Metacognition has generally been described as thinking about one’s own thoughts. The realization that a human being cannot exist in isolation of his inner self, that he is constantly probing that dam of his very essence to evaluate situations and resolve the never-ending puzzles that daily confront him. Kornell (2009), has described metacognition as self-reflection and conscious awareness. An even more elaborate definition is that given by Serendip (2009). He defines it as “a reflective practice that helps one discern general patterns in one’s own views and abilities”.
Whichever definition one feels comfortable with, it cannot be said to be superior to the other, because metacognition deals with the intangible and cannot be weighed on a scale. It has, however, been the subject of widespread research all over the world. Psychologists are now asking themselves, what causes that tip of the tongue experience, when you are sure you know someone’s name but cannot recall it? Or what is at play when one conveys a feeling of uncertainty? Why is it that humans are able to have certain cognitive abilities that animals apparently do not have?
For example, if asked what year America gained independence, one may readily recall with certainty, or one may say with complete uncertainty that he does not know.
The answer may also lie in between, showing a certain degree of uncertainty by replying, for example, I think it was 1776. Whatever answer one gives, it demonstrates an ability to question one’s memory and experience. According to studies that have been done, this ability can be improved.
Thus, the science of metacognition is now rampant, with studies being carried out on the cognitive abilities of monkeys, children, students, and ways in which they can be improved.
Metacognition 2 One study which was carried out to test the cognitive abilities of rhesus monkeys, was that conducted by Kornell, Son & Terrace (2007). In this trial, the monkeys were initially trained to select a given picture from a sample of six pictures by touching the image on a touch-screen monitor. After this training period, they were shown six sample pictures which were then simultaneously removed and replaced with nine, one of the previous six being among them.
As soon as they selected the sample they thought was among the previous six, they were required to bet on their choice by depressing an icon on the screen for certainty, with a reward of redeemable food tokens, or loss of tokens, if wrong. A further icon for a low risk bet was also there. After carrying out this experiment for a suitable period of time, they concluded that the monkeys would invariably only bet when they were sure that they knew the correct answer. The researchers were therefore of the opinion that the monkeys were guided by a cognitive ability.
They also tested two monkeys on metacognitive control. This is the ability to use metacognitive ability to influence behavior. An example would be requesting for a hint when one is unsure of an answer, a common trait with humans. In this trial, two monkeys were presented with a few sample pictures to place in a certain order. They were also availed of onscreen visual hints if they needed. The penalty for using the hints was a less appetizing banana flavored pellet, instead of the more attractive M&M candy.
As the test progressed, it became apparent that the monkeys were using the hints less and less, and would only resort to them when they were sure that they did not know the right answer. This ability to have control over one’s metacognitive ability had been tested on humans for many years, and it was only now that it was becoming clear that it was also present in animals. However, how prevalent this is among them, cannot be clear and it cannot be generalized from this study that only involved rhesus monkeys.
Metacognition 3 Smith & Washbum (2005) have taken animal research a notch higher and carried out trials that probe the memory, referred to as monitoring the memory. In the test, animals which were given various tasks to do based on what they had done before, declined to engage in the more difficult tasks, a result that was the same as similar tests carried out on humans. The animals were selective and seemed to have the same analogous capacity as human. There was no doubt that they were using their metacognitive abilities to seek in their memories, and when they remembered that the task was arduous, they declined to take the test.
Kornell & Terrace (2007) also carried out some trials seeking to find out if monkeys benefited from learning. They did this with two rhesus monkeys which were given two problem sets to solve. In one difficult set, they were given hints to assist them after a suitable training period. In the other set, they were given no hints. The number of hints they used to solve the problem set steadily declined over time, the performance, however, did not change, it stayed the same. The monkeys were solving the problem with skills they had acquired from the hints and were using them less and less because they had “learned”.
This is fascinating and opens up very interesting questions about the training of animals. There are other areas of animal metacognitive behavior which have been studied. Hampton, R (2009), carried out studies on rhesus monkeys to determine if they made decisions when they had information, or sought information when ignorant and immediately made a decision. The results were quite revealing. They carried out two sets of tests. In one test, the monkeys witnessed food being inserted into some opaque test tubes. These tests were referred to as the seen trials.
In the other test, the food was inserted into test tubes without their knowledge. Metacognition 4 The monkeys were then required to identify the tubes which had food in them. In trial after trial, they would first look down the tubes to ascertain if the food was there and if it was, they selected the tube. What was evident from these tests is that the monkeys sought information first, by peering down the tubes, when ignorant, and only immediately selected the correct tubes without investigating, when they knew the food was there.
That means they knew when they knew and only sought information when they knew that they did not know. This is a characteristic which is prevalent among human children, orangutans and rhesus monkeys. It is, however, not clear with capuchin monkeys when they were exposed to a similar trial about a decade before. There is room for more research on animals. According to Smith & Washbum, a lot needs to be investigated regarding the gifts different animals have. For example, monkeys and dolphins seem to exhibit more cognitive abilities than pigeons, whose reactions appear to be more stimulus based.
