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Thread: Metacognition and Curriculum

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    Metacognition and Curriculum

    It occurred to me today that despite having attended multiple schools at every education level and attending both private and public institutions that at no point was metacognition ever taught explicitly. For those unfamiliar with the term metacognition is essentially thinking about thinking or more plainly reflecting on past actions and behavior and then taking steps to make future behavior and actions better in some way, whether that be being a better citizen or friend or worker; it is a skill and practice applicable in any activity. As an example, and one many people face, say that someone is unhappy with their social status and activity. Realizing this the person would take actions to change that so that their happiness regarding that situation were better, and doing so in an evolutionary manner until happiness was achieved.

    With the skill's utility in all areas in mind, why are skills relating to metacognition not heavily emphasized? Regardless of a person's age or status they are immediately useful. Implicitly these skills are taught at conferences or through self-help books or philosophy or through some religious rituals and texts, but never explicitly so that I can think of. And it is not as though these skills are easily or quickly acquired. They require constant practice and effort to improve upon.

    A comparable activity that has similar traits would be reading comprehension or learning and maintaining competence in another language. Personally, I think without having developed metacognition skills I would likely have just bumped along following tradition and communal memes forever, never questioning my behavior in life, merely accepting things as I had always perceived them to be and being much worse off as a person for having done so.
    Last edited by MI Redeux; November 27th, 2012 at 09:10 AM.

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    Re: Metaognition and Curriculum

    Go to the Philo department, that's where the classes on thinking are. Philo 110 and 120 were Critical Thinking and Logic, two of the most important classes I took when I went back to school.

    Also, I completely agree about learning another language.

  3. #3

    Re: Metaognition and Curriculum

    Quote Originally Posted by MI Redeux View Post
    It occurred to me today that despite having attended multiple schools at every education level and attending both private and public institutions that at no point was metacognition ever taught explicitly. For those unfamiliar with the term metacognition is essentially thinking about thinking or more plainly reflecting on past actions and behavior and then taking steps to make future behavior and actions better in some way, whether that be being a better citizen or friend or worker; it is a skill and practice applicable in any activity. As an example, and one many people face, say that someone is unhappy with their social status and activity. Realizing this the person would take actions to change that so that their happiness regarding that situation were better, and doing so in an evolutionary manner until happiness was achieved.

    With the skill's utility in all areas in mind, why are skills relating to metacognition not heavily emphasized? Regardless of a person's age or status they are immediately useful. Implicitly these skills are taught at conferences or through self-help books or philosophy or through some religious rituals and texts, but never explicitly so that I can think of. And it is not as though these skills are easily or quickly acquired. They require constant practice and effort to improve upon.

    A comparable activity that has similar traits would be reading comprehension or learning and maintaining competence in another language. Personally, I think without having developed metacognition skills I would likely have just bumped along following tradition and communal memes forever, never questioning my behavior in life, merely accepting things as I had always perceived them to be and being much worse off as a person for having done so.
    They also don't teach common sense or breathing. You should now stroke the side of your head with both hands covered in Vaseline since you seem to like mental masturbation.

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    Re: Metaognition and Curriculum

    Mental masturbation is epic. Let's just say, Tantric orgasms are difficult to beat.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jonas View Post
    Mental masturbation is epic. Let's just say, Tantric orgasms are difficult to beat.
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    Re: Metaognition and Curriculum

    I've only managed to "pull it off" twice in my life, but seriously epic orgasm.

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    Re: Metaognition and Curriculum

    In a more serious note,

    This, in a nutshell, is the problem I have with the vast majority of students (both my peers when I was in undergrad, and my students now).

    Being able to actually think, and understand your own thought process.

    To be able to identify why you did what you did, and learn from that process to inform your thoughts in the future.

    And it's not just the lack of ability to step back from your actions and thoughts to understand them.
    Even more importantly, it is a lack of ability to see the purpose or value in doing so.
    "We live in a society absolutely dependent on science and technology and yet have cleverly arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. That's a clear prescription for disaster."
    -Carl Sagan

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    Re: Metaognition and Curriculum

    It's really true, Zum, learning is a process, and you should always be improving your processes, ESPECIALLY your learning process!

