2 – Knowing About Thinking


Hi! This is Dr. Patrick Cunningham, Associate Professor of Mechanical
Engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Welcome back to the Skillful Learning series on metacognition. Recall that metacognition is the knowledge and regulation of our
own thinking processes. In this video, Knowing About Thinking, we will focus on how we think
about ourselves, learning tasks, and strategies for learning, that is, metacognitive knowledge. To get started let’s consider the stories
of two students. The first student, Joe, is overwhelmed at school. He looks around
at the other students and wonders if he belongs here. It seems to him that things just come easier to them. On the latest exam
he got back he was right at the average, which was good for him. Joe doesn’t understand why he isn’t doing better. He studies a lot,
even more than many of his friends. He only averages four to five hours of sleep a night
as he works late into the night. It is frustrating for him when he sees his friends do better than he does
on exams. He thinks the others are just smarter than he is. Joe primarily uses worked example problems as he studies
for homework and exams. He prefers having the professor work as many examples
as possible in class. As he works homework or practice exam problems Joe searches to find the most similar example to guide him. The more
examples he sees the more confident he feels that he knows the material. Clearly Joe is a hardworking and dedicated student
who wants to do well, yet he is struggling. He often thinks, “I know this stuff I just can’t show it
on the quizzes and exams!” Before we examine his approaches to learning in more detail,
let’s meet the second student, Sue. Sue is doing well grade wise. She is an A-B student, and many of her peers
look up to her, but she is also overwhelmed. She often feels that there isn’t enough time to get all her work done.
She averages about five to six hours of sleep a night. She starts the homework the day it is assigned and keeps at it until it is done.
She primarily works alone referring to examples off and on, but she tries not to. Sometimes she even wrestles with a problem
for a couple of days. In these cases she does go and ask the professor or TA for help. If given
enough time she is sure she can figure it out on her own. Sue also rereads her notes each evening before getting back into the
homework. The more she reviews her notes, the more confident she feels. Sue feels she knows the material when she’s able to work a problem
without looking at an example or other support materials. Sue is also a hardworking and dedicated student,
but while she is performing well, she can’t help but think that there’s got to be more to life than just studying. Now let’s consider what Joe and Sue’s approaches to learning
reveal about their metacognitive knowledge. Joe seems to exhibit what we call a fixed mindset, that is, the belief that
we are born good at things and can’t get better at them. This is often accompanied by the belief that learning should feel easy. We can
hear it in his comparisons to his peers whom he feels inferior to. He doesn’t realize that he can do better. It will take focus, effort,
and persistence, but he can do it. And with better learning strategies, Joe could even spend less time studying. Sue on the other hand exhibits what we call a growth mindset, that is,
the belief that our mental abilities are malleable, that we can get smarter and become proficient with things
that at first feel hard. You can see this in her tenacious and self-reliant approach to her homework
and her confidence in being able to figure things out on her own. Research supports a growth mindset. We can grow our intelligence with
intentional effort and practice over time. Joe and Sue don’t realize it but their lack of sleep is inhibiting their learning. Getting more sleep will help them to remember more and to be more
prepared to assimilate new information the next day. Researchers recommend that we get seven and a half
to nine hours of sleep each night. While this might seem impractical or even a little crazy hear me out. During the final two hours of sleep, the brain files away important memories
from the previous day into long-term memory and clears the way for new learning. But this only happens if you sleep
long enough. It takes five to six hours to get your brain to this point. Joe and Sue need to make some hard decisions, especially to stop working
late into the night, so that they can get enough sleep. Becoming smarter isn’t just a matter of studying more. Our minds need sleep! In order to make more time for sleep Joe and Sue need to make
their available study time more effective. Both Sue and Joe are relying on study habits that they have learned
and reinforced up to this point. It is a hard fact for us all that we do what is familiar and comfortable whether or not it is the
most effective and efficient approach. This is even more of a problem when we are stressed.
Joe relies on worked example problems. He uses them as he solves new problems and reads through
