Live Chat – Mindsets and metacognition #1 – Thursday 3rd May

ModKathryn: Hello everyone! Welcome to tonight’s live chat on mindset and metacognition. We’re due to start at 8pm, feel free to say hello and introduce yourself once you arrive :). My name is Kathryn, I am a PhD student at UCL Institute of Education and I am a moderator for the Learning Zone

Liana: Hi, my name is Liana.  I’m a secondary science teacher in New City, NY, USA

ModKathryn: Welcome Liana! Great for you to join us

Abena: Evening all. Abena (Eng teacher, psych student) joining from Northern Ireland.

ModKathryn: Hi Abena! Welcome

Abena: Thanks @modkathryn – what’s your PhD focused on?

ModKathryn: I am looking at the development of mental imagery – also known as seeing with the minds eye. Looking at the way children create mental images, how they use them and how that relates to other cognitive skills like attention

Anna: Hello, I’m Anna, a PhD student at the University of Surrey.

Abena: @modkathryn Interesting! Hi Anna – what’s your PhD about?

Anna: I’m looking into the precursors of creativity – specifically whether a certain attention type is linked to creativity in children as it (very strongly) is in adults

Patricia: Hi Patricia here. Principal at Fetlar Primary its an island school in Shetland in the UK. I am interested in the impact of learning outdoors on the neural pathways

ModKathryn: @Anna that sounds really interesting – what kind of creativity measures do you use? And which attention type are you looking into?

Abena: Wow. The Shetlands. Must be beautiful and with a very different learning culture from the mainland.

Abena: @Anna – maybe off topic, but have you any links to that? (creativity linked to attention types in adults)

Anna: @Abena This is probably a good start to the topic https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/cambridge-handbook-of-the-neuroscience-of-creativity/attention-and-creativity/BEF1429FEE646E1C5C60A1EFB2FB65F2

David: This all looks very interesting. My name is David and I did my PhD a very long time ago looking at the skills and dispositions that support problem solving in 5-10 year olds. Metacognition turned out to be the strongest predictor!

Anna: @modkathryn – haha! To be honest that was what I was initially supposed to be working on as there just aren’t any terribly good ones for children – but then I got completely hooked on attention and perception and there just isn’t enough time to cover both. However, for now I’m going to use a short form of the Inventory of Creative Activities and Achievements as a measure of creative achievement, and the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking as a measure of Divergent Thinking (not the greatest, I know)

Patricia: Sorry bear with me as a practitioner at the coal face so to speak I’m unfamiliar with the term attention type can you help?

Patricia: I’m very willing to find out how to maximise childrens enjoyment of learning (thereby increasing capacity for learning) by understanding their brain workings

Anna: If you’ll forgive a very broad brush approach – we tend to divide attention up into early and late attention. So late attention tends to be the one you learn to control by developing strong executive function skills

Patricia: So executive function skills are?

Yvonne: Executive function skills are skills which help us to manage ourselves and our time, e.g. being able to pay attention and ignore distractions

Gertzerl17: How universal is having the ability to create mental images?  I have only met one person who said she was unable to form them (an English teacher who hated reading for that reason, oddly)

ModKathryn: @gertzerl17 Great question! The ability to create mental images is actually really hard to measure because it is unobservable and private in nature. There is variability in how often people rely on mental images in their strategies – some use visual imagery more than others to solve problems. There is actually a group of individuals recently termed aphantasics that claim to not be able to create mental images – sounds like your friend may come into this category!

Gertzel17: Do aphantasics dream?

ModKathryn: @gertzel17 thats a very interesting point… I dont actually know. I am assuming they dream but its based on language-like thought rather than visual thought. But I will look into it and send you an email!

*** I have since looked into this and a recent study found that most individuals who report not being able to create mental images, for example when reading a book, still experience involuntary imagery occasionally in dreams and wakefulness, usually in the form of flashes. So it seems that there may be a distinction between voluntary imagery, that you might conjure up when reading a book or planning a route, and involuntary imagery that might appear when you’re asleep or daydreaming. Here is the link to the paper: https://ac-els-cdn-com.libproxy.ucl.ac.uk/S0010945215001781/1-s2.0-S0010945215001781-main.pdf?_tid=3523263a-fa8d-4ae8-a2bb-e26da1675674&acdnat=1525425289_e63aa20e730b2a529980f97498ec728f

Gertzerl17: @modkathryn Thank you!