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    Re: Metaognition and Curriculum

    Quote Originally Posted by DmitrytheWizzy View Post
    They also don't teach common sense or breathing. You should now stroke the side of your head with both hands covered in Vaseline since you seem to like mental masturbation.
    Maybe they should teach common sense and breathing. Universities haven't emphasized common sense in years and our sciences are paying the price for it.
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    Re: Metaognition and Curriculum

    While instruction regarding common sense and metacognition are essential skills, teaching them when most students are 17+ years of age would be a time when learning those skills would be far past due. Returning to Jonas' statements regarding intro philosophy courses that would at least implicitly teach metacognition, I think those reasonably could be taught at a very young age. There's nothing inherent in their material that requires any prerequisites other than a pulse and work, and that material is useful for everyone, making it great material for grade school.

    And while common sense may be common, it is not commonly used and just because something is common sense does not entail that it is actually true. For instance, it was common sense that the earth was flat and that the earth was the center of the universe at one point. If people did not question those factoids due to them being common sense those falsehoods would have perpetuated. I would argue that common sense is the most dangerous type of knowledge in cultural due to how persuasive appeals to it are for furthering other agendas. Perhaps it is common sense among a community that blacks are all thugs and that hispanics are all lazy illegals allowing for people to use those common sense facts for the purpose of furthering segregation and discriminating against foreigners.
    Last edited by MI Redeux; November 28th, 2012 at 04:30 AM.

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    Re: Metaognition and Curriculum

    Quote Originally Posted by MI Redeux View Post
    While instruction regarding common sense and metacognition are essential skills, teaching them when most students are 17+ years of age would be a time when learning those skills would be far past due. Returning to Jonas' statements regarding intro philosophy courses that would at least implicitly teach metacognition, I think those reasonably could be taught at a very young age. There's nothing inherent in their material that requires any prerequisites other than a pulse and work, and that material is useful for everyone, making it great material for grade school.

    Agreed. One of the few reasons I'm moderately successful in my life can be directly attributed to metacognition.

    I have . . . extreme ADHD, like top tenth of 1% of diagnosed cases, extreme.

    Like all things, ADHD is a set of advantages and disadvantages, but my ADHD is so extreme that until I got a handle on it, the disadvantages FAR outweighed the advantages.

    I was essentially worthless in school/education/etc. Getting a handle on it was part medication (go go Ritalin!), but mainly examining my thought processes and mind-states, and evaluating what tools and techniques worked for me, and which didn't. Examining how I could adapt my work spaces to be more conducive to my working, and which study and life techniques actually work for me.

    Many of these tools and techniques I figured out before I was 10, because I had to, just to get through the day. But also because, once you start thinking about your thought processes, you can realize what a powerful tool that ability is.

    Formal "Metacognition classes" are significantly less useful then being taught, as a small child, to understand why you did what you did, and actually learn something from it.
    "We live in a society absolutely dependent on science and technology and yet have cleverly arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. That's a clear prescription for disaster."
    -Carl Sagan

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    Re: Metaognition and Curriculum

    According to Aristotle in Nichomachean Ethics, it's totally pointless to teach Philosophy to anyone under 30. They're too stupid to get it.

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    Re: Metaognition and Curriculum

    I note that, 12 posts in, we've agreed that these techniques are great but have not really discussed them concretely. A lot of us who aren't great at metacognition simply assume that those who can do it, do it, and that in a way they are superior human beings, pre-determined at birth to succeed because of their superior self control.

    So, how can we counter that perception?
    "Mathematicians stand on each other's shoulders while computer scientists stand on each other's toes." -- Richard Hamming

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    Re: Metaognition and Curriculum

    They are simply techniques one can use to improve the algorithms or processes used in various situations to accomplish some task or behavior. I don't think there is anything magical about the techniques or somehow encoded in a person's DNA and predestines them to be iteratively better than their previous self. The popularity of GTD (getting things done) literature and talks and other pop culture fads such as hot yoga imply a certain degree of ignorance among the population on metacognitive methods and the aforementioned literature only implicitly informs someone how to go about developing their own methods.

    I think if I were to design some sort of course around informing people of such algorithms in a concrete way it would combine some information from microeconomics (the concept of utility, opportunity costs, variable costs, and sunk costs), business planning (adapting that to planning accomplishing some task/goal), formal logic, and abstract calculus (concept of infinity, change, optimization not actually using it to solve physics problems or something like that), along with some sort of meditation/quiet time habit. Perhaps some thought experiments would be useful if they were adapted to a more obvious setting. Perhaps combining a crash course introduction to formal logic then immediately using that to show why someone's behavior will not result in the outcome they hope for so that someone can realize when their own behaviors won't work and possibly when social relationships are toxic. A direct application of such things that is widely useful would be dieting and fitness, recognizing when behaviors are not resulting in positive outcomes and a necessity to find a solution to it using reliable information sources.

