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Archive for November, 2013

Metasynthesis

This module is coming to an end. Its been quite a journey, after I wrote my initial piece on metacognition I was worried that I had jumped the gun and would have little else to write in this subject. How wrong I was.

I’d like to start with a brief overview of everything I’ve written about and how it all ties together to make a nice little package of interacting cognitive processes before I go on to talk about where this can all lead.

My first blog started with the basics: Metacognition and rational thought. Metacognition is the ability to think about thinking and know about knowing. This makes us more rational as we can control our thoughts and make them more organised and coherent, leading to higher level planning and evaluative strategies as well as enable logical thought in our minds.

The second blog introduced confidence and how it ties in with these concepts, mainly metacognition. Confidence in your own knowledge leads to an increase in metacognitive awareness, as by being asked “Are you confident in your answer?” leads us to introspect upon our own knowledge for a moment, and truly determine if we know the answer to a question.

After bringing these core concepts to the table, I devoted my third blog to deep-level reasoning and cognitive flexibility, which enable comprehension and integration of information respectively in a learner as they allow us to map out a subject’s inner workings, what it can and cannot accomplish, its limitations and possibilities. Cognitive flexibility allows us to restructure our knowledge, accommodating for multiple viewpoints, whilst deep-level reasoning allows us to explore hypothetical questions and reasoning within a subject, letting us see where its strengths and weaknesses lie, where it contradicts itself or bests another subject.

From herein, I notice that my blogs are getting longer and longer by the post.

Socrates acts as an inspiration in my fourth blog as I investigated both what our education system attempts to draw from us as well as how creativity and critical thinking aid us in our lives. I criticised the over-use of rote memorisation and argued that we teach people skills with which to learn and adapt rather than memorise as this would aid us throughout our life rather than just for education.

I extended my reach for the next blog, investigating new areas that, whilst distant to my main topic, still had a lot of relevance. Creativity, that skill which is so useful when it comes to cognitive flexibility, is affected by both our personality and our happiness. Open and flexible people seem to be more creative, and one study that investigated their correlation also noted a link between happiness and creativity as well. I linked these back to cognitive flexibility, indicating personality elements that help aid our creativity.

I took a focus upon the real world in my sixth blog. After talking about theory for so long, I wanted to look at how we could implement my findings in the classroom and education system. I believe that metacognition acts as an enabler, enhancing skills such as problem solving and aiding critical thinking, allowing these to operate and flow in our minds. I wrote about how metacognitive skills can be taught, showing that small and simple changes in our education system could help nurture its development in the minds of learners. One such change was asking learners their confidence in giving an answer, whilst others were more bold, looking at changing the classroom from today’s standard in order to increase cognitive flexibility and student centered learning.

My last blog deviated again from my main theme, investigating other areas that metacognition can aid aside from just education. The link between happiness and metacognition was a tenuous one from what I had talked about throughout these blogs (happiness leads to creativity which aids cognitive flexibility. This ties in with deep-level reasoning which is a method that can be used to allow metacognitive awareness of our own cognition, helping us “see” a subject and our thoughts surrounding it.), and I wanted to bring them together. I investigated the concept of mindfulness in order to do this, and found that metacognitive awareness seems to allow us several safeguards against mental illnesses such as depression, as well as raising our self-esteem.

Quite a journey. I never thought I would have packed so much content around the same theme into this many blogs. I’ve definitely enjoyed it, but there’s still one final bit to get to. At the end of this, I need some kind of synthesis. Where has all this been leading up to?

I think the answer to that is a change in the education system, or at least certain areas of it. We have so much knowledge about how our minds work and how we learn, but we rarely ever apply these in the education system. Instead, we opt for inefficient methods that are excellent at teaching en masse and creating learners who are taught basic skills such as memorisation and regurgitation of information. The education system holds a vital and important job. It takes young, fresh minds, mouldable and plastic, and shapes them in ways that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Why should we settle for anything below a high standard?

Enough of my rant towards the education system, because I could go on for a long time.

