee or giving up on second helpings. I call this tweak to transform. This is the approach that will help your children adopt more effective study habits.

However, before I describe the activity that will help your children tweak to transform, I have a task for you: please read Study Skills 13+. The key purpose of the book is to help children become great learners. The better informed you are, the better you will be able to encourage, suggest and support the small changes they wish to make.

Activity for children 

This may be done one-to-one (adult and child) or with a sibling/ friend and one adult.   
Equipment: index cards and fineliners.

1. On one card per subject, write the names of all the subjects you study which lead to exams.

2. Rank your cards. Start by deciding which subject/s you are best at and lay them out first. If there is more than one, put them side by side.

3. Continue ranking them. Place the rest of your cards below the first card/s in order of how well you are doing until you get to the subject/s you are least happy with.

4. Take a photograph of the layout for future reference.

5. Look at your top subjects first. Discuss your choice and give reasons why. You may start with a general reason such as liking the subject and the teacher. Now think about how this affects your learning in specific ways. Here are a few possibilities to get you started:

a. I listen well in class
b. I’m relaxed and therefore don’t mind if I get something wrong. 
c. I get my homework done on time
d. I don’t mind revising for tests.

Jot down your successful study habits in bullet points on the front of these index cards so you see at a glance what works well. 

6. Now look at the subjects which you are less happy about. What is different about how you learn them? Here are a few possibilities:

a. I’m thinking about other things: break time, lunch, how much longer the lesson will last
b. I’m anxious so I keep as quiet as possible
c. I’m bored so I always have my phone to hand when I’m doing my homework
d. I put off revising for tests as long as possible.

Jot down your study habits in bullet points on the back of your card. You are nearly at the stage where you will tweak to transform.

7. Choose a subject you would like to improve in. Reread your successful learning strategies and decide which ones will help you. Your adult partner may make some suggestions thanks to all those tips in Study Skills 13+. Parent: you will be able to gauge how much your input will help. There is a fine line between encouraging and nagging!

a. Have a drink of water before the lesson.  Your brain works better when you are hydrated.
b. Practise the think positive exercise at home (page 4 of Study Skills 13+).  Tweak it slightly: instead of activity, have favourite subject.  Instead of test, have the subject you hope to improve in.  Focus on that positive feeling every time you go into the lesson you want to improve in.
c. Remove all devices from your work space at home.  Save games and texting for the end of your homework time.
d. How long do you spend revising the subjects you are successful at?  And this subject, if you are honest?  Choose a new time target and work out how you are going to stick to it. What about using a timer?

Jot down your choices on the front of your card. These are your New Year Study Resolutions.

8. After an agreed period of time, rank your cards again. Review them regularly to begin with – perhaps once a month. Compare your new ranking with the earlier one. Take another photograph. Has the subject you want to improve in moved up?   

a. No: do you need to try out a new strategy?
b. Yes: is it time to choose a new subject?   
c. Are there any bad study habits you can now cross out?

The aim of this activity is to enable children to monitor their learning in a metacognitive way. Metacognition literally means thinking about thinking. It is the process by which a learner identifies a learning objective and then chooses the strategies they will use to achieve it. They then evaluate how well their strategies are working and decide whether they need to change them.
I hope your children are able to keep their Resolutions well beyond January. Happy New Year and Happy Learning to you all!

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Tags: 11+, 13+, CEM, Consortium, Elizabeth, GL, grammar, Holtom, independent, ISEB, learning, objectives, pre-test, revision, schools, Studying

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