Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Metacog Itch

When one discovers the joy of mind mapping, one can’t help but keep using the tool in what ever tasks one is engaged in. There is a certain fulfillment that is felt in the act of making a mind map – a sort of creative release that allows one to see things better. It helps one understand complex ideas and clarify tasks. It was like seeing how one thinks inside of one’s biological brain. In fact the main purpose was to get an association of ideas and concepts into a graphical context though the visual creation is itself a fulfilling job.  According to some articles, it is a step towards improving one’s metacognition. The urge to mind map is like scratching one’s metacognitive itch.

Visual thinking in all its variation is like extending one’s mind. These tools provide an additional skill that acts like a visual metaphor – away from the usual linear words that one usual comes up with. It moves away from the abstract plane of words into a more creative plane that supposedly uses both sides of the brain. Hence, it’s a visual representation of ‘thinking about thinking’. Perhaps the literal sense-making has its limitation that a pictorial representation is the natural step forward. It has helped me become a better worker by simplifying complex ideas and improve understanding. But is it also an act of meta cognition that it provides a picture or window to one’s thinking ability? A view of the window is in itself an act of understanding.

The act of drawing within a visual tool like mind mapping is therefore an act of thinking and understanding. Now what does one see in a picture? An idea or situation expressed in a drawing that it outside the limitation of words. Does drawing make one a better writer? Perhaps it is another practice of creativity and self-expression that fulfills one’s artistic urge. The important impact is the ‘behind the scenes’ understanding that occurs in the subconscious that improves meta cognition. In fact it is the divorce from the ego that is the starting point – a realization that thinking and cognition is a skill that can be enhanced. Faulty thinking or cognition is a not a flaw of the person but a skill like dancing to be developed.

The act of meta cognition occurs when one is aware of the various thinking tools one can apply to understand better. For example, one can choose cognitive therapy, mind-mapping, other visual thinking tools like concept maps and Edward de Bono’s various thinking techniques (like lateral thinking) to improve cognition. The awareness of various techniques plus understanding one’s thinking process is meta cognition. Applying the different learning methods is also meta cognition - whether one learns from lectures, reading, doing things, watching videos or attending workshops. Meta cognition in writing means learning about the different techniques in both thinking and writing and applying the best tools that fits one’s personality. Visual writing techniques described in the book ‘Natural Writing’ is one interesting method.

One realizes that there are different techniques in writing. Dictation, long hand, or typing into the computer is some of the actual mechanical tasks. But one can also do free- form writing, making outlines or scenes, writing about writing, using index cards, writing standing up or sitting down, writing in the morning or evening, making several drafts or writing the novel in one go, using software like Novel Writing or yWriter that attempts to breakdown the writing craft into a structured software procedure and so on. I guess it is a way of growing up – to move away from the romantic idea of the genius writer or thinker working alone and in solitude into a more  collaborative and mature method that uses all sorts of tools open to both the writer and thinker. Understanding all these techniques which include attending writing workshops are steps forward in understanding meta cognition (in writing) and being a good writer.

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