METAPHORICAL THINKING: CONSTRUCTING COGNITIVE CLASSROOMS
Suzanne lane Dawkins Lustie
B.A. Central Washington State University, 1969
M.A. University of Northern Colorado, 1989
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Educational Leadership and Innovation
1998 by Suzanne Jane Dawkins Lustie
. All rights reserved.
This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
Suzanne Jane Dawkins Lustie
has been approved by
' Nathenson-Mej ia
4. /?? ?
Lustie, Suzanne Jane Dawkins (Ph.D., Educational Leadership and Innovation)
Metaphorical Thinking: Constructing Cognitive Classrooms
Thesis directed by Dr. Alan Davis
Metaphors are embedded in our language and our thinking. This study
investigated metaphorical thinking as a tool learners could use to become: (a) more
skilled thinkers and (b) aware of themselves as thinkers. In this study the question
addressed was: What patterns of thought emerge when students participate in a
system of creating metaphorical connections consciously during an extended study of
Six thinking strategies were analyzed for 50 grade eight students on four
specific assignments over a ten-week period, with five individual students used as
case studies. Four metacognitive assignments were analyzed using the same
sampling. Students evidenced significant growth in thinking and metacognitive
This research serves to underline the notion that students thinking improves
as they are made aware of connection-making possibilities. These connection making
abilities are the basic tools for absorbing information and the basis of metaphorical
thinking. This research offers practitioners a look at ways metaphorical thinking
might become part of their ongoing curriculum and suggests that a constructivist
classroom is possible for the practitioner.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend
To Al, Melissa and Freya who support me as I work to build high, to stretch the arch
and to soar with the students that have inspired me.
This study could not have been completed without the assistance and
encouragement of numerous people. Particular thanks are due my committee for their
encouragement, guidance and availability.
1. OBJECTIVE OF STUDY
Piagets Learning Theory .....................................2
Bruner and Vygotskys Learning Theory ........................4
Learning as Reflecting .......................................7
General Understanding of Metaphor............................11
Educational Understanding of Metaphor .......................12
Overview of the Study 15
2. CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK AND REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
Framework of Learning..............................................19
Learning as Developmental....................................19
Learning as Language and Constructing Meaning................23
Learning as Reflection (Metacognition) ......................30
Learning as Metaphorical ....................................36
3. METHOD ................................................................48
Purpose of the Study ........................................50
History of the Study.........................................52
History of Research Question One.............................56
History of Research Question Two ............................57
Research Approach .................................................59
Data Collection and Analysis.......................................62
Setting and Participants.....................................62
The Unit ....................................................67
Data Collection .............................................74
Summary ...................................................... 103
4. RESULTS OF TEACHING A UNIT ON LANGUAGE STRUCTURE IN
COMBINATION WITH METAPHORICAL THINKING ACTIVITIES 106
How Students Evidenced Skill in Thinking.......................107
Using Humor, Dialogue, Personification...................107
Using Counter Examples ..................................114
Breaking Problems Into Manageable Components ............119
Working Forward and Backward in Thinking.................124
Using Divergent Thinking and Different Points of View to
Evidencing a Skills Base That Could Be Manipulated ......138
The Graphic Organizer (Web)..............................148
Analysis of Core One and Core Five on Five Metacognitive
Specific Analysis of Five Students on Their Metacognitive
Focus Groups Provided Further Understanding
Into Students Metacognitive Awareness ............170
5. SUMMARY, CONCLUSIONS, AND IMPLICATIONS.............................182
Review of the Study............................................183
The Conceptual Frame Work ...............................183
The Research Questions ..................................187
What the Findings Mean.........................................189
The Original Problem and Summation of Results............189
The Theoretical Frame....................................190
The Practical Frame......................................191
Limitations of This Study................................194
Larger Meaning of the Studys Findings.........................195
School Culture Concerns..................................196
Further Exploration ......................................197
A. INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY WITH GRAPHIC ORGANIZER
B. WEEK ONE OF STUDY............................................208
Instruction and General Description of How the Work Was Introduced ... 208
C. WEEK TWO OF THE STUDY .......................................215
General Description of Instruction During Week Two .......215
D. WEEKS THREE THROUGH TEN......................................221
Examples of Specific Assignments
During the Ten Weeks of the Study...................221
E. FOCUS GROUP TRANSCRIPTS .....................................224
Transcription of the Discussion From
Core One and Core Five .............................224
Table 1 Assignments Associated with the Research Question ................82
Table 2 Use of Humor, Dialogue and Personification in Three
Table 3 Use of Counter Examples in Three Assignments.....................117
Table 4 Breaking Problems into Manageable Parts in Three Assignments.....120
Table 5 Working Forward and Backward in Three Assignments ...............127
Table 6 Divergent Thinking on Using Different Points of View in Three
Table 7 Transfer or Manipulation of Skills Evident in Three Assignments ..139
Table 8 Number of Times Strategies Were Used Overall.................... 143
Table 9 Percentage of Students Using Strategies on Each
Tale 10 Number of Times Strategies Were Used per Assignments.............147
Table 11 Language Connections Made Using the Graphic Organizer............150
Table 12 Transfer of Attributes...........................................155
Table 13 Students Responses Regarding the Importance of Metaphorical
Figure 1 Using Humor, Dialogue and Personification ..........................110
Figure 2 Counter Example ...................................................117
Figure 3 Breaking Problems into Manageable Parts............................121
Figure 4 Working Forward and Backward ......................................127
Figure 5 Divergent Thinking..................................................135
Figure 6 Use of Basic Skills ...............................................139
Figure 7 Percent of Core One Students Using Strategies .....................144
Figure 8 Percent of Core Five Students Using Strategies ....................144
Figure 9 Core Five Graphic Organizer .......................................146
Figure 10 Core One Graphic Organizer........................................151
Figure 11 Core Five Graphic Organizer ......................................151
OBJECTIVE OF STUDY
How we act and how we think are shaped by the metaphors we employ, both
consciously and unconsciously, to organize our world. Metaphor construction is not
just a matter of literary word play; rather metaphors are embedded in our language
and revealed in the ways we describe things. Formal explicit metaphors are at the
heart of scientific explanation; informal metaphors are those found in daily language.
I will be focusing on a middle ground, between the informal implicit metaphors of
daily language, and the formal, explicit metaphors of formal explanation. This study
examined the use of metaphorical thinking as a tool learners use to become more
skilled thinkers and to become aware of themselves as thinkers. It is a descriptive
qualitative study that addresses the question: What patterns of thought emerge when
students participate in a system of creating metaphorical connections consciously
during an extended study of language?