Anna: @modkathryn I have to say I was retreating into mental imagery in the dentist’s chair today! It stopped me panicking

David: Creativity is still a very nebulous concept in the literature. Personally, I like the work of Ronald Finke et al on Creative Cognition. They say a lot about mental imagery. In their book Creatrive Cognition (1992) – now quite old but as yet unsurpassed, I think- they look at creative visualisation, invention, and so on and provide a very useful framework

Patricia: One thing that has always flummoxed me ate the children who have ideas but absolutely get stuck at the transferring of those ideas into words on paper when writing. What happens in this case with this apparent disconnect?

Yvonne: Skills in writing are really different to speaking skills. When you are in a conversation, you have the facial expressions, questions etc of the partner to help you to understand if you are making sense. However, when you write you need to internalise all these processes, which can be a challenge for novice writers

Gertzel17: patricia1961 I find that many students are very concerned about “sounding right” more than being right. They get the rhythm right, but write nonsensically.

David: I believe there is some evidence that children with autism may use visual memory more than verbal, which is seen in typically developing populations

Anna: Early attention is often pre-conscious and not under our control. I’m looking at what some people call ‘leaky’ early attention. One way this shows itself is that whereas most people would have automatically learnt to ignore something irrelevant, there are other people who don’t shut it out but continue to pay attention to it

Gertzel17: I’ve been trying to use xkcd’s Simple Writer https://xkcd.com/simplewriter/ to make students focus on the science, not the language.

Paula: I have a child who has fantastic ability to see things in his head and will make complicated working models but when asked to describe the idea struggles and when asked to put it on paper completely fails.

Patricia: @gertzerl17 thanks now i think about it most of these children are slightly nervous and a little withdrawn in general. They invariably contribute minimally to classroom discussion possibly being fearful of ‘risk-taking’

Anna: @paula One idea might be to get him to ‘think aloud’ as he works – so he starts to think a bit more verbally about what he is doing during the process itself

Paula: Yes, makes sense. specific teaching to unpack his thought process, could be a challenge!

Anna: @patricia1961 He may also need some more examples of how to express visual thought – he sounds as though he is very advanced in this respect but it may not be obvious to him how to link the two together

Patricia: @paula that sounds like the kids I’m talking about. They are usually engaged and enthused when ‘doing’ the practical but cant seem to relate that enthusiasm to any conventional recording which they cannot avoid in the end.

Patricia: @Anna thanks this makes sense.

Gertzerl17: Thank you everyone, I have to go. I look forward to reading the transcript!

Patricia: @Anna are there some strategies you could recommend for this?

David: Thanks, Yvonne for raising the executive function aspect of all this. In the classic Miyake et al (2000) paper, a now well established model of the early key mental processes that form the basis of all mental processing was set out – inhibitory control (being able to stop yourself doing the obvious or so-called prepotent thing, and deliberately doing something else) mental set shifting ( being able to shift you attention) and working memory ( or keeping track of where you are up to with any mental task). Working memory problems are most commonly associated with early difficulties with school type tasks, including reading and writing. Researchers such as Susan Gathercole have written a lot on how to support children with various difficulties in these areas.

David: Children who struggle with representing their ideas in drawing or writing can also be helped by working in a pair with a child who perhaps doesn’t have such brilliant ideas, but who is a very competent speaker and writer. In my experience, children can often help other children in this way much more effectively than any adult. A whole range of studies have shown the power of collaborative group working to help children develop their verbal communication and writing skills. Neil Mercer’s work on the value of stimulating ‘exploratory talk’ between children is well worth looking at

Paula: That’s where we have been David but not working out too well- too much frustration about not being understood. I have a look at the reading recommended.

Patricia: @David thank you. These children worry me a lot when i come across them. My methods tend to have been gentle encouragement and helping them recap their understanding of the task verbally but even then it requires a lot of time and hand holding.

Yvonne: Paula and Patricia, do you usually have the students working in pairs or small groups?

Paula: No not usually, but some of the time yes. And Anna yes, that fear of being wrong stops very capable children of speaking out and means that they can’t ask the questions they need to.

Anna: @patricia1961 Fear of failure or being wrong, or looking silly can be so crippling for some children that it can be completely incapacitating. It’s obviously very difficult in a classroom situation where you are bound to have children with such varying experiences and different levels of self esteem. But I think the best things you can do are maybe to instigate sessions which are ‘creative’ or ‘play’ where you make it clear that there are no right or wrong answers, and that the aim is to experiment and eg find some ways that DON’T work? If you are in an environment where there is often only one ‘right’ answer it’s asking quite a lot of a not very confident child to risk being ‘wrong’ if that makes sense?

