In a fascinating study in the early 1990s, Ellen Moss and her colleagues compared the way that mothers of exceptionally gifted preschoolers talked to them during problem-solving tasks with conversations between a control group of mothers and children with only average scores on a standard IQ test. Having analyzed the strategies the mothers were using, Moss discovered that the mothers of the gifted children were far more likely to be prompting metacognitive strategies than the mothers of the nongifted students.
These strategies included predicting consequences and thinking about the effect of future actions ("Will this piece fit in that space?"), checking results ("Is that right?"), and reality testing or making meaningful comparisons with what was already known ("Should you use such small blocks for the foundation?"). Moss also noted that the mothers in the nongifted group spent more time actively directing their children back to the task, while the gifted children's mothers used activity monitoring—their comments helped their children judge for themselves what kind of progress they were making toward their goal.
Moss speculates whether the giftedness of these children had as much to do with the way their parents were relating to them as with any superior level of inborn intelligence. We cannot be sure. But we do know that among populations of school-age children and students, the direct teaching of thinking skills has been shown time and again to produce substantial improvement in academic performance.