Chapter one traces Piagets view of cognitive development as an unfolding, a
progressing of the learner in a series of steps or stages, with emphasis on the active
role of the learner interacting with the environment. I add to those series of steps or
stages Vygotsky and Bruners ideas of constructing meaning at each of these stages
through interaction with the environment and the acquisition of language. Language
enables learners to interact with others and to appropriate the cultural elements of
society and the environment. I further suggest that unless there is a chance for
learners to reflect on the cognitive process, thinking will not be well served. This
thinking about thinking is called metacognition. I close the chapter by discussing the
role of metaphor in this learning matrix, suggesting how this research will further our
understanding of thinking and constructing meaning.
The conceptual framework of this study draws principally on three learning theorists:
Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner, and Lev Vygotsky.
Piagets Learning Theory
Piagets theory places action and self-directed problem-solving at the heart of learning
and development. By acting on the world, the learner comes to discover how to
control it. In human beings, learning how to act on the world and discovering the
consequences of action form the bedrock of thinking itself. But the child does not
acquire knowledge directly, through imitation or direct perception. Instead the child
constructs his or her mental schema, through the course of interaction.
For Piaget, intellectual development is not the quantitative accumulation of
facts or skills, but is rather a progression through a series of qualitatively distinct
levels of cognitive ability. Probably the most important element in Piagets theory of
cognitive development is his conception of equilibrium. In Piagets model,
equilibrium is not conceived of as a balance of forces in a state of rest, but is seen
rather as a way to cognitively balance external intrusions. The nature of these
compensations are dependent on the activities of children in their social-ecological
environments. Piaget asserts that equilibrium is the central force which propels
children through the stages of cognitive development (Corsaro, 1985). I discuss this
concept further in chapter two.
Although many of the specific descriptions and explanations of development
offered by Piaget are no longer accepted, Piaget and his collaborators defined many of
the problems that continue to occupy researchers interested in childrens minds and
the development of mental capacities. Moreover, his theory inspired a philosophy
that continues to affect education.
According to Piaget there are four stages of cognitive development that occur
in an invariant sequence. Although Piaget frequently warned against applying age
norms to the stages, I can assume that the children in my grade eight classroom are
moving out of the concrete operational stage, which corresponds roughly to the
elementary-grade years and when they may apply the concrete cognitive operations,
and moving into the formal operations stage. Formal operational thinkers can generate
all combinations of possibilities for a given situation, they can infer and deal with
abstractions (Pressley, 1995).
By training and by conviction, Piaget was a biologist and thus believed there
was a biological inevitability to the stages and hence a universality to them. This
view of learning limits theorists understanding of language and thought. Piaget was
interested primarily in the structure of mature thinking. Bruner, however, sought to
describe the different processes that are implicated in creative problem-solving. Such
processes, in Bruners view, vary from individual to individual and from discipline to
discipline, but in Bruners view all have an emphasis on the role of language,
communication and instruction in the development of knowledge and understanding.
Bruner and Vygotskys Learning Theory
Like Bruner and quite unlike Piaget, a Soviet psychologist, L.S. Vygotsky placed
instruction at the very heart of human development. Indeed, he defined intelligence
itself as the capacity to learn through instruction (Wood, 1988; Vygotsky, 1962).
Also like Bruner, Vygotsky puts language and communication (and, hence,
instruction) at the core of intellectual and personal development. Vygotsky argues
that sign systems and language, like tool systems are created by societies over the
course of history and change with cultural development. The acquisition of language
by children enables the child, through interaction with others to appropriate the
cultural elements of society. This appropriation brings about behavioral
transformation and forms a bridge between early and later forms of individual
Piaget tends to concentrate more on the nature and characteristics of cognitive
(or higher-order) processes and structures, while Vygotsky emphasizes their
developmental contexts and history. As a result, Vygotsky is less interested in
identifying abstract levels or stages of cognitive structures and more interested in
specifying the social events which lead to practical activities and the internalization
and transformation of these activities over time. This emphasis on the practical
activities of children in everyday social events is most evident in Vygotskys work on
language and thought (Corsaro, 1985).
So, where Piaget sought to unify biology, natural science and psychology,
Vygotskys quest was to integrate psychology with an analysis of history, art,
literature, cultural activity, and sociology. He sought nothing less than a coherent
theory of the humanities and social sciences. This higher level of thought appears
twice, first in social interactions, later in the repertoire of the individual.
Bruner,Vygotsky, and Vygotskys colleague, Luria, place far more emphasis
than does Piaget on the role played by culture and its systems of symbols (e.g. its
languages, sciences, books, diagrams, pictures) in forming the childs intelligence.
Such systems have a dynamic, structuring effect on learning and development. They
are not to be viewed as the mere content of thinking but seen as part of its structure
and its activity. When the child learns a language, for example, he does not simply
discover labels to describe and remember significant objects or features of his social
and physical environment, but he or she is discovering ways of construing and
constructing the world (Wood, 1988, Vygotsky, 1962).
Bruners theory, unlike either Piagets or Vygotskys was grounded in the
language of information theory. Bruner is convinced that social experience plays a
major part in mental development, but though his theory of the way in which social
experience is involved in development differs from Vygotskys account (Bruner,
1973). Bruner employs the language of information processing in formulating his
findings from work on adult cognition with those arising from the study of children.
Bruner seeks to ground his account of the processes of mind in a theory of culture
and growth often drawing and building upon insights delivered by both Piaget and
Vygotsky. Piaget provides a stage for formal operational thinking to take place for
learners. Bruner and Vygotsky provide research that solidifies language as that
which builds the mental scaffolding for that stage.
Learning as Reflecting
As we contemplate the mind it is interesting that it takes on a metaphorical quality.
We place, or store things in our memory, we find a location for what weve stored.
We have, in using these phrases, invited comparisons with the processes involved in
the physical activities like searching a room, looking for a mislaid object. I suggest
that an important part of understanding and teaching toward thinking must include an
examination of our thinking. Albert Camus said, an intellect is someone whose
mind watches itself, (Fogarty, 1994, p.vii). Learning to watch our mind or
metacognition, is an important part of thinking and learning.
Metacognition is thinking about thinking. Whatever you do, whatever your
life experiences are you capture meaning. Metacognition is becoming aware of this
meaning. It is becoming aware of what you know and what you dont know. The key
to metacognitive behavior is raising to consciousness or awareness ones own
thinking and learning. Once you know, you cant not know. Once you know you can
then adjust accordingly. So metacognition is awareness and control over your own
thinking behavior. John Flavell (1985) used the term metacognition to describe active
monitoring and consequent regulation and orchestration of cognitive processes.
An Israeli researcher, Reuben Feuerstein, demonstrated in a landmark study
the modifiability of cognitive behavior. His study changes the view of intelligence as
an unchanging entity to a capacity that grows not only in developmentally appropriate
ways with age, but also through deliberate interventions or mediated learning
experiences (Feuerstein, R. & Feuerstein, S., 1991). This study gives credence to
having students reflect on learning experiences so they and their instructors can find
ways to modify or intervene to mediate learning experiences.