We are aware of deep-level reasoning and cognitive flexibility, as well as metacognition. These three concepts formed the theme and backbone of everything I have spoken about. I think it is around these three core areas that we must make a focus in the education system. Metacognitive awareness, not skill, can be increased by asking people confidence in their questions, we know this much. After this awareness has been developed, training can be applied in order to move a person from being metacognitively aware to mindful, enabling control and regulation of our thoughts. Student centred learning helps enable intrinsic motivation in learners, which makes us want to apply ourselves and want to learn. We can change the education system to reflect and enhance these methods in a person. Change is scary. People encourage the idea that the current system works. What it does is provide a platform for people to pass through, claiming intelligence at the end as they can remember facts. By changing a class’s style we can enable cognitive flexibility, showing learners how to think for themselves, discover knowledge for themselves, and approach subjects and topics in many ways, utilising critical and flexible thoughts to achieve the best possible representation of the subject and its information in their mind, as well as how it links to all of their other knowledge, activating deep-level reasoning in a person rather than just surface level memorisation. Cognitive flexibility, deep-level reasoning, and metacognition are all obtainable skills. How easily we can introduce them into our system may change for each one, but it is a very possible change. Change is scary, but it is also the future. We will need minds that can learn and think for themselves in order to advance ourselves, both personally and as a collective. I believe that the skills of deep-level reasoning, cognitive flexibility, and metacognition are key for us to become true learners, and are ones that should be taught from a young age and throughout a person’s education in order to ensure that they stay with not just a learner but a person throughout their entire life.

So there we have it. This module has definitely been a journey. I feel as though I’ve had my eyes opened to a lot that is wrong with the education system and a lot that could be right with it. The only place to go on from here is forward, we must inform our tutors and teachers of concepts that we have discovered through this class, and encourage them to incorporate them into their modules in order to make our education one that involves a deep level of intrinsic motivation and understanding from us as learners. I truly feel like I’ve learned a lot from this module, as well as for and from myself. I’ve discovered new information, but have also developed opinions and thoughts as well, which have made this module a real experience for me, one which I have certainly enjoyed.

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As I said last week, everything I have been writing about has been interlinked. I wrote that all the concepts I have blogged about all link back to the concepts of metacognition, deep-level reasoning, and critical thinking. I would like to spend this blog strengthening the links between metacognition and happiness, as happiness seems to only be involved in one of the areas I have written about, which is that of creativity.

The first two that I would like to investigate are metacognition and happiness. From my earlier blogs, we understand that happiness is positively correlated with creativity, which helps aid cognitive flexibility as it allows you to see the many different ways to approach a subject. Cognitive flexibility ties in with deep-level reasoning, multiple pathways to a subject help you understand the subject from all of those pathways, understanding exactly how the subject works in different settings and with different limitations and contexts. Deep-level reasoning helps you comprehend information, which, once comprehended, allows you to metacognate upon your own cognition surrounding the subject. Quite a lengthy line leading from happiness all the way to metacognition, but it seems that there’s a lot more connecting the two than just this.

Metacognition within education is a skill and technique that, if used, is one that we must use on our own. As I have said in previous blogs, we cannot teach metacognition directly, it can be influenced within a person, but is ultimately a skill that we must use fluently in our own mind when implementing self-regulated learning. Efklides (2011) wrote that when we are using self-regulated learning we use “metacognitive experiences, such as feeling of difficulty, and online affective states [read as: our emotions] play a major role in task motivation and bottom-up self-regulation”, showing that metacognition and happiness both play a large role in controlling our thinking when we are learning.

Metacognition and our emotions are not just linked together when we are learning however. O’Brien (2013) found that those with a high level of metacognitive ease of thought retrieval or “fluency” could affect their perceived well-being over time, despite the frequency of positive or negative thoughts. Essentially the ease with which we can recall either positive or negative thoughts far outweighs what actually happens in our day-to-day lives. Those who can easily recall positive experiences are more likely to think that they were and are happy. The same applies for negative experiences.

