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How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School
formance of children, as well as adults. A prototype experiment would involve, for example, presenting 4- to 10-year-olds with long lists of pictures to remember, far more than they could if they simply tried to remember them individually. Such a list might consist of pictures of a cat, rose, train, hat, airplane, horse, tulip, boat, coat, etc. Given a 20-item list, older children remember more than younger children, but the factor responsible for better recall is not age per se, but whether the child notices that the list consists of four categories (animals, plants, means of transportation, and articles of clothing). If the categories are noticed, young children often recall the entire list. In the absence of category recognition, performance is poorer and shows the age effect. Younger children employ categorization strategies less often than older ones. However, the skill is knowledge related, not age related; the more complex the categories, the older the child is before noticing the structure. One has to know a structure before one can use it.
These varying views of children’s learning have different implications for what one expects from children. If one believes that learning differences are determined by gradual increases in capacity or speed of processing, one would expect relatively uniform increases in learning across most domains. But if one believes that strategies and knowledge are important, one would expect different levels of learning, depending on the children’s conceptual knowledge and their control over strategies that organize that knowledge for learning. For example, in a comparison of college students’ and third graders’ abilities to recall 30 items that included the names of Saturday morning television shows, children’s cartoon characters, etc., the third graders clustered more and subsequently recalled more (Linberg, 1980). Similarly, a group of 8- to 12-year-old “slow learners” performed much better than “normal” adults on a task of recalling large numbers of pop stars because of a clustering strategy (Brown and Lawton, 1977). An outstanding example of the intertwining of capacity, knowledge, and strategies in children’s chess performance is provided in Box 2.1 (see Chapter 2).
Metacognition is another important aspect of children’s learning (see Brown, 1978; Flavell and Wellman, 1977). The importance of prior knowledge in determining performance, crucial to adults as well as children, includes knowledge about learning, knowledge of their own learning strengths and weaknesses, and the demands of the learning task at hand. Metacognition also includes self-regulation—the ability to orchestrate one’s learning: to plan, monitor success, and correct errors when appropriate—all necessary for effective intentional learning (Bereiter and Scardamalia, 1989).
Metacognition also refers to the ability to reflect on one’s own performance. Whereas self-regulation may appear quite early, reflection appears to be late developing. If children lack insight to their own learning abilities, they can hardly be expected to plan or self-regulate efficiently. But metacognition does not emerge full-blown in late childhood in some “now