Costas (1991) research and subsequent definition of metacognition suggests it
encompasses our ability to know what we know and what we dont know. It includes
our ability to plan a strategy for producing what information is needed and to be
conscious of our own steps and strategies during the art of problem solving. Finally it
involves reflection on and evaluation of the productivity of our own thinking so there
is a clear concept of the awareness of and control over ones own mind and thinking.
In todays classroom the use of cooperative learning and small group work is
considered a cornerstone of the active learning models. As students work together,
they have opportunities to articulate their thinking and in the process, internalize
learning. As students put ideas into their own words, they learn differently and they
learn more substantially. However, the increased use of interactive models dictates
an equally increased use of reflective tools. Students will use these tools to move
them inside their own heads and think about their learning. That personal reflection is
embedded in the metacognitive processing of the classroom in which students look
back and look over their progress.
Another call for metacognitive reflection comes with the ultimate purpose of
leaning: to transfer and use that learning in other situations. To foster meaningful
application and transfer of learning, student reflection is key. Metacognitive
strategies provide the necessary format to promote learning not just for a test, but for
a lifetime not just for recall, but for lifelong learning and reasoning, to enhance
participation in multiple contexts.
As teachers and educators as architects of intellect, we can foster and guide
the metacognitive behavior of our learners. Metacognition is an important aspect of
metaphorical thinking. Construction of metaphors cant happen effectively without
the same hallmarks apparent in the thoughtful, reflective atmosphere of learners
thinking about their thinking. In setting out to teach students to manage the work of
their minds, I borrow from Resnick (1988) who has focused much of her attention on
the kind of thinking required for success in modem life. She sees a need for thinking
skills adaptable to different demands. From her perspective, the thinking we seek:
(a) requires that the path of action is not folly specified in advance
(b) is complex, the total path is not mentally visible from any single vantage
(c) often yields multiple solutions, rather than one unique solution
(d) involves the application of multiple, sometimes conflicting criteria
(e) involves self-regulation of the thinking process, not regulation by others
(f) involves imposing meaning, finding structure in apparent disorder
(g) is effortful.
Typically we see metaphor as embellished language: figurative, fon, and
perhaps fundamentally frivolous. However, Vygotsky (1962) clearly established that
language is a tool for thought, it is not just a happy accident. Following the thinking
perspective of Resnick, if we were to elevate metaphor construction as a way to
construct meaning, as a way to use language deliberately as a cognitive construct, we
would have a match for each one of the thinking characteristics she mentions.
Metaphorical construction relates directly to the ways people learn and come to view
reality. How we act and how we think is and has been shaped by metaphorical
constructs. Thus, being aware of the metaphors that surround and bombard us, and
being able to shape metaphors, empowers learners as they build mental models.
Consciously constructing the comparisons available in metaphor, simile, and analogy
may enhance problem solving skills, creative thinking, and the acquisition of new
knowledge. For the purposes of this discussion I will make no great distinction
between metaphor, simile and analogy; they are all useful comparative devices in the
process of thinking.
General Understanding of Metaphor
The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms
of another (Lakoff, & Johnson,. 1980, p.5). Metaphor construction then is not just a
matter of creating meaning with language; it is also the linguistic expression of a
persons conceptual or cognitive system. However, the very act of allowing
metaphorical expressions to shape our concept of an idea can also cloud our
conceptual understanding. Because of that limitation we must see metaphor as a
beginning connector, an initial bridge between what we know or understand to what
we do not know or understand.
Left to its own devices, the human mind may not be inclined to refine its own
strategies. Rather, according to Sperber &Wilson (1995), the mind will take the road
of least resistance and find what makes immediate sense or relevance. The mind can
reason automatically, but it can also dispense with reason automatically. It can ignore
the facts, fail to recall, infer incorrectly, leap to unreliable conclusions, get the wrong
idea, fail to set goals, devise shoddy plans, endlessly repeat a fruitless procedure, and
carry out an approach without checking for accuracy. If the mind fails to find a
purpose for processing information, it sinks quickly to boredom. It can work better
to a greater number of purposes and with really increased power if we teach our
students how to control the work it does.
Metaphors are bridges to understanding but not necessarily bridges to reality.
We have to accept that they are complex, nonalgorithmic, often yielding multiple
solutions, involving nuances of judgment, and interpretation. They help us examine,
embellish, and extend our notion of what is real. They illuminate reality, new
understandings, or areas of confusion. They may, however, be wrong in the sense that
the human mind may not be inclined to refine its own strategies, and may perhaps
take the road of least resistance. The mind can reason automatically, but it can also
dispense with reason automatically.
Educational Understanding of Metaphor
My research looks at how metaphor construction can be used in the classroom to help
learners be conscious of how they think and to help them examine their thinking. I
want learners to explore the possible ways of building a thinking scaffold that is
sound, scaffolding that can be taken apart and re-arranged to do the job at hand,
scaffolding that is able to stand reflection and or disequilibrium, and not collapse.
Through attending explicitly to our uses of metaphor we can make various
frames of understanding and differing points of view explicit and call for their
consideration in educational discussion. Learning to relate things in a variety of ways
is a fundamental cognitive skill, emphasized by Piaget in terms of his formal
Educators, using metaphorical thinking, may be able to help students who are
reluctant to make those initial implicit or explicit comparisons. Metaphorical
comparisons often change as the learner explores the implications of the initial
connections. This exploring can be intimidating for a learner. Our educational
system emphasizes holding right ideas rather than exploring ideas; products have
been the result, rather than process. Metaphor construction has the possibility of
helping students move beyond the notion of being right to the notion of exploring
possibilities. A further part of the process then could be the selection of the most
appropriate set of connections or possibilities. We can teach metaphor as a system of
related meanings. In this system students can extend their own network of
understanding, they can continue to create meaning by extending what is already
meaningful. Metaphorical thinking has the potential of challenging students to
create relationships between major curricular concepts and their own earlier
What metaphor does is to say implicitly that two apparently dissimilar things
have something in common. Metaphors transfer meaning and understanding by
comparison. The comparison happens explicitly using simile or analogy. The
comparison that is possible is the essence of what I want to focus on, not the use of a
linguistic structure that can be labeled as simile, or metaphor, or metonymy. Clearly
a comparative metaphor or analogy would not serve by itself to make intelligible the
acquisition of radically new knowledge, but the comparative level of metaphor might
allow for extension of already existing knowledge. This comparative property
provides a new form of understanding.
Educationally the use of metaphor makes learning more memorable.
Metaphor moves from the more familiar to the less familiar and enables one to pass
from the more familiar to the unfamiliar in the sense that it provides a key mechanism
for changing our modes of representing the world in thought and language.