them thinking this will improve his own problem-solving ability. The issue with this is that it sets up an illusion of comprehension, that is, confusing familiarity with the problems with his understanding
of how to solve them. Joe hasn’t actually solved problems on his own. He mistakes the ease of reading a solution or seeing the professor
work a problem for his ability to do the same. Sue avoids this confusion by moving beyond the example problems. She pushes
herself to work problems without the support of notes or examples. This is a more accurate test of her abilities. However, Sue’s extreme tenacity
struggling with problems on her own is not very efficient. It could be better for her to seek help sooner. For example, if she recognizes that she has spent half an hour
working on a problem without making progress, it is appropriate to stop, to take a break, to work on something else,
or ask someone for help. Yes, she should still strive to work problems on her own, but she can be
more efficient getting to that point. Sue can also improve her efficiency by replacing her multiple re-readings
of her notes with short recalls followed by reviews, that is, she could recall key points from her notes without looking
for one to two minutes, then review her notes for a few more minutes to reinforce and refine her list. Research shows that such recall practice
is several times more effective than re-reading alone. In either case, Joe and Sue’s study habits are what they have relied on to get
to this point and they’ve experienced some degree of success with them, but if they are to become more skillful and successful learners
they will have to push beyond these habits. This takes an initial investment of effort, but the effort does pay off! Sue and Joe’s context is a problem-solving course, so the learning tasks
are homework problems, exams, and possibly quizzes. As you might expect the cognitive, or information processing, demands
of a problem-solving course will be different than the cognitive demands of another type of course, for example, a lab based course,
a project course, or writing intensive course. In the case of a problem-solving course you need to be able to remember
concepts, like conservation of energy, when to use those concepts, such as deciding whether to apply conservation of linear momentum
or conservation of energy, and remembering how to correctly apply the concept, that is, the solution
process using the specific concept. In contrast, lab based courses require knowing how to carry out specific lab
procedures, looking for patterns in data, and formulating and communicating interpretations of the results. Understanding the cognitive demands of a learning task is important
so that you can plan to complete it. Comparing what a learning task requires with your abilities to do those things
will help you select appropriate strategies and allot sufficient time for it. There are three main categories of learning strategy: rehearsal, elaboration,
and organization. Sue’s re-reading notes is a form of rehearsal, that is, repetition of the material to try to get it to stick in your memory.
However, it isn’t as effective or efficient as recall and review. The recall requires more mental effort than re-reading does
and is more beneficial to memory. Here’s the key point. Learning something requires actively engaging with it. The more you do mentally with an idea or concept,
the more memorable it becomes to you. Elaboration and organization strategies
enhance your engagement with material. Elaboration involves exploring the space around an idea, for example,
connecting to things you already know. Elaboration involves methods such as applying a concept to a new
situation, developing meaningful analogies, comparing and contrasting with another idea,
or summarizing a concept in your own words. Organization strategies involve exploring the relationships between ideas. There are many variations within these categories of learning strategies
so that you can tailor them to your learning task and your personal preferences. For example, you can elaborate verbally,
graphically, or in written form. To elaborate a particular concept for problem solving, Joe and Sue
could choose to explain its application to a real system to one another. They could also draw diagrams to show how they would apply
the concept or write out their explanations. Regardless of how you rehearse, elaborate, or organize ideas and concepts,
the important thing is that you actively engage processing them. Further, the more strategies you know and use, the more you will remember
and the better you will be able to navigate challenging learning situations – being able to see things from different perspectives and to get unstuck. In summary, we can get smarter, but it requires working differently.
We can’t do it by just doing what is familiar and comfortable. We need to honestly examine our approaches to learning,
expand our repertoire of learning strategies, and actively engage with the ideas and concepts we are trying to learn. Thank you for your attention. I hope this video helps you expand
your learning strategies!

1 Comment

  1. C J

    September 17, 2019 at 9:06 pm

    joe and sue are stupid

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