Further research in this area can yield very important information which may stimulate a whole spectrum of research into cognitive abilities of different animal specie. Additionally, there is a lot of room into studies on the ability or lack of ability of animals to make quantitative judgements, for example, their mood. Metacognitive abilities is also a subject of importance in developing learning capabilities for children. Loh, A (2009), has made suggestions on methods to use to improve metacognition learning for children as young as two year olds.
Since parents spend the most amount time with children of this age, they are best placed to practice the techniques recommended by Loh. He says that children should be encouraged to think about their thinking process in order to develop their intellect and intelligence. Children should be engaged, soon after an activity, to gauge their Metacognition 5 thinking process and the techniques they used for a task. Immediately after this activity, they should be asked certain questions, for example : 1. They should be asked about the process they used to achieve the result. This way, they will recall the steps and learn the process.
2. What strategies did they use? This will engage them actively in the thinking process by beginning to adopt strategic thinking of alternative techniques they can use to achieve better results. 3. What do they think about the end result? Is it good or bad? This will help them to evaluate their work. 4. Offer them puzzling tasks that have more than one solution. This exposes them to cognitive conflicts 5. Engage them in debates and discussions with other children 6. Allow them to practice reciprocal teaching where they form groups and one child teaches members of his group. 7.
Once they engage on a task, allow them to continue undisturbed. Help them with clues if they get stuck. Further, they can be assisted with questions that will incline them to probe their mind even more, for example, what they learned from the task and what they found difficult. Additionally, they can be probed to find out if they have a next goal and what will help them to achieve it. Metacognition 6 There has been more research in the field of metacognitive abilities of children. Young children’s understanding of mental life, or “theory of mind”, is an area that is currently being explored by various scientists.
According to science daily (2008), a new study had made a link between theory of mind as assessed in kindergarten children and their metacognitive abilities in elementary school. Early theory of mind competencies positively influenced metacognitive abilities acquired later. 174 children between the ages of three and four were used as study subjects to investigate this relationship. Wolfgang Schneider, P. H. D. , of the University of Wurzburg, who carried out the trial, said that knowledge from this research can be used to develop training programs for young children.
For all the progress that has been done on metacognition in animals and children, none can rival that of learners. The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (2009), says that students with metacognitive needs have difficulties in setting priorities and planning their tasks. Additionally: 1. They are poor at strategizing in order to accomplish a task methodically 2. They procrastinate and are unable to start their work. 3. They are inattentive and make careless mistakes. 4. They are not able to identify their faults or know how to seek help. With these type of students they recommend the following teaching strategies :
1. Teachers should tutor them on how to plan and show them the scoring rubric for the assignment. 2. They should be taught on estimation of time needed to complete a task. 3. They should be assisted with think-aloud strategies. Metacognition 7 4. They should be cajoled to get engaged actively in their work by asking them how they are doing the work and how they will remember to solve the problem. 5. Teachers should be specific in their assignments to students by providing scoring rubrics for each question and how they have been calculated. However, Pierce (2004), dealt even deeper in metacognition for students.
He was of the opinion that study strategies were generalized and teachers did not teach them in class. They assumed that students had already learned them. When they taught a strategy, students used the same strategy taught for all subjects. According to him, students needed to acquire three types of knowledge in order to improve their metacognitive abilities. These are : 1. Declarative knowledge which is having at their grasp factual information, for example, speed is distance divided by time taken. 2. Procedural knowledge which is knowing how to do something.
Using the previous example of speed, they should know the formula for speed and the steps required in its calculation. 3. Conditional knowledge – This is knowing when to use a certain procedure and why one strategy is better than another. In applying the three types of knowledge for study strategies for example, students need declarative knowledge to know that a high school history textbook is different from an article analyzing the same textbook. They need procedural knowledge to take notes from such a textbook and conditional knowledge to know when such notes should be taken.
According to Pierce, study techniques improve learning but are hardly ever taught. Additionally, many students do not internalize success as caused by ability and effort. Metacognition 8 Lippman, Danielsson & Linder (2005), differed slightly with some researchers of metacognition. They claimed that most studies taught metacognitive skills and then measured the effects of training. Instead, they should quantify the use of metacognition. In a study that they carried out at an American university, their aim was to find out how much metacognition is used in a laboratory and how the setup encourages the use of metacognition.
Three groups of students were used and their proceedings videotaped and their verbal comments recorded. In one group, students were given a set of instructions to follow. The same was done for the second group and in addition, they were expected to explain their reason. The third group was given a question to answer and expected to explain, in a presentation, the method they had used to get results. In analyzing the results, Lippman et al (2005) saw no difference in the amount of metacognition in the different groups.