Kutz and Roskelly (1991) give us an unquiet view of how we make
connections. They suggest imagination is the force that allows the students to make
knowledge out of experience. Educators must show students how the process of living
is a process of interpretation, of making meaning and connection. The essential link
between the outer and the inner world, between object and perceiver is the
imagination. Too often we see the work of the classroom as centering on rules and
application, on individual and discrete units of information rather than on some larger
activity of learning that would arrange individual bits of information into patterns. In
the Origins of Knowledge and the Imagination. Jacob Branowski (1978), the
mathematician and biologist discusses the place of the imagination in all knowing.
He suggests that every act of imagination is the discovery of likeness between two
things which were thought unlike citing as an example Newtons use of the
metaphor to explain the revolution of the moon, (Newton said the moon is a ball
thrown around the earth). Branowski says that such discoveries of new likeness open
a closed system of relationships (p 101, 111). In chapter two I will deal further with
the implications from research of metaphorical thinking.
Overview of the Study
I undertook to examine the patterns of thought that emerged when students engage in
classroom activities designed to create metaphorical connections consciously in
connection with a study of language. I sought to discover : What patterns of thought
emerge when students participated in a system of consciously creating metaphorical
connections during an extended study of language.
I propose to:
(a) determine how students evidenced skill in thinking as they learned to
create metaphors consciously, exploring what thinking strategies they used as they
moved through the study; and
(b) describe in what ways students became aware of themselves as thinkers?
To address these questions, I examined student writing (both class
assignments and metacognitive reflection), and statements made during class
discussion as recorded in my personal log and on video tape, over a period of ten
There is much more to being a good thinker than just having the right process
(Sternberg 1987). He says there are four elements to being a good thinker. For the
purposes of this study I chose to look at his suggested first element of being a good
thinker, that of having strategies for thinking. Good thinkers not only have the right
thought processes, but know how to combine them into workable strategies for
solving problems. For the first question I determined six strategies that would lend
themselves to metaphorical thinking. I analyzed student assignments for evidence of
these six strategies.
The second area of exploration was that of student awareness. I believe that as
students become aware of themselves as thinkers they become empowered as
thinkers. If they are aware of how to think and of what kinds of thinking helps them,
then they can forge the kinds of connections in their minds that create meaningful
mental models. I clustered student responses on metacognitive assignments to give
me an idea of patterns of thoughts and changes in thoughts as students moved through
The primary instructional vehicle for this study was the study of language and
language structure, but my goal was to examine the thinking that emerged because of
the study of language. The study of language provided the vehicle to navigate the
research of metaphorical construction as mental models were constructed. I will
delineate the study and design further in chapter three.
For a period of ten weeks my classes studied parts of speech, sentence
construction and discussed how all of that related to thinking and writing.
Assignments were varied. For question one I analyzed three assignments from all
students in two of my heterogeneously mixed classes. For further analysis I focused
on five students in depth for those same three assignments. For question two I
analyzed four written metacognitive assignments with in dept analysis for those same
five students. A detailed description of methodological procedures is presented in
CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK AND REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
In this chapter, I expand upon the conceptual framework developed in chapter one
and review literature pertinent to my research. I anchor this discussion in the
learning theory suggested by Piaget and further the discussion using the
constructivist theory of Vygotsky and Bruner with added emphasis of the important
part language plays in developing mental models. Researchers views on thinking
and thinking about thinking (metacognition) add to this conversation. I close with a
discussion of how metaphoric thinking is seen by researchers as a cognitive tool.
Framework of Learning
Learning as Developmental
No single individual has had as much impact on the study of childrens mind
and mental capacities as Jean Piaget Piaget recognized that there were multiple
determinants of developmental change. The first, maturation, is biological. Piagets
view was that as the organism matured physically, new possibilities for development
were opened. Although biological development is necessary for cognitive growth, it
is not sufficient by itself for such growth to occur (Piaget, 1983). Experience in this
process plays a role as well. It is during experience that new cognitive acquisitions are
practiced. Experience with the physical world permits the abstraction of important
regularities. There are opportunities for what Piaget referred to as
logicomathematical experiences which involve learning about the effects of actions
on objects and opportunities for development due to the social environment.
According to Piaget there are four stages of cognitive development that occur in an
invariant sequence. Piaget believed that the speed of movement through what he
determined are developmental stages could be affected by the quality of the childs
social environment at home and school (Pressley, 1995).
Equilibration, touched upon in the previous chapter, is an especially critical
mechanism affecting cognitive growth according to Piaget. At any given point of
development, children understand the world in terms of the cognitive operations they
have developed. As the possibilities of cognitive growth enlarge the child will
experience cognitive conflict as the structures that have worked before are now not
working and creating disequilibrium. This motivates reflection that results in the
construction of new cognitive structures permitting compensation (Pressley, 1995).
Equilibrium or disequilibrium works through assimilating new information and
adjusting that new information. Piaget calls this adjusting accommodation. Cognitive
development occurs through cycles of equilibrium, disequilibrium, followed by
equilibrium at a higher level of competence (Piaget, 1983).
At one level, of course, every action we perform is unique. When the infant
grasps, lifts, and drinks from a particular bottle, containing a certain amount in it,
from a specific surface, in a given context, his or her actual performance will vary in
minor detail from other, similar performances. Put in Piagetian terms, every act of
assimilation involves an element of accommodation. Piaget used this term to refer to
the changes, often minor ones, that have to be made to preexisting schemes of activity
in order to make possible the assimilation of the new experience. Some
accommodations require dramatic changes in the structure of the childs
understanding of the world, particularly those which herald a change in stage. When
these dramatic accommodations are required the learner often enters a state of
disequilibrium. He or she is confused as assumptions are brought into question by the
reality of events. This mental state is intolerable and motivates thought and actions.
Eventually, the child will either discover a more embracing or over-arching idea or
mental scheme which will restore equilibrium or retreat and not construct new
Ive mentioned Piagets four stages of cognitive development. It is on the last
of these stages that I wish to focus, that of the formal operations. Learners who have
moved to the formal operations stage of their cognitive development can deal with
several dimensions of thought, they can generate all combinations of possibilities for
a given situation, and they can infer meaning. They are capable of the kind of
cognition that constructing metaphor implies. Learners in this stage are the focus of
Whereas Piaget was interested primarily in the structure of mature thinking,
Bruner sought to describe the different processes that are implicated in creative
problem-solving. Such processes, in Bruners view, vary from individual to
individual and from discipline to discipline (Wood, 1988). The similarities between
the two theories are, however, of interest. Both place emphasis on the importance of
action and problem-solving in learning. They also adopt a similar position with
regard to the different ways in which knowledge can be represented or embodied.