Aside from our ability to recall memories, metacognition also holds a link to our self-esteem. Rezvan, Ahmadi, and Abedi (2006) found that metacognitive training does not simply help increase our academic performance, it also helped increase students’ happiness. This can also be seen in Swason’s study of children’s metacognition and happiness in 1992, as metacognitive training helped increase the self-esteem of children. Swanson highlighted the importance of metacognition in young students as it would help increase both their academic performance as well as their happiness.

I would also like to take some time to steer away from my typical talks on academia and how our learning can be improved in order to make happiness the main focus of this section, rather than metacognition. I would like to talk about satipatthana, or mindfulness. Metacognition is our word for what Buddhists believe to be an ability to be aware of our own self, our feelings, mind, or mental phenomena. An understanding of our thoughts leads to an understanding of our emotions as well it seems. Teasdale wrote in 1999 that metacognitive awareness and experience helps prevent relapse and recurrence in depression, as it allows us to change the content of depression-related thought, changing one’s relationship to inner experiences. He writes that we can facilitate a “metacognitive insight mode” wherein thoughts are experienced “simply as events in the mind”, which helps us to examine thoughts without emotion, (Teasdale et al, 2002) allowing a preventative strategy to depression that also encourages logical and rational thought.

Metacognitive skill has also shown an increase in one’s vulnerability to rumination. Moulds and her associates believe that this can have either a positive or negative effect upon a person, depending upon their beliefs about rumination. Having an awareness of your own thoughts can lead to you spending time contemplating them. If you have negative beliefs about this rumination, you will spend your time over criticising yourself and your thoughts, whereas if you have positive beliefs about it, you will spend time criticising yourself, but only to better yourself. You are aware that your thoughts are both good and bad, and can work to make them better. Indeed, Garland et al (2009) shows implications for clinical practice using a mixture of metacognitive and mindfulness training, showing how it can be used to cope with depression and stress, as well as its use in coping methods. They are not the only researchers investigating this, Scherer-Dickinson (2004) and Hick and Chan (2010) are also investigating mindfulness in depression, alongside many others. Metacognition and happiness are definitely linked in ways other than just through creativity and cognitive flexibility. It enhances our ability to see our thoughts without emotion, allowing us to logically move past mental illnesses such as depression.

We can see from this that metacognition aids mindfulness, which helps us become more happy by giving us an alternative view of life events, preventing depression by seeing events as just that, events, rather than part of our self. We can then change how we approach and recall these events, changing our relationship with them in order to avoid becoming depressed, making it easier to recall positive and negative events within our lives. In the closing words of O’Brien’s study in 2006, he wrote that “Paradoxically, people’s well-being may be maximized when they contemplate some bad moments or just a few good moments.”. Metacognition can help us remember both the good and the bad with equal ease, allowing us to maximise our happiness, making the two far more relevant to each other than simply through the links I have made in previous blogs.

Efklides, A. (2011). Interactions of metacognition with motivation and affect in self-regulated learning: The MASRL model. Educational Psychologist, 46(1), 6-25.
Garland, E., Gaylord, S., & Park, J. (2009). The role of mindfulness in positive reappraisal. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 5(1), 37-44.
Hick, S. F., & Chan, L. (2010). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression: effectiveness and limitations. Social Work in Mental Health, 8(3), 225-237.
Moulds, M. L., Yap, C. S., Kerr, E., Williams, A. D., & Kandris, E. (2010). Metacognitive beliefs increase vulnerability to rumination. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24(3), 351-364.
O’Brien, E. (2013). Easy to Retrieve but Hard to Believe Metacognitive Discounting of the Unpleasantly Possible. Psychological science, 24(6), 844-851.
Rezvan, S., Ahmadi, S. A., & Abedi, M. R. (2006). The effects of metacognitive training on the academic achievement and happiness of Esfahan University conditional students. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 19(4), 415-428.
Scherer-Dickson, N. (2004). Current developments of metacognitive concepts and their clinical implications: mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 17(2), 223-234.
Swanson, H. L. (1992). The relationship between metacognition and problem solving in gifted children. Roeper Review, 15(1), 43-48.
Teasdale, J. D. (1999). Metacognition, mindfulness and the modification of mood disorders. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 6(2), 146-155.
Teasdale, J. D., Moore, R. G., Hayhurst, H., Pope, M., Williams, S., & Segal, Z. V. (2002). Metacognitive awareness and prevention of relapse in depression: empirical evidence. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 70(2), 275.

