Metacognition and self reflection
Recording a student’s history in narrative form and reflecting on that experience for the purpose of solving problems is, in a way, a form of ethnographic fieldwork that can be used to instruct and guide the student in their development. It allows you to shift the perspective of learning from content to how the content became known. This promotes cognitive flexibility, and the ability to think about more than one concept at once, allowing the individual to move more fluidly from concept to concept. Cognitive flexibility is a skill that is very difficult for many neurologically involved students to master. It is often the cognitive source of many behavioral problems. The PBP enables you to address these issues directly and in a positive way.
I believe that every person has a given amount of energy that they will apply to their environment. I think this energy level is rooted in our biological makeup and it is hard for us to apply much more or even less of this energy, even if we wanted to. Yet what is always at issue is have we put in our full effort? Often we make judgments of other people based on our ability to apply our energy to their situation, but this is an incorrect view. The individual is the only person who can truly accurately assess this kind of internal state accurately. Therefore the ability to assess ourselves and assess the value of what we expel our energy on is critically important, and is often a skill we run away from, a skill that is rarely directly taught. In working with students toward this end I asked several kinds of questions such as: How, and to what, do you apply your energy? How can you be your best? How can you know if you’re being your best? What are you willing to apply your time and energy to become highly skilled at? By answering these kinds of questions I move a student on the path of personal enlightenment by referring them to their history and reflecting on their answers.
Foucault (as cited in Rabinow & Sullivan,1987) felt that there were three types of reflection, and I am inclined to agree with him. The first type of reflection sees the present as belonging to a certain era, distinct from any others. This is akin to what is commonly thought of as history in the academic sense. The second form of reflection can be questioned and used to predict events to come. This could be thought of as scientific reflection because of its predictive nature. His third type of reflection refers to a kind of analysis that detects a transition towards the dawning of a new world. This type of reflection is metahistorical in nature and also requires active participation of the reflector. Through my work with PBP I believe I have enabled students to comprehend all three types of reflection by having them metacognitively contemplate their own past. However, I also wonder if there are other forms of reflection yet to be expressed because in this context the student’s history becomes a tool to identify various types of reflection, a starting point in a creative process. From this perspective goal setting becomes a form of metahistory, where a student reaches into the past and projects themselves into the future.
Burbules and Phillips, (2000) in Postpositivism and Educational Research described the idea that you see only what you are of the understanding to see as our ‘theory laden perception of reality’. As an educator I am very interested in how understanding develops into a form of perception and vice versa. Our past experiences, for a multitude of reasons, are fundamental to our development of meaning. But as was illustrated by Smith (2008) in his introduction to Grief and a Headhunter’s Rage, the problem of meaning resides in how one lives one’s understandings of their beliefs. In my life I have worked with some very behaviorally out of control children, however, contrary to popular belief, I’ve never met a student who completely disregarded morality. To the contrary, I have found that the most difficult behavioral students have the greatest sensitivity to injustice and unfairness. At the same time these individuals seem incapable of perceiving the injustice of their own actions, and unfairness of their own behavior. However, through the creation of these narratives in their PBP, students become empowered to become a better version of the person they are and want to become.
Developing a Personal Business Plan (PBP)
Using the PBP model the student is brought into a process of setting goals and organizing a plan of action to achieve these goals. Students are introduced to Wholistic Problem Solving as a way to examine their learning, goal setting, organization and achievement. Through this process a theory of mind and an individualized problem solving technique can be developed and utilized to address problems across a wide variety of situations. This careful record of the student’s successes and failures over time serves to help them begin to realize personal patterns in their problem solving that are indicative of their learning style. Over time this knowledge is made real and practical as the student achieves their goals.
By turning the problem solving process back upon itself students learn more than just how to approach a problem, they learn how their brain functions in relation to the process of problem solving. This enables them to approach their own thinking in a self aware and practical way. They learn to both identify and balance their individual strengths and weaknesses. It is through this process of coming to comprehend their neurologically based disability that the self defeating and mal-adaptive behaviors, that are truly the disabling parts of these disorders, can be addressed, interpreted and ameliorated.