From both perspectives, instruction that teaches children only how to manipulate
abstract procedures without first establishing the connections between such
procedures and the activities involved in the solution of practical, concrete problems
is bound to fail. One important aspect of Bruners psychology, in comparison to
Piagets, is his greater emphasis on the role of language, communication, and
instruction in the development of knowledge and understanding. While Piaget does
provide a role for social interaction and communication in his theory, it plays a far
less important part in the development of intelligence than it does in Bruners account
(Wood, 1988; Piaget, 1968; Bruner, 1966).
Learning as Language and Constructing Meaning
Like Bruner and quite unlike Piaget, Vygotsky also placed instruction at the
very heart of human development. Indeed, he defined intelligence itself as the
capacity to leam through instruction. Vygotsky put language and communication (
and, hence, instruction) at the core of intellectual and personal development. In
Vygotskys view childhood speech is not a personal, egocentric affair but the reverse:
it is social and communicative in both origin and intent. He noted an important stage
of transition when speech begins to serve a regulatory, communicative function.
Language becomes an instrument or tool of thought for the learner, not only providing
a code system for representing the world but also the means by which self-regulation
comes about. The overt activity of speaking provides the basis for inner speech, that
rather mysterious covert activity that often forms the process of thinking (Wood,
1988; Vygotsky, 1962).
According to Vygotsky, cognitive development moves forward largely
because the child is in a world that provides assistance when the child needs it and
can benefit from it. The responsive social world provides assistance within what
Vygotsky called the zone of proximal development (ZPD). The zone is defined as
behaviors beyond a childs level of autonomous functioning but within reach with
assistance and as such reflects behaviors that are developing (Pressley, 1995).
The concept of the ZPD contrasts with what we might call a traditional view
of learning in which the child moves through a sequence in increasingly difficult tasks
or learning hierarchy. The two conceptions lead to very different approaches to
monitoring the childs progress and assessing his or her abilities. In the traditional
view, competence is measured by successful performance of a task at a particular
point in the sequence. Change over time is seeing improved performance of the task
or in movement up the sequence, but that might involve some failure along the way.
In either case, the childs individual performance is assessed. The ZPD provides a
different approach. Instead of giving the learners a task and measuring how well they
do or how badly they fail, one can give learners the task and observe how much and
what kind of help they need in order to complete the task successfully. In this
approach the child is not assessed alone, (e.g. one task at a prescribed point in the
sequence) (Newman, Griffin, & Cole. 1995). The social system of the classroom
provides added scaffolding for learning. For example, the language that is shared in
discussion provides added clarity, and growth is not viewed in isolation as a linear
progression from one to ten on a scale of measurement. Knowing and understanding
vary with each learner and only in-so-far as we allow for that will we be able to
authenticate the individual and empower each learner.
The highest stage of intelligence in Bruners hierarchy, that of representation,
can only be reached through language. It is not the language itself, rather it seems to
be the use of language as an instrument of thinking that matters, its internalization ...
(Bruner, 1966, p.14). Patterns of thought reflect, in some measure, the outcome of
internalizing the functions inherent in the language we use. Through using language
to describe and transform their knowledge, students achieve intellectual growth. This
use of language is a necessary step toward building mental schema.
Bruner, unlike both Vygotsky and Piaget came to the study of child
development after extensive research into adult thinking and problem-solving.
Although sharing with Vygotsky a stress on the importance of culture and cultural
history in the formation of mind, his background provided him with a more detailed
sense of the process involved in mature, socialized cognition. His theory, unlike
either Piagets or Vygotskys was grounded in the language of information theory
(Bruner, 1966). For Vygotsky and Bruner, acquiring the means to communicate
clearly is what created cognitive and linguistic progress. This has far-reaching
implications for education and the role of teaching. From this perspective children
cannot choose to think about thinking strategies if they do not have a language that
lets them recognize the choices available.
For Vygotsky and Bruner, the intellectual tools and activities which form the
basis of understanding arise out of social interaction and largely informal teaching.
The language of information processing, concepts of uncertainty, chunking and
expertise, offer a way of describing what children can and cannot do. The social and
historical perspective offered by Vygotsky and Bruner, expressed in the language of
information precessing, provides an account of learning that differs from Piaget in
terms of the mental activities that are believed to underlie learning and thinking, and
in the experiences that lead to their acquisition and perfection.
Vygotsky and Bruner move Piagets stage theory to another level and suggest
a distinction made by Vygotskys colleague Leontev. While accepting Piagets
fundamental notion that children actively construct their knowledge through
interaction with the environment, Leontev would change Piagets concept of
assimilation with the concept of appropriation. Leontev preserves Piagets
fundamental insight that children have their own structured system of activity.
However, he emphasizes the fact that they cannot and need not reinvent the artifacts
that have taken millennia to evolve in order to appropriate such objects into their own
system of activity. The child has only to come to an understanding that is adequate for
using the culturally elaborated object in the life circumstances he or she encounters.
With this distinction Piaget and Leontev move beyond only a biologically oriented
metaphor for cognitive development to include a sociohistorical one (Newman,
Griffin & Cole, 1995). Another distinction between Piaget and the other
constructivists (Vygotsky, Bruner, etc.) concerns their recognition of language as a
means to construct meaning.
Ive noticed that teachers reciprocally apply the process of appropriation in
instructional interactions. In constructing a Zone of Proximal Development, ZPD,
(the place where, because of socially mediated interactions, cognitive change is most
likely to occur) the teacher incorporates childrens actions into her own system of
activity. For example, the teacher has a chance to observe how a learner is
appropriating a learning situation and scaffold other learning appropriately for more
support, for an intermediate step, etc. This incorporation allows for the process of
interactive construction and thus cognitive change or growth (Newman, et al., 1995).
Metaphorical construction provides such an interactive tool. Students and teachers
working through metaphorical construction can find themselves engaged in the
process of what Lauren Resnick (1987) calls managing the work of their minds. In
managing the work of our minds we need thinking skills adaptable to different
demands. Thinking metaphorically can give us such tools.
While all three theorists, Vygotsky, Piaget, and Bruner, emphasize the
centrality of purposive activity in learning and development, the roles they portray for
social interaction and instruction are quite different. So too are their predictions about
the impact of culture and social experience on cognition. Piaget leads us in search of
cultural universals revealed by common stages of development. Vygotsky and Bruner
prepare us to find different ways of thinking and construing the world that arise out of
cultural knowledge and different ways of socializing and educating children.
The development of mental schema depend on the formation of images as a
result of sensory experience. According to Lakoff (1987) they also depend on
kinesthetic experiencethe relation of the body to space. The exercise of these
functions leads to various image and kinesthetic schemas. These schemas have
properties that are reflected later in the use of metaphor and metonymy. (Metaphor is
the referral or mapping of one thing to another in a different domain, while metonym
is the use of some part or aspect of a thing to stand for the thing itself). Language
therefore makes use of general cognitive mechanisms to construct schema, among
them metaphoric models.
