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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Analogy and Metacognition - Missing Link?

     Since my last post, I have been reflecting on the link between analogy and meta-cognition.  All of us, of course have been exposed to analogies at the high school level and, of course, all of our Maine students are required to take the SAT - which contains extensive analogies.  However, I must honestly admit that I have always viewed analogies as "scholarly" - usually showing up in pre-college English.  So, I had to back track my understanding of the meta-cognitive side of the analogy process.
     Clay states clearly that young children learn by going from the known to the new.  As a reading teacher, I have observed this hundreds of times.  Children who can not learn by rote memory in tiny chunks, can indeed make the leap from known chunks to new words, building a strategy that propels them into reading.  AHHA!

     This ahha, of course, led me to the connections we use in our classrooms between - usually - literature and our own experiences.  However, I have not observed the same success in this area as I have in the previous one.  Atwell, in her new book New Understandings about Reading and Writing Workshop, references this topic when she clarifies connections need to be pertinent to the text - not random and unsubstantiated.   BUT...
      Today I found this article and it really clarified my thinking.  I am sharing it with you because I think it is perhaps the missing link.

Reasoning and Learning with Analogies: Making Metacognition "Natural" by, Duncan Sibley, Center for Research on College Science Teaching and Learning, Michigan State University

Sibley summarizes research briefly: " According to linguists and cognitive scientists, the human mind specializes in learning through analogies (Lakoff and Johnson 1980, Hofstadter 2006, Pinker 2007). Children do it (Goswamii 2001). Even chimps draw analogies (Oden et al., 2001)...Part of the reason Hofstader, Pinker and many other cognitive scientists (e.g., Gick and Holyoak, 1983, Blanchette and Dunbar 2002, Gentner 2003, Holyoak, 2005) believe analogy is a fundamental cognitive process is that drawing analogies requires some sort of similarity mapping of one concept on another, a process which lies at the heart of learning."

Sibley builds on this premise as he details how he uses analogy in his geology class at the college level.   "For example, retrieval may be exemplified by noticing the wings on a bat while mapping, the process of comparing similarities and differences, might lead to the conclusion that comparing hair on a bat to the on hair on a mouse is more meaningful than comparing wings on bats and birds. While wings on birds and bats support inferences something about bats, the fact that bats and dogs share hair and, therefore, are both mammals supports many more inferences. We move from students' analogies about the very familiar to students' analogies that will help them learn new concepts." 

This reasoning process is developed by feedback scaffolded by his question rubric included in the article - and the sequence of content explored in his course. 

AHHA!!  This made sense to me.  In my years in the classroom (my own) as a teacher and then as a coach, I have never observed this type of direct instruction and scaffolding.  And yet - it is so similar to how I coached my beginning readers!   I had come full circle.

Sibley began this article by stating, "By show of hands, roughly 70% of the students in my general education course for non-science majors believe scientists and non-scientists think differently. If students believe that scientific thinking is somehow different from the way they think, learning science must, for them, represent a daunting challenge. Faced with this obstacle, students might rationally choose to attempt to learn science by rote memory, a strategy at odds with most instructors' desire to help students develop higher order thinking skills. If students are provided the opportunity to reason by analogy, they may recognize that everyone thinks like a scientist."

Physics taught by analogy above:)

Thinking about the 21st century and the amount of new information our students will be bombarded by, I suggest it is necessary for us as educators to explore thinking strategies and identify a core to be taught explicitly and consistently across content areas.  Science has always been built on inquiry.  If we look closely at their practices, I am sure we can draw parallels - or make analogies!

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Xwing212 said...

Hrmmm... analogies: the food stuff of the elite. I kid, of course, yet I can't help but think about how they used to be such a key part of the the SAT and how the MAT is still so important for many graduate schools.

I don't really have problems with analogies, unto themselves. I use them in my day to day thinking and often when trying to explain things to others. Yet often it comes up short for me in terms of my end goal with my students: authentic understanding.

I want them to get it, to understand the concept, so I try to map an analogy. One of three outcomes occurs. The first is the most rare: enlightenment. You can actually hear the heavenly choirs. The second more frequent: lots of head nodding, a few out loud mutterings, a couple of "yeah.. YEAHs." And then the third, the most commonplace, occurs: befuddlement. Silence. Maybe a "I don't get it" or "But what if . . ." but mostly blank vacuous silence.

And I like to think I can relate pretty well to the student experience as I am basically a 14 year-old trapped in a 33-year-old body. (I think that was the plot of a Dudley Moore movie in the '80s. But that's beside the point.) And I try to grab a hold of that perspective as I explain. And their collective body of knowledge and experience is so varied, so vast, finding a common ground becomes almost impossible.

And I wonder if this is something more indicative of hyper-contemporary culture. In years past, were students more likely to come to a classroom with a more common base of knowledge -- note, not a better or more rigorous or more important -- just more common? Has our student body grown to such a diversity that we have difficulty finding common experiences and knowledge on to which we can map new knowledge? Was this challenge easier in more homogeneously grouped classrooms when groups of kids were more likely to have less diverse ranges of academic experience. (And wouldn't there be an irony if heterogenous groups really were why it's hard to use analogies?)

I suppose I'm doing some verbal processing here and coming around into a bit of a circular thinking experience.

It comes down to wondering about being worth the time it takes to develop an complete understanding of student background knowledge in order to help them craft analogies that a fully realized. It may be. Certainly understanding student background knowledge leads to more effective instruction and ultimately greater student understanding and achievement. To do so under the auspices of being able to create analogies and the necessity of analogy thinking to driving inquiry? I'm not so sure.

Meadow said...

Analogies are no longer on the SAT, at least not as extensively as they once were (Thank God!). I remember the fear that took over my entire being when I saw the colon and filled in the blanks. _________________ is to (:)___________________ as(::)___________________ is to (:)_____________________. Students may be asked to make analogies between two texts, but they are no longer required to answer questions specifically labeled as such. That being said, the SAT (especially the writing portion) does ask students to make connections between a quotation, personal experiences, and readings from history and English they (the students) deem necessary.

One fear I have is that these connections are becoming more and more personal. For the most part, my students don’t have problems making personal connections with texts. Sometimes I fear that they make so many personal connections that they are unable to look beyond this.

Another fear is that students are drawing from so many different experiences, backgrounds, and texts, that they no longer draw from the same common knowledge base. Xwing212 (I think his license plate reveals who this is) makes lots of key points in his comments, and I tend to agree with a great deal of what he says and have the same final question he does.