As problems occur, or are discovered, they are placed on the student’s Personal Business Plan. Over time their PBP becomes a historical record of the students past difficulties and triumphs. At this point the document can be analyzed and reflected upon metacognitively. The process its self creates a story about the student that illustrates their success and how they achieved it. With this narrative a student can begin to learn how to use their understanding of their own history to guide them through problems and identify metahistorical problems and patterns that they may not have been aware of otherwise. For example, long term trends, subtle repetitions of self defeating behavior or reoccurring excuse patterns become apparent and can be highlighted by the teacher. For some students, their disability is such that it is almost impossible for them to comprehend their own history at this level without the memory scaffolding this document allows. With it, the student can begin to see their history as a stream of cause-and-effect relationships they have control over, rather than a series of unconnected episodes and events rot on them by a hostile outside world. By further inserting a metacognitive problem solving focus to this historical understanding of self, students can become aware of their own personal pitfalls and discover the strategies that work best for them to avoid these pitfalls.
My primary purpose for entering doctoral study is to develop and research the educational routine that I have dubbed Wholistic Problem Solving. One of the primary components of Wholistic Problem Solving is the creation of a document called the Personal Business Plan (PBP). The PBP was originally an expansion of the Collaborative Problem-Solving behavior intervention developed by Ross Greene (2006). However, I have come to realize that my extension of this model helps to conceptualize an individual student’s personal history in such a way that it enables something profound to occur. These plans enable an educator to build a student’s metacognitive command of their learning and how they use that learning to project themselves into the future. Through these plans students conceptualize themselves metahistorically. This is done by setting, organizing and achieving goals, be they behavioral, academic or personal. This metahistorical understanding gives students the confidence, awareness and planning tools necessary to create a future they may not have previously believed possible.
The Personal Business Plan came as an outgrowth of an activity that I had been doing in my .4 special education classroom in the public school to foster personal growth. Early on in my career, working with students suffering from learning, emotional and behavioral difficulties I realized that these students struggled to understand and conceptualize the value of goal setting behaviors. They often had difficulties with executive function, attention, organization, and mentalizing the basic conceptual framework needed to achieve goals.
Goal setting is a major part of any behavioral intervention. All behavior plans start out with a goal. The weakness of many of these programs is that the goal is often not a goal that the student values, but is rather a goal imposed on them. It bears to mentioning that this is a major problem with the academic goals we place on students also. Ross Green addressed this weakness of behavior modification through his Collaborative Problem Solving model. In this model, the teacher, or therapist, identifies problem behavior with the student, and together the two work to develop strategies to overcome the problem. This was very similar to the goal setting program I was using to promote planning, organization and academic success in my classroom with a few key difference. First, he was modifying behavior and I was trying to address broader problems of a personal and academic nature. Second, in my classic dyslexic fashion, the intervention I used was conversational and required minimal writing. In contrast the Collaborative Problem Solving model, like most behavior plans was a data intensive task.
Over the years, the demand for data in the course of behavior modification has become exhausting. I am not a fan of, nor particularly good, at the type of data collection that fell into vogue with the rise of the Applied Behavior Analysis (Richman,2001) model in my field. However, with Ross Greene’s model I saw a way that I could incorporate both what I was doing academically and organizationally with what I was doing behaviorally, bringing all three into one streamlined process, but the difficulty was data collection. The open ended nature of the intervention did not lend its self to easy statistical data collection techniques like recording scores, check marks or percentages. Honestly, at the time I was not really sure what the important data was going to be so I just started recording everything right there with the student. Because of the behavioral nature of my students, some refused to allow me to simply take notes on our meetings, they needed to have a say in what I was writing about them. At first it was because they wanted to make sure their negative behavior was being recorded in the best possible light, but overtime I found that I was the one arguing with them about the negative ways they phrased and perceived the events in their lives. This back and forth exchange lead to the crafting of a positively focused record of their lives as they strove to achieve the goals of everyday life in middle school.
I know it has been a while, and I have not posted anything, but I simultaneously began my doctoral work and started a new job. A truly overwhelming combination. Now that the holiday is over and we are in the new year I am going to making a Resolution to be more consistent about sharing what I am doing online, because I am doing so many exciting things and I really would like to develop an online community around the use of metacognaive teaching strategies and promoting metacognative understanding. I truly believe that a metacognition can be used elevate the understanding and productivity of students with neurological disabilities. I have seen it in my students and I have seen it in myself. My post doctoral work at Lesley University is dedicated to this subject and I hope to spark a broader conversation about the point and intent of education in America.
So along with my usual posts about workshops, metacognative tutoring and therapeutic skateboarding expect more posts about research on learning, problem solving and metacognition. Thank you all for you continued support!