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How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School
you have it, now you don’t” manner. The evidence suggests that, like other forms of learning, metacognition develops gradually and is as dependent on knowledge as experience. It is difficult to engage in self-regulation and reflection in areas that one does not understand. However, on topics that children know, primitive forms of self-regulation and reflection appear early (Brown and DeLoache, 1978).
Attempts at deliberate remembering in preschool children provide glimpses of the early emergence of the ability to plan, orchestrate, and apply strategies. In a famous example, 3- and 4-year-old children were asked to watch while a small toy dog was hidden under one of three cups. The children were instructed to remember where the dog was. The children were anything but passive as they waited alone during a delay interval (Wellman et al., 1975). Some children displayed various behaviors that resemble well-known mnemonic strategies, including clear attempts at retrieval practice, such as looking at the target cup and nodding yes, looking at the non-target cups and nodding no, and retrieval cueing, such as marking the correct cup by resting a hand on it or moving it to a salient position. Both of these strategies are precursors to more mature rehearsal activities. These efforts were rewarded: children who prepared actively for retrieval in these ways more often remembered the location of the hidden dog. Box 4.3 shows a glimmer of even earlier emergence of “rehearsal.”
These attempts to aid remembering involve a dawning awareness of metacognition—that without some effort, forgetting would occur. And the strategies involved resemble the more mature forms of strategic intervention, such as rehearsal, used by older school-aged children. Between 5 and 10 years of age, children’s understanding of the need to use strategic effort in order to learn becomes increasingly sophisticated, and their ability to talk about and reflect on learning continues to grow throughout the school years (Brown et al., 1983). By recognizing this dawning understanding in children, one can begin to design learning activities in the early school years that build on and strengthen their understanding of what it means to learn and remember.
Multiple Strategies, Strategy Choices
The strategies that children use to memorize, conceptualize, reason, and solve problems grow increasingly effective and flexible, and are applied more broadly, with age and experience. But different strategies are not solely related to age. To demonstrate the variety, we consider the specific case of the addition of single-digit numbers, which has been the subject of a great deal of cognitive research.
Given a problem such as 3+5, it was initially believed that preschool children add up from 1 (i.e., 1, 2, 3 l4, 5, 6, 7, 8), that 6- to 8-year-olds add by