Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Metacognitive Problem Solving in Preschoolers

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Metacognitive Problem Solving in Preschoolers

Article excerpt

The developmental assumption that preschoolers are metacognitive is a contentious one. Siegler (1998) for instance argues that preschool metacognitive ability is implicit and not observable explicitly. Others have shown that when tasks are properly contextualised and related to preschoolers' play interests, and if younger children are overtly encouraged to use good reasoning strategies, they do show metacognitive capabilities (Cullen, 1992; Schneider & Bjorklund, 1992; Slawinski & Best, 1995). Still others have a strong belief that spontaneous metacognitive reasoning by preschoolers generally does not occur (e.g. Brown, Bransford, Ferrara & Campione, 1983). However many of these studies were of a clinical nature involving domain specific, closed tasks that focused on memory skills. The metacognitive skills they tested (rehearsal, organisation, elaboration, and use of imagery), usually typified an information processing view of cognition. In this study, metacognitive abilities refers to those abilities identified within constructivist theories, such as reflection, planfulness, self-monitoring, retrialing and revising, identifying the goal (or in this study, recognition of the problem), and persisting (Kuhn, 1999; Sternberg, 1986). It was felt these more accurately reflect the play oriented, cognitive style of preschoolers.

Metacognitive skills are very similar to the skills identified in discussions of domain-general reasoning. Preschoolers' preferences for domain-general thinking over domain-specific thinking (such as knowledge in the separate key learning areas of the school curriculum) is believed to be related to the greater amount of general life experiences they have had, over experience with traditional, domain-specific curriculum areas. (Nelson, 1998; Todt, 1990). Therefore it can be assumed that upon commencing school they may have a range of general life experiences, and a preference for domain-general reasoning approaches. Because of the parallels that exist between domain-general reasoning and metacognition, it is also reasonable to expect that they may be users of metacognitive strategies to varying degrees. The present study is based upon this premise. Consequently the research question was `What metacognitive strategies do preschoolers spontaneously use when investigating an open ended problem solving task?'


Subjects were 60 preschoolers randomly selected from across three country preschools. The age range was from 4.3-5.4 years (mean 4.11), with each sub sample of 20 having equal numbers of both genders, except for one centre where the ratio was nine girls and 10 boys.

Each preschool was situated in a different country town of similar size. The number and qualifications of early childhood staff, and the philosophical approaches in the centres, were similar. The experimenter initially spent time in each centre to ensure familiarity with the children.

The subjects' verbal comprehension ability was accounted for by teacher evaluations of the children's language proficiency, and the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT) for receptive language (revised 1983, Form L, substituting `jug' for `pitcher' and `tap' for `faucet' because these American terms are unfamiliar to Australian children). PPVT age equivalent levels were found to be within the expected range for children 4.4-5.7 years. Split half reliability of the PPVT measure (Spearman Brown corrected) was .69. Consequently variance of language comprehension ability was not expected to have an effect upon the problem-solving outcomes.

Unlike much research undertaken with preschoolers, expressive language was not a key element in this study. This aspect of the methodology is supported by Estes (1998) who argued that to successfully evaluate preschoolers' thinking one needed an objective non-verbal index of the child's mental ability, against which their verbal (subjective) explanations could be compared. …

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