Quick Tip: Becoming a Beginner Again

Quick Tip: Becoming a Beginner Again

Can you remember the last time you started learning something new? As lifelong learners and educators, many processes that have become automatic for us as adults are important to make visible when teaching our students new topics and skills. 

Explicit, Systematic Instruction

When it comes to executive function strategies, explicit and systematic instruction can help students learn and apply strategies. Explicit and systematic teaching includes modeling metacognitive strategies such as self-talk.

To make self-talk visible, teachers can use strategies like the think-aloud process. For example, to model a new skill (such as using a graphic organizer), teachers can break down the process by verbalizing such questions as:

    • What is the assignment asking me to do?
    • Is there a rubric I can review?
    • What is my first step?
    • What strategies can help me?

Self-talk Statements

Self-talk statements are another way to think aloud and model how to break down steps systematically. For example, “I will take my time; I will work carefully; I will use strategies to help me.” When students see and hear their teacher using self-talk statements throughout the process, they can see how using strategies is an intentional process that requires self-reflection. This metacognitive process is an important part of how students begin learning how they learn most effectively.

Generalizing Strategy Use

While students often have difficulty generalizing their strategy use, teachers can use think alouds to show how strategies can be applied across many subjects. For example, “While I’m using this graphic organizer in language arts, it could be really helpful for organizing information for the geology unit in science class.” Metacognition is key for students to intentionally employ a strategy and understand how it can help them succeed. 

It is easy to overlook the processes that have become automatic for us that our learners may be engaging in for the first time, and there’s beauty in stepping into a new role and being a beginner again. As our students learn new topics and concepts, let us offer them more time — time to process, time to think, and time to explore. 

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate


SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org