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Yesterday I reflected on how a field trip was a lost opportunity for modelling and teaching critical thinking.

Today I reflect on how I used a holiday book report to teach my son about metacognition.

In simple terms, metacognition is thinking about thinking. When a person steps back from a task or problem to consider alternatives, the strategising is a form of metacognition. When learners rise above a lesson and ask themselves what they actually learnt, that reflection is another form of metacognition.
 

 
When my son was given a book report to complete during the June school vacation, he started reading his book without considering what the instructions and his options were. This is what many students do: When told to do something, the dutiful take the straight path without question.

I asked him if he had been taught how to analyse questions or if he had been taught study skills. He replied that he had not.

I am giving the benefit of the doubt to his teachers since kids often do not see the point of such things when they are told. This is often because they do not get to practice those skills in a meaningful context.

My son’s book report was an excellent context and it was very well designed. He and his classmates could choose from a list of books instead of being forced to read just one book. They were also given several options to submit their report.

The options were varied, e.g., draw a comic to illustrate a key chapter, craft an alternative ending for the book, write a poem as a response, etc. In all options, students had to rationalise and justify their choices.

I was impressed with the design of the task because the teacher had incorporated learner choice into the report. I highlight choice and not learning “style” because the latter is a myth.
 

 
My son was about a quarter way through his book before he considered his options. When he decided on one, I asked him why he chose it and he struggled to articulate his reasons. In doing so, he had missed at least two opportunities to exercise metacognition.

When he did not read the instructions and options first, he failed to plan for his journey. That is like plunging into an actual journey without planning, research, money, schedules, or destinations.

The book report options were varied enough so that he could take advantage of his strengths or address weaknesses. He selected an option because it appealed to him. While that seems reasonable on the surface, powerful learning is about knowing when to leverage on what one is good at or face up to what one struggles with.
 

 
Our discussion on metacognition will not be the only one we have. This form of learning is a long process of self-discovery and awareness, and I will be there as a guide.

I reflected on the interaction I had with my son about cognition and metacognition.

Metacognition is arguably more important than cognition, particularly of the lower level sort, e.g., factual recall. It is easy to Google for information or find a solution in YouTube. It is not as easy, but certainly more important, to be able to decide if what you find is valid and reliable.

Facts will come and go. Students who face tests and exams are smart enough to adapt and rely on GIGO — garbage in, garbage out — as a strategy.

However, this form of schooling and assessments conditions them into that sort of pragmatic but lazy thinking. The more important types of thinking lie in metacognition. They need to be able to analyse, evaluate, reflect, and strategise. They need to focus on the long tail, not just the short game.

Warning: If you are an old-school academic or have aspirations to be one, or if you have an irrational love for books, read no further. Your feelings may get hurt or your ego might take a hit.

If you do not appreciate irony or do not have a modicum of humour, do not scroll down. Your frown will not turn upside down.

I tweeted this last month. I elaborated on the tweet.

The book (as in printed on dead trees) arrived by mail (as in snail).

Book cover.

Do I appreciate getting a copy of the book three years after I left the organisation? Definitely.

Do I also appreciate the irony that the topic was plastered on a dead medium and took so long to produce? Even more so.

Had I completely forgotten about it? Of course. Three years might be on par for writing, editing, and publishing a book. It is also long enough for some content to be out of date.

The book might be titled “Teacher Education in the 21st Century”, but it is cocooned in a decidedly 15th century process.

The need to publish in this form and manner is also a university relic because people with doctorates living in ivory towers are still outdone by people with eyes for opportunity and tongues of silver.

The book has a hardcover that makes a hollow sound when you knock on it. It is the same hollow sound your audience hears when your message is empty because it does not quite connect with the times.

Lest I be accused of biting the hand that feeds me, I remind my curious readers that I bit off the leash in 2014. It does not take me three years to share even older information. I can do it in three minutes. Or less.

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Notice from Springer.

I did not expect this email notification. It was from a publisher of a book I contributed to before I left NIE in 2014.

I tweeted this yesterday.

If memory serves me right, I submitted my share in 2013. Someone I wrote with retired and left the institute in 2014. I presume someone else had to take over what we wrote if there were edits.

If you look carefully at the screen capture, you might note the title of the book: Teacher Education in the 21st Century.

