The thinking aloud strategy is a form of self-directed metacognition. It is a technique that encourages learners to monitor and evaluate their own thinking as they complete an activity or solve a problem. The thinking aloud strategy can produce benefits such as improved metacognitive skills; enhanced understanding of the task at hand; better recall and organisation of information; enhanced motivation to undertake tasks that learners may otherwise find difficult, tedious, or boring. It is also known as Metacognition in Practice (MPIP) and Process Metacognition (PM).
For the thinking aloud strategy to be effective, learners need to be aware of their own thinking so that they can analyse their own performance. This includes recognising the elements of a problem, selecting how best to approach it, taking time to consider alternative options, and evaluating how well they have achieved their goal.
Why the thinking aloud strategy is important
This strategy is important because it can provide learners with a powerful tool for improving their self-directed learning and self-regulation.
Self-directed learning is the process by which learners plan, prepare, and practise to learn new knowledge relevant to their course of study. It involves planning and organising lessons, preparing goals to work towards, practising strategies to support learning, and monitoring progress through monitoring one’s own performance. It is about having the internal motivation to acquire knowledge in a way that is most suitable for students’ needs.
Self-regulation is the process of managing cognitive demand. It is important to be able to regulate one’s own thinking and behaviour so that it is effective and appropriate in terms of goals and tasks. Self-regulation includes activating relevant knowledge, monitoring one’s own performance, and regulating one’s emotions, motivations, attention, and strategies when working towards goals. The thinking aloud strategy is an effective way to encourage learners to monitor and evaluate their own performance in the process of self-directed learning.
The thinking aloud strategy also encourages learners to gain a better understanding of their own cognitive processes and how they work. By monitoring what they are doing they can identify why they may have problems when completing a task, and what needs to be changed if improvements are required.
How the thinking aloud strategy works
The thinking aloud strategy is a form of self-directed metacognition. This means that learners monitor and evaluate their own performance as they complete an activity or solve a problem. It does not mean being constantly reflective, but rather reflecting on what was done, how the activity fits into one’s learning goals, how well learners are progressing in applying new knowledge to tasks, and what they need to do to improve.
The thinking aloud strategy is a tool that allows learners to engage in self-directed learning and cultivate their own motivation and interest in the activity they are completing or the problem they are trying to solve. It does this by encouraging them to think about what they are doing as they do it so that if any problems come up, they can recognise them and deal with them proactively rather than having to work backwards from the end product. This way, learners can identify problems and correct them before they have much effect on their performance.
Learning is a process of the mind in which existing knowledge is adapted, extended, and challenged. While learning involves a significant amount of internal mental processing, much of it goes on without the learner’s awareness. Learners tend to concentrate so intently on the task at hand that they are unable to attend to what is happening inside their minds. This can result in major misconceptions developing around what they know, which can have serious impacts on their learning and their ability to apply this knowledge in later situations.
A common example of this is the tendency for people to develop incorrect beliefs about mental processes in their own minds. By reflecting on how they work, learners can identify and remove these misconceptions, increasing their self-confidence and increasing their ability to find solutions to problems.
This strategy encourages learners to use information that they have available at that time (i.e., what they know), as well as new information that they need to know so that they can complete the task successfully. This process develops the learner’s own metacognitive skills, making them more aware of their own thinking as it is happening, and therefore more capable of monitoring and evaluating what they are doing.
The thinking aloud strategy will automatically improve a learner’s level of self-regulation if they continue to utilise it in their day-to-day learning. This is because it encourages learners to reflect on what they are doing, think about how well they are doing it, and identify any areas that could be improved.
Where is the thinking aloud strategy most effective?
This strategy is particularly useful when learners take more than one course that involves problem-solving or an area of expertise. For example, many students take science, maths, English as a Second Language (ESL), and French as Second Language (FSL) at the same time simultaneously. In this situation, the thinking aloud strategy can be used in all three courses and can be effective in all areas of study by allowing learners to identify problems associated with each activity and how to resolve them before they become serious impediments.
Students can use this strategy in any situation where they have a task to complete or a problem to solve. It can be very effective in any form of self-directed learning, especially if it is used to monitor the process while one is doing it, rather than when one looks back over what has been done.
This strategy is particularly useful in those situations which require learners to analyse something that they are currently doing (e.g., driving, cooking, reading a book, doing an experiment). It can also be useful in situations where a learner is learning from materials available to them at that time (e.g., studying for an exam, completing homework), as well as when there is no specific material to work from.
The thinking aloud strategy can be used in combination with other strategies, such as the meta-cognitive strategies of monitoring one’s own performance and monitoring one’s own progress. This increases the effectiveness of the thinking aloud strategy, making it more effective in many situations and enabling learners to monitor and evaluate their own thinking process as it occurs.
The thinking aloud strategy can also be used by learners who find that they do not enjoy or are unable to deal with a task or problem they are faced with, but still need to master the task. They might also use this strategy if they have a particular character trait that makes them think too much about things that are beyond their control rather than concentrating on what they can do. It can enable them to break these negative patterns of thought that might otherwise be hard to overcome.
Getting started – How to implement
In order to use this strategy, a learner has to come up with a plan for the task they are trying to complete. They have to imagine what problems might arise along the way and how they will deal with them. They then need to set explicit goals and have a clear idea of what needs to be done in order for them to reach those goals. Finally, they need to bring their plan into play while they are doing the task.