Anna: @patricia1961 Here’s a link to the study https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263286614_Classroom_contexts_for_creativity

Yvonne: I agree Anna, it is important to create a climate where children feel like they can safely make mistakes. I met a teacher in the USA once who called herself the ‘oops queen’ and she drew attention to mistakes that children had made and focussed on the ‘good’ thinking behind them to explain the mistake. She thought this really helped students to see that mistakes were part of learning and created a climate where children could fail happily. I am not sure this would work in all classrooms, but even modelling making and correcting mistakes yourself can be helpful

David: Yes, of course, Paula and Patricia, a lot of patience is required when working with such children, but over the course of a school year, usually progress cam be made and once a child starts to gain confidence then it may well take off

David: Absolutely Anna and Yvonne, totally agree about the value of the teacher making mistakes and sharing them with the children; I used to do this a lot when I taught; it made the children laugh and clearly improved their willingness to take risks – so important!

Patricia: @Yvonne I have used talk partners for years but more recently in the last 5 years started to use near ability pairings with at least one child who can articulate the pairs joint ideas.

Yvonne: Pairs can be useful, as children who struggle with expressing themselves can get ‘lost’ in larger groups

Patricia: @Anna thanks for help with the link. I now work in an island school with 4 pupils I have the time to spend feeling my way round each child’s individual learning styles and needs. It feels so good to be this free

Yvonne: Patricia that sounds great, you must really be able to work closely with the students and their needs and preferences

Anna: @Yvonne @paula It’s obviously difficult because there is so much that has to be covered in school where there really has to be a right or wrong answer – but I think you are absolutely right that it’s very important how ‘wrong’ answers are handled.

Anna: @patricia1961 Lucky them! How wonderful!

Patricia: @Yvonne absolutely and they dont get frustrated waiting for me to get back to them when they need help because they know they dont have to wait for long

Paula: sounds amazing

Abena: @David You have SO many interesting articles! And the LEGO project sounds very interesting too. Lots to delve into there

David: Sounds wonderful, Patricia! On the pair working point, I have carried out a number of studies with 5-10 year olds working in mixed ability groups of 3, and it has worked well where the task is open-ended and playful, with no ‘right’ answer. There is some useful work on Positioning Theory which looks at the roles individuals take in a group, and the most successful collaborative groups are those within which the roles vary depending on the task i.e. are the most democratic.

Patricia: @Anna they’re also much more tolerant of different strategies being used within the class because they know each of them have differing ways of ‘tapping in’

Patricia: @David yes i try to vary role types so they get a range of skill experiences and don’t just develop.more in their naturally favoured skill area.

Anna: @patricia1961 That’s great – as it then becomes much more about them learning about how they learn best, rather than someone feeling they are the one who needs extra support…

Yvonne: That’s interesting David. We have done some work as well, where pairs of boys and pairs of girls worked on science tasks over a week. We found that working together improved boys’ science knowledge but not girls’. When we went back to use the videos to investigate this, we found it was because the girls had very positive conversations where they agreed with each other. In contrast, boys disagreed a lot and we think these disagreements are what helped their learning.

Paula: That’s interesting Yvonne- I can relate to that. What about boy girl pairings?

Yvonne: Paula, we did not have boy/girl pairs as we only used single gender ones. Though I think there is some work suggesting that boys tend to be more assertive than girls in their interaction styles.

David: Interesting point about disagreements leading to learning. You might like to look up Christine Howe’s work on the importance of disagreements in secondary science learning, and of the teacher not telling the class the correct answer. Her results suggest that when a problem or question is not resolved in the class, the children’s learning and understanding is enhanced.

Patricia: Thanks everyone. How do I get a copy of the transcript?

ModKathryn: @patricia1961 the transcript is posted on the website the next day under the “Chat” tab 🙂

David: Thanks, Abena, happy reading! You might be particularly on work we have done recently on the role of play in supporting children as writers. We used collaborative, mixed ability groups of three for that project. If you go onto the PEDAL Research Centre website you will find a couple of videos on this.

Abena: @David Great – will follow up!

ModKathryn: Thank you all for a really interesting discussion! Theres still 5 minutes left, but if you have any other questions please feel free to ask via the “Ask” on the website, at any time with a question on any topic 🙂

Patricia: @Anna thanks good food for thought and links! Night all

Yvonne: And here is the link to our paper https://pure.royalholloway.ac.uk/portal/files/25305875/CD_Gender_and_Science_Final_Accepted.pdf

Paula: Thank you all

Yvonne: Thanks for the discussion!

David: Thanks, everyone, this has been a very interesting and enjoyable hour!

Anna: It’s been a pleasure talking to you all. Looking forward to next week and many thanks to everyone for all the new ideas!

Abena: Thanks everyone. Interesting discussion with lots to follow up on. Good evening.

David: Yes, next week we should meet in the Shetlands!

Anna: @David If only…

ModKathryn: Hopefully see you all in the next chat!

Posted on May 4, 2018 by modkathryn in Live Chat Transcript.

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