Metacognition, that is the awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes, is a subject of great interest to me. I am particularly interested in the development of independent thinking skills in children, and what strategies educators can implement to encourage exploration from the early years. This week I attended an insightful lecture at the School of Education, Durham University. Professor Wolfgang Schneider from the Institute of Psychology, University of Würzburg, presented on the topic of ‘Metacognition in Childhood and Adolescence: Developmental Trends and Educational Implications’. The lecture reviewed the results of various studies including the Theory of Mind and Metamemory. Studies showed that memory increases with age, particularly post pre-school settings (nursery), and younger children overestimate their ability more than school aged children. For me, this represents an opportunity to develop a child’s confidence in their own learning and judgement from an early age.
In the pre-school age, often of greater innocence and self-belief, educators have the ability to encourage significant development in a child’s thinking, and instil strategies for effective learning and memory. Observing a child’s development is fascinating and it was no surprise to hear Professor Schneider discussing results which showed that older students exhibited a greater knowledge of, and tendency to use self-testing strategies to monitor how well they have learned (Dufresne and Kobasigawa 1989). A study of children aged 5, 6 and 7 highlighted higher confidence judgements where children answered a question correctly, compared to incorrect answers which had lower confidence judgments. No difference in judgement was recorded by age (Lockl and Schneider, 2003). This suggests robust metacognitive monitoring skills in children from as early as 5 years old. A confidence judgement refers to an individuals’ assessment of their certainty, in the accuracy of the information which they have reported.
Other interesting results discussed were based on a monitoring-control study (Koriat and Goldsmith, 1996). A sort-recall task was explored where children were given random words with pictures and tasked with ordering these. The importance of semantics and sentence development was highlighted in this task. Studies showed an increase in organizational sorting skills with age. Finally, PISA was discussed, that is The Programme for International Student Assessment, a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The discussion was in the context of global metacognitive knowledge in relation to prediction of reading comprehension, and students use of strategy (Artelt and Schneider, 2015).
In conclusion key points summarised by Professor Schneider include the tenet that early theory-of-mind predicts later meta-cognitive knowledge. An example given was the impact of early empathy skills upon mental knowledge in later life. For me this is a key finding and particularly points to the need for early years emotional awareness teaching. Another conclusion was that monitoring abilities and self-regulation of learning strategies are evident in younger children. Even though these skills develop with age, I think this points to the greater attention we should be paying to developing subjective wellbeing assessments for young children. For results focused educators, an interesting conclusion was around how metacognition affects academic performance in school, for example the PISA study which highlighted the impact of metacognitive knowledge in 15 year olds, as a prediction of reading comprehension. It was highlighted that there is a lack of comparative metacognition studies in children with and without special educational needs, although some references were made to studies which included autism.
Finally, I spoke with Professor Schneider about The Wellbeing Alphabet™, and asked for his thoughts on teaching emotional literacy through the alphabet approach. He said that this sounds like a new approach (I explained that it is!). Professor Schneider commented that a) young children have the ability to assess their own wellbeing; and b) an alphabet based approach to teaching emotional wellbeing to young children, which incorporates memory recall, sounds like a logical approach which should work.
For me there is still a need for further development of educational strategies which support younger children with memory, learning and self-regulation. I am particularly interested in approaches within an emotional wellbeing context given the importance of mental wellbeing to long term life outcomes and academic attainment. Research and evidence is of course valuable, but we must not forget the views of children, taking into account learning and memory approaches which children enjoy and understand. There are many variables in children, not just special educational needs, but also cultural, emotional, social and behavioural. I hope to see more approaches which are adaptable according to a child’s individual learning preferences and memory skills.