    Perhaps an auxiliary course would be on basic life skills like identifying reliable information sources, financial planning, and health. Those are all taught in an array of classes but not used widely. I imagine we all took a health course at some point yet people still follow Dr. Oz for health and fitness instead of peer reviewed information.

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    Re: Metaognition and Curriculum

    Quote Originally Posted by QuelianSpyralshot View Post
    Maybe they should teach common sense and breathing. Universities haven't emphasized common sense in years and our sciences are paying the price for it.
    /insert Thomas Paine quote.

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    Re: Metaognition and Curriculum

    Quote Originally Posted by Sehra View Post
    I note that, 12 posts in, we've agreed that these techniques are great but have not really discussed them concretely. A lot of us who aren't great at metacognition simply assume that those who can do it, do it, and that in a way they are superior human beings, pre-determined at birth to succeed because of their superior self control.

    So, how can we counter that perception?
    Aristotle pointed out that if one person is capable of doing a thing, whether by inborn talents or not, then any other person is also capable of doing the same thing. A set of actions are just that, if anyone can do it, then you can too. It might take a lot of work, and you might not be able to do it as well, but if a thing is known by one, then it can by known by another.

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    Re: Metaognition and Curriculum

    Quote Originally Posted by Jonas View Post
    Aristotle pointed out that if one person is capable of doing a thing, whether by inborn talents or not, then any other person is also capable of doing the same thing. A set of actions are just that, if anyone can do it, then you can too. It might take a lot of work, and you might not be able to do it as well, but if a thing is known by one, then it can by known by another.
    Nah, that isn't always true --- time plays a factor. For instance, it's too late for *me* to quote Aristotle twice in this thread before post 17.
    Last edited by Sehra; November 28th, 2012 at 05:27 PM.
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    Re: Metacognition and Curriculum

    Like I said, didn't say it would be easy, but the logic is sound. If a person is capable of doing a thing, then any person is capable of doing that thing. They might be too old, they might be too young, they might not be smart enough, or they might be too smart, they might not be good at it, but none of those things are relevant to the core point.

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    Re: Metaognition and Curriculum

    Quote Originally Posted by Sehra View Post
    I note that, 12 posts in, we've agreed that these techniques are great but have not really discussed them concretely. A lot of us who aren't great at metacognition simply assume that those who can do it, do it, and that in a way they are superior human beings, pre-determined at birth to succeed because of their superior self control.

    So, how can we counter that perception?
    /shrug, I always ask my students "why"? It's the asking of the question, and the reason and emotional baggage associated with the way the question is asked that's important.

    You have to ask yourself "why did I do that?". Not in a 'WTF was I thinking' way, nor in a 'that was stupid' way, but in a honest quest for the answer.

    You have to ask yourself the question in a very non-judgemental way of yourself, otherwise you will blind yourself to the real reasons.

    That sounds easy, but it's actually hella hard, and takes non-stop practice, at least from my experience. I still find myself slipping up occasionally.


    Asking yourself "why?", without bias, and without judgement. And keep asking yourself "why?" until you reach "I don't know".

    The point of "I don't know" is a powerful one, once you realize that, and realize that real understanding comes from being able to ADMIT that you don't know, and then trying to figure it out, is where the real value lies IMO>
    "We live in a society absolutely dependent on science and technology and yet have cleverly arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. That's a clear prescription for disaster."
    -Carl Sagan

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    Re: Metaognition and Curriculum

    Quote Originally Posted by Zumino Zufeilon View Post
    /shrug, I always ask my students "why"? It's the asking of the question, and the reason and emotional baggage associated with the way the question is asked that's important.

    You have to ask yourself "why did I do that?". Not in a 'WTF was I thinking' way, nor in a 'that was stupid' way, but in a honest quest for the answer.

    You have to ask yourself the question in a very non-judgemental way of yourself, otherwise you will blind yourself to the real reasons.

    That sounds easy, but it's actually hella hard, and takes non-stop practice, at least from my experience. I still find myself slipping up occasionally.


    Asking yourself "why?", without bias, and without judgement. And keep asking yourself "why?" until you reach "I don't know".

    The point of "I don't know" is a powerful one, once you realize that, and realize that real understanding comes from being able to ADMIT that you don't know, and then trying to figure it out, is where the real value lies IMO>
    Possibly the best post on Graffe's this year.
    "Mathematicians stand on each other's shoulders while computer scientists stand on each other's toes." -- Richard Hamming

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