Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Metacognition and Writing

Metacognition is defined as ‘thinking about thinking’. According to the theory, one can learn more if one is aware of how one learns. Metacognition is a skill and good learners have this ability. There are ways to develop metacognition and one way is via visual thinking tools like mind mapping. Writing and reflection via journaling can also stimulate metacognition. This theory has been around since the 1970’s and I have come across this word a few times but it has passed me by. Only after reading an article in Poet & Writers by a writer called Dennis Cass was I able to understand its implication for writers. I checked his blog and he is also exploring the use of digital dictation to speed up writing. Talk about synchronicity!

According to the author, writing well occurs if one has a high level of metacognition. To understand the thinking process in all it’s nuances. Realizing that thinking is a skill and not related to the person is the first step. It goes beyond one’s ego though this is the first hurdle. One can say I did not understand topic A or topic B so I need to learn more about it, maybe by experiencing instead of just reading about it. Perhaps undertaking experiential learning activities like Toastmasters for public speaking and writing workshops for writing may be a step in developing a high level of metacognition. Understanding cognitive therapy was an avenue to reducing stress and I guess another step towards improving metacognition.

Is the urge towards blogging or journal writing an innate urge towards improving one’s metacognition? Is this really the urge for learning instead of the urge for writing? The point of the Poets & Writer’s article is to say that the processes are linked. One becomes a better writer when one achieves the ability for metacognition. I guess this means that one is truly divorced from the writing process – away from the ego identifying itself with the written work. Writing then become a journey of cognition, a series of events that improves one’s cognitive ability. In fact, some authors even say that the act of writing is already a step towards metacognition. Metacognition is like achieving a detachment on one’s thinking – by observing one’s thinking process similar to meditation.

The writer’s journey is in fact a journey of cognition or, to be exact, towards metacognition. It is not a lonely journey and one needs to have collaboration and help in achieving growth. The Toastmaster and writing workshop are collaborative experiences and a supportive way to learn. One tires of the lonely genius and it’s a road that one does not even need to make. There were a lot of good sentences in the article that I like. There was one from Saul Bellow which said ‘a writer is a reader who tries emulating’. So being a writer is being a reader and synthesizing both streams requires a thinking ability which includes metacognition. So being a writer does not mean having the raw reading and writing skill but having achieved an advanced thinking level that reflects on his developed self.

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