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As promised in my previous blog, this shall be on the topic of problem solving and creative thinking, how they interact with each other and metacognition. Into this mix, I shall also be talking about how to teach these skills, as well as the ones that support them, which I have been talking about in previous blogs and speeches.

Problem solving is heavily influenced by both metacognition and creative thinking. I shall first discuss metacognition’s influence on problem solving before moving on to creative thinking, and then discuss how to teach these skills to a learner.

Flavell’s original study into metacognition was created because he wanted to see why some people were better at solving puzzles than other people, and he found that those who were metacognitive were better at completing the puzzles. As I said in my first talk, “They could realise that they were trapped in a loop, and so could realise where they were going wrong.”. The reason that they may well have been critical of their own thoughts. A study by Magno in 2010 found that all eight areas of metacognitive skill were significantly related to developing critical thinking. If you can think about your thoughts, it is entirely possible to critique them. Critical thinking is used when we apply skills such as cognitive flexibility, as when we approach a subject from many different styles or understandings, we can weigh up the pros and cons of which approach is most suitable for our needs. This is useful in problem solving, as one can avoid becoming trapped in a loop by being aware of one’s own thoughts, and then one can find another way to approach the puzzle.

Cognitive flexibility is key here. Without metacognition, it would still be possible to approach a puzzle in multiple ways and still solve it. What metacognition does aid however, is creative thinking (Feldhusen, 1995; Feldhusen and Goh, 1995). Metacognition itself can also help aid problem solving (Swanson, 1992), but I believe that it acts as an enabler, allowing a person to control all of their different methods and strategies for problem solving. Cognitive flexibility is improved by accessing nonlinear media, as I have said in previous blogs, as well as by using the Socratic method to teach, as positive hypothesis elimination allows you to determine new ways of accessing information and approaching situations. Happiness, as well as stress reduction, are two other components that help aid creative thinking, as these allow a creative mind to flourish (Pannells and Claxton, 2008), alongside the personality traits of openness and flexibility (Spiro and Jeng, 1990; DeYoung, Peterson, and Higgins, 2005). This creative thinking aids you in being cognitively flexible, especially when approaching puzzles or problems, as it allows you multiple avenues, both tried and tested as well as novel approaches in order to complete your task.

This is a combination of everything I have been writing about over these last blogs, all accumulated here. Everything I have been writing about is interlinked, I do not believe that I have mentioned any single concept without it being linked to the concepts of metacognition, deep-level reasoning, or cognitive flexibility.

The question now, is how do we apply these findings in an education system. I also wish to have some relevance to our current education system, and how these concepts and findings could be implemented within a real world situation. The UK needs a way to teach these skills en masse. I would prefer a world where we can educate each individual through the Socratic method with one-on-one tutoring, however this will simply never happen. I must write and plan for a system that can allow us to teach these key skills to many people at once, as this is the way education is moving.

Metacognitive skills can be taught. Research performed over the past five years at this University (Bangor), has shown that asking a person their confidence in an answer before telling them the answer helps increase metacognitive awareness. Asking them this question allows them to contemplate upon whether or not they truly do know the answer to a question, increasing their awareness of what they both know and do not know. Mood enhancement and stress reduction can also occur through exercise (Berger and Owen, 1988), which are both correlated with creative ideation (Pannells and Claxton, 2008). In these two cases, within the education system, more attention should be focused as to the confidence with which students answer questions. From my own experiences, confidence was only ever measured at a social level in schools, determining whether or not a learner was confident enough to speak up in front of their peers to answer a question etc, yet making sure a learner is confident of their own knowledge will help aid their metacognitive awareness. This can be achieved simply by giving a tick-box with each questions, entitled “How confident are you in your answer?” with “Confident” or “Not confident” as choices.