Lakoff s (1987) linguistic theory does not show how this proposed
embodiment of meaning might come to pass, nor does it show how symbolic
idealized cognitive models of language arise as a result of the mechanisms of
perceptual and conceptual categorization. For these tasks, one needs a general
biological theory of brain function and a theory of consciousness both based on the
facts of evolution and development. Nobel laureate Gerald M. Edelman (1992)
brilliantly blends ideas about biology, brain function and linguistic code in his book
Bright Air. Brilliant Fire. On the Matter of the Mind. He takes issue with the many
current cognitive and behavioral approaches to the brain that leave biology out of the
picture, and argues that the workings of the brain more closely resemble the living
ecology of a jungle than they do the activities of a computer. Edelman feels his work
on brain theory nicely complements Lakoff and Johnsons work with metaphorical
knowing The importance of their efforts and the efforts of cognitive psychologists is
enormous. Edelman, however, insists that employing their metaphorical grammar
without considering the biological foundation of thought process is insufficient.
Using the work of Sylwester (1995), Caine and Caine (1991/1994), Edelman
(1992), and other cognitive scientist, psychologists and educators can share a
constructivist view of learning that does not leave out biology, and that affirms that
people are not merely recorders of information but also builders of knowledge
structures. To know something is not just to have received information but also to
have interpreted it and related it to other knowledge. To be skilled is not just to know
how to perform some action but also to know when to perform it and how to adapt the
performance to varied circumstances.
A fundamental principle of cognition is that learning requires activity.
Knowledge cannot be given directly to students. Before knowledge becomes useful
to interpret new situations, to solve problems, to think, and reason and to leam
students must examine the new information in relation to other information, and build
new knowledge structures. Although all learning is brain based in some sense, Caine
and Caine (1991/1994) maintain that brain-based learning involves acknowledging
the brains rules for meaningful learning and organizing teaching with those rules in
Teachers are the architects for learning. They design the environments for
developing minds. To be meaningful, however, students must be able to perceive
relationships and patterns to make sense of information. Students make sense of
information by relating it to their unique past experience and their current
environmental context and interactions.
Learning as Reflection fMetacognitiont
Vygotsky argued that intellectual and linguistic development proceeds from
the external, social plane to become personal mental activity by a process of
internalization. Childrens verbal reasoning, for example, represents inner speech
and inner dialogue. Vygotskys view demonstrates that social interaction and such
experiences as talking to, informing, explaining, being talked to, and having things
explained, structure not only the childs immediate activities but also help to form the
processes of reasoning and learning themselves. The child inherits not only local
knowledge about given tasks but, gradually, internalizes the instructional process
itself. Thus, he or she leams how to leam, reason and regulate his or her own
physical and mental activities (Vygotsky, 1962, Bruner, 1966, Wood, 1988).
Meaningful learning is reflective, constructive, and self-regulated (Wittrock,
1991; Bransford & Vye, 1989; Marzano, Brandt & Hughes, 1988; Davis & Mahler,
1990). People do not merely record factual information but create their own unique
understanding of the worldtheir own knowledge structures. To know something is
not just to passively receive information, but to interpret it and incorporate it into
ones prior knowledge. Learning does not always best proceed in discrete hierarchies.
Learning can be linear but it also can take many directions at once at an uneven pace.
This conceptual learning is not something to be delayed until a particular age or until
all the basic facts have been mastered. People of all ages and ability levels
constantly use and refine concepts. With this in mind, equipping learners with
thinking skills to do this refining should be an overt part of every level of education.
According to Vygotsky (1978), thinking is embedded in the language of the
classroom. If this is true, then it may follow that thinking about thinking is embedded
in the awareness that comes with language; with the naming or labeling of the type or
mode or degree of thinking involved. By helping students to recognize, identify, and
label their cognitive behaviors, they become cognizant of the inner workings of their
mind. By labeling their actions, suggests Fogarty (1994), they are giving themselves
valuable information that enables them to monitor their thinking and behavior. Just
as the inside trader in the stock market exchanges privileged data to gain an advantage
in investing, so too the inside trader in the classroom exchanges privileged data
with him-or herself to gain an advantage in learning. The inside information in this
case, of course, is the awareness and knowledge of what he or she is doing through
the labeling process.
By recording thoughts on paper, student thinking process achieves concrete
form, a stable if temporary representation of inner speech that can become the subject
of class discussion and further questioning. We can look at student writing to
discover what students know and to a lesser degree, how they know it.
John Flavell (1985) has fostered a great deal of interest in metacognition.
Metacognition refers to the awareness and control of ones own thinking. Some of
his examples include taking note of what we have trouble learning, reminding
ourselves to double-check something before accepting it as fact, being sure to
scrutinize each alternative in a multiple-choice test and sensing that it is important to
write something down before forgetting it. If teachers and students believe that
metcognition is an aspect of effective thinking, they should look for examples of
introspection, retrospection, and futurespection (Baron, 1987).
The literature of the last twenty years of cognitive research presents an
evolving picture of metacognition as a critical component of the intellect. Only when
one becomes aware of his or her own behavior, can he or she begin to regulate that
behavior. Only when one can step back beyond the cognitive moment, and plan,
monitor, and evaluate can he or she begin to understand and change.
As the literature on metacognition expands and the concept of metacognitive
reflection unfolds, the practical implication for the classroom becomes clear.
Deliberate cultivation of metacognitive awareness is consistent with the
constructivists view of leaning, and with the prevalent strategies of cooperative,
collaborative models of classroom interactions. Metacognition is also associated with
fostering transfer of leaning to different situations. Each of these rationales for
intentional instruction in metacognition will be considered.
Educators used to think that students would automatically take what teachers
teach and apply or transfer it to other places or areas. Yet student often do not
connect what they learned in English to social studies, or what they leaned in math to
a problem they encounter cooking. Transfer plays a key role in metacognition.
Metcognitive reflections allow students to manage and assess their own thinking
strategies. There is a critical relationship between metacognition and transfer. In
order to transfer knowledge or skills from one situation to another the learner must be
aware of the thinking that has gone on and see particular situations as instances of
broader categories of activity. Metacognitive strategies are designed to help students
become more aware of themselves as thinkers, empowered to learn and to reflect on
their learning (Burke, 1994; Feuerstein & Feuerstein, 1991).
The mind is an amazing manager. First it appears to be built to think in
certain ways, to create images, for example, or to draw inference; second, the mind
can operate its systems simultaneously; third, through practice, the mind can reduce
elaborate reasoning procedures to simple routines often called scripts (Clark, 1990);
fourth, in addition to scripted knowledge, the mind can activate more flexible
models of how the world works, including generalized patterns of behavior.