However, the most important finding was that there was a difference in how metacognition made students change their behavior in tackling the lab assignments. For example, in the third group, the verbal exchanges revealed that the use of metacognition made the students more creative. This was a different approach as was the one used by Mevarech & Kramarski (2003). In this study, 100 eighth graders, studying algebra in four classrooms, were divided into two groups. One group was exposed to cooperative learning and also given metacognitive training. The other group was given cooperative learning but without metacognitive training.
At issue was mathematical modeling and problem solving skills. After tasks to perform were given, the results showed that the group which had been given metacognitive training did outperformed the other that only had a cooperative setting. There was significant difference with the two groups with regard to planning, processing and reflection. They concluded that the cooperative Metacognition 9 setting is not enough to enhance modeling skills. Metacognitive skills are important in how to approach a problem, how to control and monitor the solution and how to reflect on the final answer.
As a result of such studies, Mevarech & Kramarski (2003) designed the learning tool called IMPROVE, whose letters stand for : Introducing the new material Metacognitive questioning Practicing Reviewing Obtaining mastery on higher and lower cognitive processes Verification Enrichment and remedial The important thing in IMPROVE is the approach in problem solving. Students are able to approach a scenario with a systematic method which first and foremost addresses the question of what is the issue at hand. They then investigate to find out how different the problem is from others and what the best strategies are to solve it.
As can be seen from all the studies mentioned, metacognition is an area of development that has a lot of room for growth. Animals which have been shown to have metacognitive abilities can be researched further in order to discover if this is something widespread within the animal kingdom, and if not, then what actually determines metacognition of a species. With children too, the theory of the mind is interesting and further studies should be carried out to determine if there are other areas of their lives that can benefit from improved research on Metacognition 10 metacognition.
For example, are high levels of metacognition genetic? Does diet affect levels of metacognition? What role does disease play in metacognition? It would also be interesting to see new research in the study techniques of students. More than anyone else, their place in society is critical because they take over reins in business, government and the civil society within only a few years after leaving college. Their overall performance in school is therefore a top priority. Of serious concern should be when study techniques should begin to be taught and how they would be standardized.
Additionally, quantifying the use of metacognition as advocated for by Lippman (2005), needs to generate more study. If his research is anything to go by, then the approach to metacognition training must also address, not just the amount of metacognition ability gained, but also how it is channeled to productive use. This is an area that can prove very challenging and rewarding because teaching metacognition techniques is one thing, but being able to teach the type of techniques that can produce quantifiable measures cannot be easy.
However, it is possible that the same metacognition graduates will discover new methods and strategies to impart more abilities in metacognition. Metacognition 11 References Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (2009). Metacognitive Skills. Retrieved on July 29, 2009 from http://www. etfo. ca/Multimedia/Webcasts/SpecialEducation/Pages/Metacognitive%20Skills. aspx Hampton, R (2009). Multiple demonstrations of metacognition in nonhumans: Converging evidence or multiple mechanisms? Retrieved on July 29, 2009 from http://psyc. queensu. ca/ccbr/Vol4/Hampton.pdf. Kornell, Nate (2009, February). Metacognition in Humans and Animals.
Retrieved on July 29, 2009 from http://www3. interscience. wiley. com/cgi-bin/fulltext/122212734/HTMLSTART Lippmann, K. , Danielsson, A. & Linder, C. (2005, August). Metacognition in the student Laboratory : Is increased metacognition necessarily better? Retrieved July 29, 2009 from http://www. anst. uu. se/rekun676/meta. pdf Loh, A (2009, July). Using Metacognition Learning to Make Children Smarter. Retrieved on July 29, 209 from http://www. brainy-child. com/articles/metacognition-learning.shtml Mevarech Z. & Kramarski, B. ( 2003).
Mathematical Modeling and Meta-cognitive Instruction. Retrieved on July 29, 2009 from http://www. icme-organisers. dk/tsg18/S32MevarechKramarski. pdf Metacognition 12 Mevarech, Z. & Kramarski, B. (2003). Metacognitive Questioning and the use of Worked Examples. Retrieved July 29, 2009 from http://www. memory-key. com/StudySkills/IMPROVE. htm Peirce, W (2004, November). METACOGNITION: Study Strategies, Monitoring, and Motivation. Retrieved on July 29, 2009, from http://academic. pgcc. edu/~wpeirce/MCCCTR/metacognition.htm ScienceDaily (2008, August). Young Children’s ‘Theory Of Mind’ Linked To Subsequent Metacognitive Development In Adolescence.
Retrieved on July 29, 2009 from http://www. sciencedaily. com/releases/2008/08/080814154429. htm Serendip (2009). Metacognition. Retrieved July 29, 2009 from http://serendip. brynmawr. edu/exchange/wfrankli/ii09/metacognition Smith, D & Washbum, D. (2005, February). Uncertainty Monitoring and Metacognition by Animals. Retrieved July 29, 2009 from http://www3. interscience. wiley. com/cgi-bin/fulltext/118706297/HTMLSTART
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