Aside from helping keep learners healthy, happy, and stress free, classrooms full of movement rather than sitting down and facing the front, or classes regularly broken up by exercise will help keep learners creative and ready to learn by helping maintain brain plasticity (Cotman and Berchtold, 2002). Whilst school children are given time to play between lessons, this is often not used exercising, rather, it is used to socialise. Whilst I am not suggesting that school children should not socialise with each other, I am suggesting that a more rigorous amount of exercise each day for learners would be beneficial in order to reap the benefits. The Berger and Owen study investigated swimming, body conditioning, yoga, and fencing, yet I believe that any form of exercise would work in order to keep these minds happy, stress free, and yielding a high level of plasticity.

As I have said before, deep-level reasoning questions asked between tutors and learners would help create better levels of understanding of a subject. This can be easily achieved by asking more questions of the learners, yet it is difficult to do so in a classroom with 30 pupils and only an hour to teach them a subject. More open-ended questions and essays would help encourage this mode of thought, without such tight guidelines on a learner to learn what the teacher has told them, and to go out and find things out for themselves. This would also aid cognitive flexibility, as it would enable the use of non-linear media in order to learn a subject, rather than just using one textbook, and one teacher. Classrooms where students could discover for themselves and be guided by teachers rather than learn directly from them would enable this.

We are all aware that our education system is in dire need of repair. We are taught the skills of memorisation and regurgitation of information, with the threat of failing our lives if we do not comply. For comments this week, I would like you to discuss with me ways in which we can enable creativity in the education system. I would like you to critique my ideas that I have presented here, you may counter them with proposals of your own if you wish, as I plan to critique your own models, allowing a demonstration of how cognitive flexibility can be used to overcome a problem, which in this case is how to enable these skills and concepts within the education system.

Berger, B. G., & Owen, D. R. (1988). Stress reduction and mood enhancement in four exercise modes: Swimming, body conditioning, hatha yoga, and fencing. Research quarterly for exercise and sport, 59(2), 148-159.

Cotman, C. W., & Berchtold, N. C. (2002). Exercise: a behavioral intervention to enhance brain health and plasticity. Trends in neurosciences, 25(6), 295-301.

DeYoung, C. G., Peterson, J. B., & Higgins, D. M. (2005). Sources of openness/intellect: Cognitive and neuropsychological correlates of the fifth factor of personality. Journal of personality, 73(4), 825-858.

Feldhusen, J. F., & Goh, B. E. (1995). Assessing and accessing creativity: An integrative review of theory, research, and development. Creativity Research Journal, 8(3), 231-247.

Feldhusen, J. F. (1995). Creativity: A knowledge base, metacognitive skills, and personality factors. The Journal of Creative Behavior, 29(4), 255-268.

Flavell, J. H. (1979). Metacognition and cognitive monitoring: A new area of cognitive–developmental inquiry. American psychologist, 34(10), 906.

Magno, C. (2010). The role of metacognitive skills in developing critical thinking. Metacognition and learning, 5(2), 137-156.

Pannells, T. C., & Claxton, A. F. (2008). Happiness, creative ideation, and locus of control. Creativity Research Journal, 20(1), 67-71.

Spiro, R. J., & Jehng, J. C. (1990). Cognitive flexibility and hypertext: Theory and technology for the nonlinear and multidimensional traversal of complex subject matter. Cognition, education, and multimedia: Exploring ideas in high technology, 205.

Swanson, H. L. (1992). The relationship between metacognition and problem solving in gifted children. Roeper Review, 15(1), 43-48.

Weiss, A., Bates, T. C., & Luciano, M. (2008). Happiness Is a Personal (ity) Thing The Genetics of Personality and Well-Being in a Representative Sample. Psychological Science, 19(3), 205-210.

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