Changing “I can’t do it” to “How can I …”

As a parent and a teacher, I’m often considering ways I can support children and adolescents to overcome difficult situations – whether it be an upcoming test/assignment, an issue with a friend, or what career to pursue.

One thing I have learnt over the years, is that there are times they don’t like to be told what to do, such as tidy their room; and times when they like to be told exactly what to do, such as what to write in their assignment! So how can I help them develop and grow in independence and make wise choices in difficult situations?

When helping children and adolescents move from a place where they feel stuck and frustrated, it is important for them to think about their own thinking. It can be a powerful tool to learn how to reflect on their thoughts to gain insight into their feelings and behaviours. It can assist them to learn how they manage and adapt to new experiences and challenges. It can help them move from a fixed mindset that leaves little room for change, to a growth mindset which encourages resilience and self-awareness. This is also known as metacognition.

When students are learning in the classroom, doing homework, working on assignments, or indeed learning anything new, there are some key strategies that will help them develop metacognitive thinking. These skills are relevant to all ages and to many learning choices any student makes.

The skills usually have to be explicitly taught and modelled. Teachers do this in the classroom and parents can help by continuing to model, prompt and ask questions that encourage students to reflect on their learning.

1 – Planning
Students need to know and think about the goal of their learning and think about how they will approach the task. They need to recall prior knowledge, select appropriate strategies, and consider how to allocate their time and effort.

Some questions to ask themselves, or be prompted from an adult are ‘What resources do I need?’, ‘Have I done a task like this before?’ ‘What worked and what didn’t work?’, ‘What did I learn from the examples in class?’ ‘Where do I start?’

2 – Monitoring
While undertaking the task, students need to assess the progress they are making. This can involve self-testing and self-questioning and making changes to their chosen strategies.

They may ask themselves (or be prompted to ask), ‘Am I doing well?’ ‘Do I need any different strategies/techniques to improve?’ ‘Is there anything I need to stop and change?’

3 – Evaluating
Reviewing the effectiveness of their plan and its implementation.

Questions may include, ‘How did I do?’ ‘Did my plan/strategy work?’ ‘Is there anything I could do better next time?’

This is only a brief overview of metacognition. It is important to remember that learning to think metacognitively is a process and not to expect instant results. Sometimes the questions will get them thinking internally and may not be visible to the parents (especially in teenagers!), however the benefits are the same.

The more a child or adolescent is able to understand their learning process, the easier it will be to determine the strategies and supports that work best for them and the knowledge that will help them succeed, both now and in the future.


Metacognition: How Thinking About Thinking Can Help Kids

Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning: Guidance Report

Education Endowment Foundation, 2021.

Mrs Debbie Hall / Senior School Support Coordinator