Mental models allow the mind to think deductively, predicting what will happed on
the basis of a previously learned patterns. Fifth, all of its prior knowledge allows the
mind to create things that do not, in fact, exist, (for instance, its own perceptions);
sixth, the mind can apply higher-level reasoning to information in any of its systems,
including information it invents for itself; seventh, the most important, the human
mind can control its own processing, it can shift attention among several kinds of
simultaneous mental activity with remarkable speed, all in pursuit of purposes it has
developed (Clark, 1990).
Our students have the potential of learning to manage the way their minds
work. It is not likely that they will refine their thinking skills in relation to academic
subjects or learn to focus their abilities unless we ask them to do so, show them some
different approaches, and then give them practice and feedback.
Constructivists view learning as the process individuals experience as they
take in new information and make sense of that information. By making meaning,
they are acquiring knowledge. Individuals who construct knowledge and are aware of
the gaps in their understanding of that knowledge are actively using both their
cognitive and their metacognitive strategies. In their awareness of what they know
and what they dont know, they take the first step in remedying the deficient areas.
Thus, both cognition and metacognition are necessary elements in constructing
meaning (Fogarty, 1994).
The second reason I mentioned for metacognitive reflection comes with the
ultimate purpose of learning, to transfer and use that learning in other places. To
foster meaningful application and transfer of learning, student reflection is key.
Metacognitive strategies provide the necessary format to promote learning not just for
a test, but for a lifetime --not just for recall, but for lifelong logic and reasoning
Learning as Metaphorical
Metaphors as cognitive instruments, (learning tools). Metaphors can function
as cognitive instruments. Some researchers would go so far as to say that
metaphors actually constitute scientific theories and permit us to see aspects of reality
that they themselves constitute. This claim is related to two themes that surface
repeatedly in the literature. The first is the idea that something new is created when a
metaphor is understood. The second is that metaphors afford different ways of
viewing the world (Ortony,1993). Clearly, with respect to an individual, new
knowledge can result from the comprehension of language in general, and to that
extent at least, it can result from the comprehension of metaphors in particular (Black,
1993; Boyd, 1993; Barrell & Oxman, 1984; Vosniadou, 1988b).
W. Gordon and T. Poze (1979) argue that metaphors are for learning
purposeful connection making. They suggest that providing learners with ways to
make new connections purposefully and not waiting for a fortuitous accident to
validate the learning process, is a way to put reliability in the learning process.
Students who are learning by making metaphorical connections can explain school
subjects at home even when the content they are studying goes beyond anothers
education. This occurs because students can describe things in terms of connections
between content and the things/experiences that they have in common with their
parents or whomever they are sharing with. In any learning situation, relying on
student-centered connections inspires the interest of each pupil. The very process of
asking students to select analogues from their own experience implicitly honors each
Metaphors have interested philosophers for a long time and are of more and
more interest to educators. As brain researchers Renate Caine and Geoffrey Caine
(1991 / 1994) attest, metaphors bring with them preestablished sets of relationships as
well as positive emotional experiences and rich, sensory memories in which new
knowledge can be embedded. Metaphoric construction therefore becomes a means to
coherently engage all the systems of the brain/mind. Optimizing all systems of the
brain is certainly a goal of those of us who want to engage our students in thinking.
Metaphors as representations of the world. In any context, social, educational
or emotional, metaphors can be clear and illuminating, or myopic and cloudy. They
can kindle understanding or create opaqueness. The possibility exists that metaphors
may sometimes lead to an incorrect, or undesirable view. There is reason to be aware
of the extent to which metaphors can constrain and sometimes dangerously control
the way in which we construct the world in which we live, the social, emotional, and
intellectual. This should serve as a warning to be wary of such generative
metaphors metaphors that generate their own solutions rather than helping the
thinker explore the skill of attaching to new knowledge or understandings and being
engaged in process (Schon, 1993; Lakoff & Johnson 1980; Mark, 1988; Tomlinson,
1988). As educators, we dare not leave metaphor construction to chance or happy
accident. The essential nature of this cognitive construct must be raised to
consciousness. There must be a place to teach that metaphors are provisional, not
necessarily fixed. They are a part of scaffolding that can and must be available to
move and change.
Metaphors are important because of their ability to provide alternative or new
ways of viewing the world. It can be demonstrated that analogical reasoning is an
innate cognitive capacity and that it has been a major demonstrable component of
scientific thought for centuries. Metaphors and analogies have played an important
role in the formulation and transmission of new theories and according to Boyd
(1993) are essential to the statement of novel scientific theories. Metaphors therefore
permit the articulation of new ideas, of which scientific theories are but one case. It is
a function that cannot always be fulfilled using literal language (Vosiniadou, 1988a,
1988b; Barrell,& Oxman., 1984; Gentner, 1990; Gradin, 1989; Glucksberg & Keysar,
Using metaphors as a thinking vehicle allows us to carefully explore
dangerous metaphors, those that often come to shape foreign or domestic policy. For
instance, is America a melting pot? Was the reason we became involved in the
Vietnam War really about the domino theory? Metaphors can be dangerous when
they are based on confused or inaccurate thinking. Wendell Wilkie, candidate for the
United States presidency in 1940, observed that a good catchword (usually a
metaphor) can obscure analytical thinking for fifty years.
Metaphors as a wav to communicate. Reddy (1993) says that the metaphors
used for communication in natural language are based on the idea that language is a
carrier of ideas, thoughts, aspirations, and so on, so that all a hearer need to do is to
unpack the message and take out what was in it. This conduit metaphor (language as a
container), falsely presupposes a certain objectivityan objectivity that ignores the
contribution of the hearers or readers own knowledge and experience. Allowing for
the importance of teaching conscious metaphorical construction will provide us
further ways to help students become empowered at thinkers. Metaphor provides
alternative ways of seeing situations, and for communicating about the knowledge
For researchers such as Boyd (1993) and Kuhn (1993) the necessity of
metaphor lies in its role in establishing links between language and the world it
purports to describe and explain. There is a distinction between metaphorical and
literal language and it is important to acknowledge the distinction. Such a distinction
is by no means an easy task, but careless use of metaphors may do more harm than
good. As educators we must accept the distinction as useful and focus on how
metaphor construction can be used effectively to facilitate learning.
