Metacognitive farming

Apparently, the lockdown has led to an increase in people talking to themselves. This was a development that must have been logically expected. For many people who were socially isolated, if they did not talk to themselves, to whom would they talk? The suggestion was that isolation had made people more reflective, that the lockdown had prompted questioning and an interrogation of a person’s ideas by the person themselves.

It seemed encouraging to think that, firstly, people were thinking more deeply instead of offering quick fire reactions, and, secondly, that behaviour that might have been regarded as eccentric was in fact rational and productive.

Evidence from successive educational studies shows that encouraging reflection on thoughts is an effective method in teaching. Students who question themselves, who ask what it is they have learned, are effective in consolidating their learning. The term used for reflection on learning, metacognition, is hardly one to be used in the classroom, but being able to do it makes a student a considerably stronger learner.

What do I know? What don’t I know? Who, what, where, when and why? How? The list of possible questions is long. Perhaps they will not be asked aloud. Perhaps someone verbalising them would be thought odd. Perhaps it would not be a bad idea if they were spoken. Perhaps effective questioning of students is questioning that prompts them to talk to themselves about what they have learned.

Whatever the educational potential for talking to yourself, it is an activity that might promote good mental health.

My Grandad would often talk to himself when going about the daily tasks on the farm. There would be comments, observations, mental lists. There would be words of encouragement, admonition and frustration.

In my perception, to talk to yourself was a sign of being eccentric, but it seems to have been a much more positive activity than I could have imagined. Farming is a solitary life, most of the time there is no-one with whom to discuss ideas, thoughts and plans. Perhaps the years of spoken thinking, wondering and questioning were important in him being able to retain his place in farming life at a time when many others were leaving the land. Perhaps those years of one-sided conversations were important times of learning.

When the lockdown ends, it will be interesting to see if people have become more reflective. And, if people are more reflective, will it prompt a deeper, more independent and more effective approach to learning?

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