A lot of learners find this strategy difficult to start because they are not used to planning their activities in advance. Some of them know what is supposed to happen but have difficulty figuring out how it is supposed to happen, or how they are supposed to control the process so that it reaches the goals.
If a learner is used to planning their goals in line with the time it will take to complete the task, they can still use this strategy effectively. This is because people who plan early on what they are trying to achieve will not end up with undesirable or illogical plans that work against the goals of that task.
There are different ways in which learners can plan their tasks, but the most common way is by using a plan-do-review cycle (see diagram below). Learners start by setting clear goals for themselves. They have to plan exactly how they are going to achieve these goals, by defining the necessary steps and tasks that will be involved. They need to do this so that the process can be carried out properly and in an orderly fashion.
After setting these goals, learners evaluate their plans, checking for errors in them and also evaluating any uncomfortable feelings they have when thinking about them. This evaluation can take place at any time during the planning process as long as it occurs before learners act on their plans. There are three main reasons for this:
- The feelings of discomfort that a learner has while they are planning their plan may suggest that there is something wrong with the plan. For example, if a learner feels very anxious or stressed about what they have just done, then it may be an indication that their plan is not thought through properly and will not work as well as they expect.
- The uncomfortable feelings can help learners identify possible problems before they become too serious. Once these problems are identified, the learner can think about how they can be solved before they become serious roadblocks.
- If the uncomfortable feelings are not checked, they could cause learners to give up on whatever plan they have just come up with and end up doing nothing about it. If this happens, then it is possible that these feelings may cause learners to give up altogether on their tasks and never achieve their goals.
As a result of evaluating their plans, learners will be better able to identify what was wrong with their plan and how they can avoid making similar mistakes in the future. This will enable them to put the appropriate effort into planning a better course of action for reaching their goal. It is important that they do this on the basis that it is not possible for all plans to always work as intended.
Some learners find it hard to work out why there are feelings of discomfort when they are planning. They wonder why it is wrong to have thoughts of discomfort when planning a task. It is important for these learners to realise that it is not possible to plan an activity without having some kind of feelings about it. In other words, there is no such thing as a “neutral” feeling when planning something and the feeling of discomfort can come in three forms:
- Being anxious or stressed can mean that someone has a problem with their plan and needs to work harder at it until they manage to solve the problem.
- Feeling uncertain about the plan can also mean a problem with the plan. For example, a learner who is unsure about how to start doing something because they do not know if they are supposed to do it first or second may need to add information telling them exactly what needs to be done.
- Having an uncomfortable feeling while thinking about their plan can be an indication of problems with the plan. For example, if a learner is not sure how to break down a problem into steps that would be easy for them, then they should make the breaks more obvious by outlining these and using arrows or other signs to illustrate the steps.
Learners who are used to planning their tasks in line with the time it will take to complete them can still use this strategy effectively. This is because people who plan early on what they are trying to achieve will not end up with undesirable or illogical plans that work against the goals of that task. They will also be able to identify problems with their plans before they become serious and therefore will not have to give up on them.
For example, if a learner is planning on doing their homework for one hour then it might take them longer than expected because they just do not know what to say. They could go back and make a plan using more detailed steps so that they do not end up getting distracted while doing it. They could also make time limits at a certain point in their plan so that they can check if the process is going well or if they need to change some of their planning.
When learners are used to planning in line with the goal, it is not necessary for them to take detailed notes on how things will be accomplished. In fact, it may be better if they do not make notes or go into too much detail because if they describe to other people how they will complete the task, it can become hard for them to remember enough steps involved in the process.
If a learner finds it difficult to plan in line with their goals then it might be best for them to plan for specific tasks rather than continue with their overall plans. This will make them feel less pressure to accomplish the goals. A task is a smaller goal that can be more easily done than attempting a larger goal.
Learners should also try using the plan-do-review cycle for other types of tasks but not as their only means of planning. They can use the plan-do-review cycle as a guideline for planning but they should not use it as their only planning strategy. If they do this then their plans will not be followed because there will be too much emphasis on doing things in a certain way.
Therefore, instead of following a plan as closely as possible, learners should try to have some freedom in how they perform tasks. This will enable them to meet the goals that they have set themselves easier and therefore increase the likelihood that they will complete them more successfully.
Planning a task is not something people should avoid like it was avoiding the plague. In fact, it is a vital skill that everyone who works in an office should master. It is important for them to spend enough time planning their tasks so that they do not end up wasting valuable time doing things they will later regret. Planning can also help them in doing things in a more efficient way as well as identifying problems and solutions to these before they become big issues during the process of completing the tasks.
The plan-do-review cycle is one planning strategy that people can use when they want to accomplish tasks. It is not a strategy that should be used on its own but it can be combined with other techniques to help people become more skilled at planning their tasks. It is important for learners to understand the process of the cycle and how they can evaluate other plans using it. This will help them in planning their activities more efficiently so that they are better able to complete them successfully without wasting time or discomforting themselves.
The main thing is for learners to understand that planning is not something they can avoid but it should be a necessity. If they plan, they would not have to work so hard or get tired when planning and might end up more satisfied with the results of their activity than if they had not planned at all. This in turn will help them to realise that there are many benefits in doing so and therefore make it easier for them to continue doing this.