I was shaking my head (SMH in the tweet) because the publishing process took so long that whatever I wrote is probably irrelevant.

I cannot even remember what I wrote for the book. After all, it was more than three years ago.
 

 
The delicious irony made my toes laugh.

I can share a tweet instantly or ruminate on my blog drafts over a day or a week before publishing my thoughts publicly. The speed and ownership of publishing are critical to “the 21st century”.

However, sharing what we did in teacher education took years to write, vet, and publish. By the time ink was smeared on dead trees, the information was already dead or dying.

Being literate and fluent in the 21st century also means that what you share or publish does not have to be perfect. It is about being comfortable with discomfort. It is about being able to manage flux and make sense of streams of consciousness.

Books do have a place, but not on the shelf labelled “Timely Information”. They might be suitable for the shelf “Timeless Dogma”. We need more of the former in the 21st century because this is a time like no other in the past.

After reflecting on that, my toes have stopped laughing. I am SMH again.

I have never actually “read” an entire book by audio. I am not sure why, but I am going to start on my first one today.

I have listened to bits and chapters because they were either samples or someone was playing something during a road trip. But I have never decided to read a book, or rather, have it read to me, despite all the audible.com offers in YouTube videos or podcasts.

I listen to podcasts of people I enjoy. I watch some of these people on YouTube. But I do not buy any of their books because they do not write about education.

Even though audio books have been around for a while, I wondered why I did not take the plunge. Perhaps I have not been read to since I was a child. Perhaps who reads it might make a difference. Perhaps I already read so much via my RSS and Twitter feeds that I might not have the bandwidth to read any more.
 

 
So why try an audio book only now? I find myself with a bit more spare time because I have “closed accounts” for the year. I would also like to learn how to use a new app. In particular, I want to know how easy it will be to find and use juicy quotes from what I “read”.

What will I be reading? Todd Rose’s The End of Average.

How am I reading it? With the Overdrive app, the default of many public libraries.

Shh, don’t bug me. I’m reading.

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Video source

Traditionalists who think that kids should only read from dead tree books and not be given interactive e-books before a certain age are bound to take joy in this book by Novak.

They will call this evidence of the effectiveness of not just books but also pictureless books. Victory!

But their confidence is misplaced. There are many forms of reading: For pleasure, for work, for study; skimming or in-depth; alone or in groups; being read to or reading on your own. They are not the same thing.

For me the video is evidence of connecting with kids. You can (and should) do that with any type of book.

And if video is the new text, what other sort of reading should we be promoting? Take a minute (or three) and see.

The WSJ wants you to know that “at least 30 minutes of uninterrupted reading with a book or e-book helps” your brain and reduces stress. But they would prefer that you read a book. Quietly. Or snuggle up with a newspaper perhaps?

I would argue that I have the same gains (and then some more) by dedicating at least 30 minutes of reading my Twitter stream or RSS feeds.

Here are the gains blow by blow.

Deepens empathy and provides pleasure
I am not sure how any book or e-resource actually deepens real empathy, but I find reading off my screens pleasurable. I take even greater pleasure in that I can hyper read to learn something more deeply or to explore more widely.

Heightens concentration
Being able to stay on task on a screen that produces an occasional pop-up and reading while balancing in careening public transport takes a lot of concentration. Dealing with a quick reply and then having the discipline to return to task is also a form of concentration.

Enhances comprehension, particularly of complex material and Enriches vocabulary
The fact that I can fact check and look for definitions online more easily than I can with a book definitely improves my comprehension and vocabulary.

Improves listening skills
I do not know how reading a book quietly to yourself does this. But I do know that my computing devices can read to me if my hands or eyes need to be elsewhere.

Reduces stress
It is certainly relaxing to be able to be able to read for a one 30-minute stretch. I do not mind if I get ten 3-minute moments of reading too.

So does the medium matter as long as I achieve the same gains?

More importantly, does the medium matter if I learn to read in a way that is more relevant?

I spotted this on Google+ recently.

I agree that it is important to read. But why does it have to be a book?

Insisting that reading be from a book ignores other media and other current forms of reading.

I also think that it is important to “read”. By this I mean activities like reading videos and reading people. This goes beyond consumption and moves to interpretation.

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