Developing Superordinate Thinking for Problem Solving in the 21st Century

Developing Superordinate Thinking for Problem Solving in the 21st Century

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Contributed by A/Prof Lee Ngan Hoe, Associate Professor, Mathematics & Mathematics Education (MME) Academic Group

It is fairly common knowledge that higher order thinking skills, which generally refer to critical and creative thinking skills, contribute to successful problem solving.  However, though research has shown the importance of developing metacognitive skills to enhance problem solving success, attending to the metacognitive aspects of problem solving has seldom been discussed. 

Metacognition, more commonly known as thinking about thinking, is a kind of ‘superordinate’ thinking – it is a heightened awareness, an active monitoring, and a constant regulation of our thinking that help us become more successful when solving intricate problems.  This is why metacognition is widely cited and recognised as one of the key 21st century competencies – an era where people are frequently faced with novel and complex situations. 

Neither visible nor audible, the abstractness of thinking makes the task of developing thinking and, even more so, thinking about thinking, challenging. One way to help learners be more metacognitive is to make their thoughts visible and/or audible.  Students should be encouraged to talk about and/or write about their problem solving experiences. Seeing and/or hearing one’s thoughts enable them to evaluate their thought processes better.  

In a fast-paced, rapidly evolving world, being able to solve a problem should not be the only goal.  Students should be encouraged to write down and discuss not only the solution to the problem at hand but also the learnings they have acquired during the process, which could serve them well in future scenarios.  Teachers and parents should put this into practice so that students and children could better appreciate the value of adopting a metacognitive approach to problem solving.  One way is for us teachers and parents to be less of a solution provider and be more of a role model in the way we process questions to arrive at a better understanding of the problem and how we can maneuver our thoughts to arrive at possible solutions.  Encourage them to constantly and systematically question the problem as well as the possible pathways towards a possible solution.  Just like the development of physical habits, productive mental habits can only be developed when these are applied in a regular and methodical manner.