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Self learning

Posted By: Daniel Bennett on February 3, 2004
From a simplistic point of view, I think self-learning or self-teaching is the only way we learn. Until an individual takes ownership of material, only the most behavioristic memory recall can possibly be mastered.
Teaching metacognitively, assists students in the self-talk that occurs with successful learners. These routines help students analyze, sequence, interpret, and draw conclusions (among other skills).
That so many teachers do not directly use metacognition or teach students to use it, is hard to believe. An example:
I was working with a group of boys who were "advanced" readers, each fourth grader "read" at a minimum of a sixth grade level. We decided to use a book called "Shipwrecked"--Scholastic publications.
While the students could list the series of events and answer detail questions, they could not infer, make cause-effect connections, or describe in any detail the relationships involved in many of the actions.

I found that their "problem" was that, although they had good recall, they were not "visualizing" while they read. This became obvious when they could not describe relative positions of objects on the ship, or even the basic appearance of the characters. After talking about how I "think" when I read....drawing pictures in my mind and "seeing" the action, the students were "quizzed" about their own mental images. This became the pattern of our discussions. Their rate of reading obviously slowed down, but they became more astute about the cause-effect relationships in the story; their predictions were far more reasonable (and justified), and their enjoyment of the story was heightened.

I share this so that we can see metacognition as something basic to gaining a deeper grasp of "basic skills".

I also am convinced that until we hear students' self-talk regarding solving math problems, we can't fully understand their mathematical knowledge and reasoning. Asking students to explain their thinking publicly helps not only the student and teacher, but offers "scripts" and insights for other students in alternative methods for solving math problems.

If we rely on the "one" algorithm for solving math problems, students will not be able to reason in math; hence word problems and real-life math will continue to be shortcomings for most students. As an example, I use the situation of a store clerk making change in a transaction. Many young adults (and older adults), struggle with making change, especially if you add things like pennies to "round-off" your change. This is because the clerks rely on the register to make change, or don't have reasonable mental model for change-making; one that includes converting amounts to coins. This is overly simplified, but I believe explains why people who can solve algorithms, may not be able to apply them in real situations. Metacognition is a powerful tool in developing math reasoning and problem solving skills. It may be more important than understanding the algorithms involved, since not knowing how to "think" through situations, leaves the learner with few clues for efficient, effective solving of the real purpose of math.

I'd be interested in any feedback, particularly regarding the issue of metacognition and the use of mental models (i.e. graphic or written organizers). There a wealth of these available, but I have found them to be used in such a sequential manner, that their use does little to cause the type of thinking that is generalizable.

Dan Bennett
Bradley Hills Elementary School
Montgomery Co Public Schools
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 Critical Thinking and Life-Long Self-Learning by Bill Ellis on January 15, 2004
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