Sunday, November 25, 2012

Metacognition and Knowing Where You Are

In my post yesterday I wrote about metacognition and connectedness. I addressed the importance of having a contextual framework for understanding, and how perceiving connections adds to that framework. I want to add something related to those thoughts.

When I teach my undergraduates I encourage them to construct a map of what we've learned over the semester. This is a bit different than an outline and much different than the flash cards they love, in that a map implies movement over connected terrain, not a hierarchy (like an outline) nor definitions ( flash cards). When you have a map you stand a good chance of knowing where you are and where you're going.

We can solve problems all kinds of ways, but knowing where we are at a given juncture helps. This isn't easy. When Renato suggests that I work more on an abstract sculpture I usually have no idea where I am or where I want to go with the work. Personally I have struggled with developing a metacognitive model for what I'm doing there. His class has been so helpful to me because I have begun to find that roadmap. It helps to have a nudge from someone who sees the situation from a different perspective, and who has experience with this kind of problem solving. Renato came to sculpture from a background as a theater director. I came from Planet Biology.

This gets me to think... when we are working on a scientific problem we can find ourselves in a thicket of observations that tend to confuse us about how we want to go forward. Of course you can see there are analogies here to all kinds of problem solving.

I've often considered that I teach my students not facts about biology but how to think critically about abstractions. I realize now how close to the truth that is. It seems to me that the more abstract the concepts we are working with, the more it helps to have a metacognitive roadmap.


  1. Ugh. I think the interwebs just ate my comment. To reiterate (I can use the practice), I was saying how helpful it can be to step back, check something out, and -group fave- ask questions. Learning this process for me has helped me ingest more information and to consider a problem or concept from various angles. I do wonder though if it is necessary to have a metacognitive model when it comes to art. While some artists inevitably have or eventually form a plan or an idea of what they want the outcome to be, isn't some art free-flowing?

  2. This is a crucial skill that I need to develop. Especially when it comes to writing. I usually approach a writing project trying to write an outline, but the process deteriorates into writing the paper! I then abandon my attempt to plan, and have at it haphazardly, writing, rewriting, and figuring out what I am doing and what I am trying to say along the way. It ends up ok in the end - I eventually zero in on a good composition, but it's impossible to know how I ended up there or where I came from.

    I love this concept of a map rather than an outline and I think approaching a planning process with this concept will be really helpful for me. As you point out an outline is hierarchical, but a map demonstrates transitive connectivity which is a much more useful way of conceptualizing.

  3. I really like the concept of the map as a source from outlining and visually seeing one's stance. I like the idea that a map means movement. For me, as a writer before I sit down to write about any given topic I first have to develop not an outline necessarily in its organized, proper format, but a general kind of web that captures the concepts/problems that I want to address and what subcategories fall within those problems/concepts. Using maps in educational contexts are very useful and functional in that it allows one to be creative and not just jot down points/facts..

  4. You guys know me and mapping…love this! In undergrad, I took a mapping course where we sited and mapped everything. The point was to find relationships and connects to solve problems. For example, we mapped all the parks and the bike racks. When looking at the map, we noticed all the bike racks were around the parks, making it hard for people to bike into town and park it/chain it up. Taking mapping to a contextual form is pretty awesome. I really like your comparison of the 3: outline – hierarchy, flash cards – definitions, and maps – progress.