Parents and educators of children with disabilities know that every child is unique in their response to challenges. Even two children from the same family with the same disability can behave very differently. Understanding how children develop thinking and learning skills early in life can help to better understand your individual child.
During the early days of educational institutions, children had to learn facts by rote and repetition certainly does cement facts into people’s minds, but learning to learn is important for understand concepts.
Fortunately, educators have become a lot better at understanding how we learn. Even as far back as the 1970s, researchers were looking at cognitive development. In 1997, J. Flavell published a report in the journal American Psychologist, which discussed Metacognition and Cognitive Monitoring. Metacognition is a term which describes a person’s own awareness of, and consideration of, their cognitive processes and their thinking strategies. Humans are unique in that they cannot just “think and know”, but that they are aware of, and able to think about, the way that they think and know.
This ability is something that we can use to foster knowledge development in children by firstly challenging their assumptions and their unconscious learning, and then getting them to think about how to approach learning. To foster independent learners, we should teach children to ask the following:
- What problem do I need to solve?
- What do I need to do to solve the problem?
- How well am I solving the problem right now?
- Is my strategy going according to plan?
- What do I need to change to make things go more smoothly?
- How can I test whether what I did has worked?
These are just a few examples of questions to cover planning, monitoring, revising and testing. There are other questions. The journalistic approach of “Who, what, when, where and why” is a good starting point. The trick is to use the child’s inquisitive mind, and get them thinking. Teach them to trust, but verify, and teach them to examine statements that they read are they authoritative, or ‘truthy’? Is there a way to confirm the source, or test the assertion?
Metacognitive awareness is something that most children do have, but not all children are able to display it quickly. There is strong evidence to suggest that children with high IQs tend to be slower at presenting their metacognitive awareness and even displaying creativity but, if they are given time to solve a problem, they will demonstrate more insight, and greater success. This is something that J Freeman discussed in his book “Gifted Children Growing Up”, which was published in 1991. They will also vary in how well they learn from experience. Some children shut down if they feel they have ‘failed’, others are more likely to revisit the problem and try again. Neither strategy shows a lack of ability they tend to be a response to how the child has been taught before, which highlights the importance of a solid, nurturing education.