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Research in Science Education (2006) 36: 7–27 DOI: 10.1007/s11165-006-8147-1

© Springer 2006

Collaborative Group Work and Individual Development of Metacognition in the Early Years

Shirley Larkin Centre for the Advancement of Thinking, King’s College, University of London
Abstract This paper tracks the individual development of metacognition in two five year old children over an academicyear as they engage in a cognitive acceleration through science education programme CASE@KS1. Using qualitative analysis and case study methods it demonstrates how collaborative group work with small children impacts on the development of their individual metacognitive processing. Important variables that facilitate or hinder this development are teased out and relationships between the groupsand the individual are analysed. Difficulties with the concept of metacognition and in particular how to assess and measure it are discussed. A framework of analysis based on verbal interactions is developed from the early theories of metacognition and this is combined with an in-depth grounded analysis. This approach provides insight into what we can mean when we speak of young children beingmetacognitive. Key Words: case studies, development of metacognition, early years, group work

Since the 1970s, research on metacognition has developed from early definitions of the concept to ways of applying the theories to practice in the classroom. A useful definition of the concept is that metacognition involves being able to reflect on one’s own thinking and to consciously monitor and control thatthinking in pursuit of a goal (Brown, 1987; Flavell, 1979). There is also a consensus that metacognition is important for certain types of learning. It has been shown to be important in problem solving (Antonietti, Ignazi, & Perego, 2000; Chi, Glaser, & Rees, 1982; Davidson, Deuser, & Sternberg, 1994; Flavell, 1976; Hayes, 1981; Kontos & Nicholas, 1986; Swanson, 1990) and positive links have beenfound between metacognitive processing and academic attainment in a number of curriculum areas including reading (Hacker, 1998; Jacobs & Paris, 1987; Myers & Paris, 1978), maths (Carr & Biddlecomb, 1998; Schoenfeld, 1992) and science (Georghiades, 2000; Rickey & Stacy, 2000; Shayer & Adey, 1988). Alongside this, there have been a number of thinking skills interventions that have incorporatedmetacognition as an aspect of a larger cognitive programme (Baird & Mitchell, 1986; Feuerstein, Rand, Hoffman, & Miller, 1980; Hennessey, 1999). McGuinness (1999) provides an overview of many such interventions. This paper reports findings from a qualitative study of metacognition in the first year of primary school in England. The children in this study were engaged in a year long cognitive accelerationthrough science education programme CASE@KS1 which involved them working in collaborative groups of six to solve science and

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maths based problems. This paper explores how metacognition is facilitated and developed within the classroom and how students working as a group impacts on the individual in terms of metacognitive processing. In addition to viewing metacognitionas important for academic attainment in core curriculum areas such as science, maths, and literacy, this paper follows Flavell’s (1979) early research in suggesting that the development of metacognitive processing is also important in the development of the whole person:
Perhaps it is stretching the meanings of metacognition too far to include the critical appraisal of message source, quality ofappeal, and probable consequences needed to cope with these inputs sensibly, but I do not think so. It is at least conceivable that the ideas currently brewing in this area could someday be parlayed into a method of teaching children (and adults) to make wise and thoughtful life decisions as well as to comprehend and learn better in formal educational settings. (p. 910)

Conceptual Framework...
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