I often tell my clients, “self-awareness breeds self-advocacy.”
More specifically, observing and self-monitoring to make decisions is an executive functioning skill called metacognition. We all have strengths and weaknesses even within executive functioning skills. Evaluating our strengths and admitting weaknesses allows us to ask for help when needed, to accept or ignore criticism, and even to show compassion for others. This self-awareness builds daily as we evaluate our performance in completing tasks and our effectiveness in social interactions.
Over the past year, my children have taken an interest in music. Through our academic curriculums, we have exposed them to many composers and the instruments of an orchestra. They have been to the ballet and musicals. Since my husband and I are not musically talented, we did not expect music lessons to be a priority. Yet, my youngest child asked for piano lessons after reading that Batty, the youngest female character in the Penderwicks series, started lessons at age four. He thought, “If she can do it, I can do it.” Learning this new skill will require self- analysis; practicing easy parts is fun, and he might feel successful, but it does not lead to progressive skill acquisition. Using this new task to influence his metacognition, however, will not only improve his performance but also carry over into other areas of life.
Reflecting on longer time periods can also improve metacognition. In Pennsylvania, we are required to show annually to an evaluator how progress was made in our homeschooling. To achieve this goal, we make annual photobooks to celebrate our successes and to display our learning through our trips, hikes, sports, and clubs. Then I ask questions to guide the development of metacognition: What went well? What needs to change? What do you want to study more? What is the best use of your time? What did you dislike? What did you forget? What did you learn about yourself? What did you learn about our family? This reflection gives me, as a parent and teacher, more information than any test. Building metacognition gives them, as maturing children and students, more than any academic lesson.
Here are additional strategies to develop the skill of metacognition in your own home-educated students:
In personal conversations:
Provide specific feedback in a question format, causing reflection. “How do you think you did?” “What did you do well here?” “How could you have changed this response?”
Identify and reinforce observed strengths.
Acknowledge areas where a person might need help. Since asking for help is a tough life skill to learn, identify and use specific phrases to frame self-awareness and advocacy, such as “I do better when I know what will happen next” or “I need to sit up front so the room looks more organized.” Helping our children become aware of their particular needs and advocating for them to be met is a necessary lifelong skill.
In environmental, or situational, awareness:
Provide pictures, written directions, or even recordings of finished products so that our children can assess their end product. Then reflect on the comparisons with questions like “Is the room really clean?” and “Does your music sound like the composer intended it to sound?”
Speak accurately about your own performance to model self-awareness and self-advocacy.
Have set times of the year when you set goals and when you evaluate them. These can be personal goals or even places you want to go. The evaluation process itself models metacognition.
Practice active listening. This is a two-fold process. Oftentimes, we need to listen to others’ perception of ourselves to even be open to self-awareness, so teaching our children to actively listen can increase their self-awareness. And we need to ask our children questions, then actively listen to them. The more they talk, the more self-aware they become.
In occupational engagement:
Play strategy games. Set goals and evaluate how you play.