Auguste Rodin's bronze and marble sculpture, The Thinker (Le Penseur), depicts a powerful man, deep in thought. The Thinker has become an iconic symbol of intellectual activity and the image of this sculpture is frequently used to represent the human capacity to think, to reflect and philosophise. When I was in Paris, I visited and admired the original sculpture of The Thinker in the garden of the Musée Rodin. As I gazed at the sculpture, I wondered what Rodin imagined the man represented in the sculpture was thinking. It seems rather absurd now; however I remember wondering "Does The Thinker think about his own thinking?"
The capacity to be aware of and think about one's thinking is believed to be a distinguishing feature of human cognition. Known as metacognition, the regular use of this capacity to think about one's thinking is a critical skill that enables students to learn, produce exceptional academic work and study well for exams. There are many different types of thinking. It is important for students to be aware of their thinking, to know about the process of thinking and to be able to regulate their thinking.
I became lost in thought in the beautiful gardens of the Musée Rodin. Reflective, drifting thoughts are part of the creative thinking process and tend to occur when we are relaxed. Creative thinking can be stimulated by peaceful, calm surroundings and by exercise. There is also a tendency to slip into a pattern of reflective thought, colloquially known as daydreaming, when there is a lack interest in a current topic or activity. Students who have a history of disengaging from learning may not yet have developed metacognitive skills. Becoming aware of one's current thinking is the first step in developing self-regulation or personal control of thinking.
Developing knowledge about one's thinking skills, intellectual resources and abilities as a learner, forms the basis for learning about the procedures and strategies that can be used to learn effectively. There are many different ways in which to think. Edward de Bono first introduced this concept as the Six Thinking Hats, encouraging individuals to become more conscious of the way in which they think and helping us all to become aware that we have the capacity to change our ways of thinking. Metacognition is difficult for students who experience neurological difficulties associated with managing attention and/or impulsivity. They may require additional support from parents, teachers and possibly medical practitioners, in order to develop these skills.
Knowing when and how to use different thinking is part of regulating thinking, thus establishing metacognitive control. Deciding to use critical or creative thinking, selecting a specific problem-solving strategy; each is effective in learning and managing difficulties encountered when preparing assignments or studying for exams. Establishing goals; planning; preparation prior to learning; monitoring and assessing thinking; evaluating the thinking strategies used to determine effectiveness – these are all skills associated with metacognitive control. Metacognitive skills need to be learnt and practised regularly in order to become efficient and effective thinkers.
© Michele Juratowitch