Metaphor as a way to connect ideas and concepts. One of the principal
functions of metaphor is to permit the understanding of new concepts by looking at
shared attributes of the things being examined and finding ways of understanding one
thing in terms of another, e.g., a verb is a dam controlling sentence flow. Petrie and
Oshlag (1993) argue that metaphors, or something like them, are necessary as the
bridges between the known and the unknown. In the successful use of a metaphor,
or other similar comparison statements, we understand a set of ideas from one domain
in terms of a set of ideas from another domain. The word metaphor itself conveys the
idea of its origin. We derive it from the Greek meta, meaning trans or transfer and
pherein, meaning to carry. Metaphor then involves the carrying over or transferring
of meaning from one knowledge domain to another. Oppenheimer (1956) expressed
this related nature of ideas thus:
Whether or not we talk of discovery or of invention, analogys
inevitable in human thought, because we come to new thinking in
science with what equipment we have, which is how we have learned
to think, and above all how we have learned to think about the
relatedness of things. We cannot, coming into something new, deal
with it except on the basis if the familiar and the old-fashioned. The
conservation of scientific enquiry is not an arbitrary thinking, it is the
freight with which we operate; it is the only equipment we have. We
cannot leam to be surprised or astonished at something unless we have
a view of how it ought to be; and that view is almost certainly an
William Irwin Thompson said, In a world in which humans write thousands
of books and one million scientific papers a year, the mythic bricoleur is the person
who plays with all that information and hears a music inside the noise, (Sample,
1993, p. 21). Language and its use provides the most powerful structure a culture can
devise to guide and constrain the function of the mind. Albert Einstein called the
intuitive or metaphoric mind a sacred gift. He added that the rational mind was a
faithful servant. Both metaphoric and literal ways of thinking are valuable and must
be part of our awareness as thinkers and learners. Acknowledging both ways of
thinking I suggest is part of how we encourage learners to construct a meaning
making system that allows the diversity of growing and living in our complex and
Assuming that we simply pour knowledge into the heads of students, we then
face the problem of how those students can ever recognize what they receive as
knowledge, rather than as something to be rote-memorized. If, however, we see
meaning as something that we construct, as Piaget, Vygotsky, and Brunner suggest,
starting with what we know, then going to what we do not know, we can see
metaphor as one vital way of leaping the epistemological chasms between old
knowledge and new knowledge. Petrie & Oshlag (1993) argue that metaphor enables
that transfer of learning and understanding because the learner is moving from what is
well known to what is less well known. Metaphor allows the transfer to take place in
a vivid and memorable way, thus enhancing learning.
As a teacher researcher it helps me to visualize my classroom as a map. The
map is an especially right metaphor for the constructivist classroom. Constructivists
view knowledge as right or wrong only in light of the perspective chosen (Bruner
1990). Maps of cities, continents, the earth, and the universe have in various ways
modified humanitys view of itself. The tension between the apparent certainty of the
representation and the uncertainty that characterizes knowledge is at the heart of
language. Metaphorical ways of knowing endeavor to press established relationships
between language and meaning into new fields through imaginative comparison.
However, intrinsic to metaphoric construction is the tension of connecting dissimilar
items (Ricoeur, 1993). In dealing with the tension between the apparent certainty of a
representation and the uncertainty that characterizes knowledge it seems most
appropriate to use a symbol system that has tension at its very core. It is important to
understand my study in light of the inherent tension created when metaphorical
connections are made. There is a lack of certainty in a metaphorical way of knowing.
Metaphors as constructed by learners. The literature clearly supports the use
of metaphor as a way to communicate, a way to understand ourselves and our world,
and a way to enhance our thought processes. However, research has concentrated on
the process of metaphorical construction and metaphorical thought at a point coming
from outside the learner. I found that metaphors in the educational setting generally
were either: (a) teacher constructed and used for explanation such as Tomilsons
(1988) use of metaphors for instructing in composition and revision (Glucksberg &
Keysar, 1990; Partridge, 1986), or (b) taken from a text and examined for meaning,
for instance from business education. Karathanos and Rainey (1994) among others
explain to their readers how to examine metaphors as powerful communicative
devices that position perceptions (Gradin, 1989; Evans, 1986; Werner, 1991; Francine,
1991; Smith, 1990).
The area that needs to be explored is the area of learner constructed
metaphor. The research supports the power inherent in this metaphorical thinking
and transfer of meaning, but the potential for thinking inherent in trusting our
learners with this piece of their learning has not been explored. In the Barrell and
Oxman (1984) study, students were helped to create metaphors to explore the
meanings of various areas of study, but the study and the reporting appeared very
unsystematic.( Delightful examples of insight and learning sort of bubble up
throughout the curriculum, but the reader is never clear how data were gathered and
analyzed or whether the metaphorical examples can be attributed to the unique
instructional opportunities. One wonders if these learners already had a good grasp
of metaphorical thought going into the study, or if the reported learning scenarios
were a product of consciously constructed metaphorical thought during the time of
research. The study never explains if the metaphors were deliberately constructed or
if they were just (as it seems) the result of a happy accident, a pairing of ideas that
seemed to convey a truth. In Steven Gilberts (1989) research on the use of analogy,
simile and metaphor in science texts, he reported very positive student attitudes when
using metaphor. However, he concluded the effect on learning was not significantly
different. The issue that concerns me is that all the analogies, similes and metaphors
used were teacher constructed; the students were not a part of helping to construct
their own leaning.
Like any writer of research or curriculum I am limited to writing a linguistic
representation of my ideas and intentions. I must trust that my readers will find my
ideas and intentions sufficiently rich to reconstruct a representation of my thoughts
with what will be tantamount to comprehending or understanding what I have to say
There will be readers who find the ideas suspect, foreign, threatening, or otherwise
repellent, and who therefore cannot or will not expend the effort necessary to
construct a meaning from my words. Learners in our classrooms fall into a similar
categorical situation. Does the fault lie with the writer? reader? Both reader and
writer? Or does the fault actually lie in the text itself or in some other aspects of the
For our understanding of communication to be adequate we must take into
account the complexity of a limited linear process of encoding and decoding. What
most theories ignore is the pervasive role of inference in the process and how this
inferential process works. Sperber and Wilson (1995) with their relevance theory
have proposed a remedy to this weakness. The essence of their theory is that coded,
in particular, linguistic, communication is not autonomous but depends on, and is
subservient to, a variety of inferential processes. The principle of relevance enables
us to determine which of the possible implications of an utterance should be inferred
to do the most efficient information processing. Metaphorical / analogical
construction is highly inferential.
Learners do not choose to follow the principles of relevance; rather as
learners and meaning makers we construct what will be relevant based on our
understanding. Dan Sperber and Dierde Wilson (1995) argue that we gear human
cognitive processes to achieve the greatest possible cognitive effect for the smallest
possible processing effort. To do this, individuals must focus their attention on what
seems to them to be the most relevant information available. To communicate is to
claim an individuals attention. Therefore to communicate is to infer that the
information communicated is relevant. Consciously constructing metaphors to help
us leam, process or communicate is using the principle of relevance to make our own
meaning. It is relevant to go from what we know to what we dont know as we do in
metaphor construction. Metaphors according to Paul Ricoeur (1993) are created with
an inherent tension, a disequilibrium. Piaget says resolving that disequilibrium is
what propels learners through his stages of development. It makes common sense to
work with metaphors and it makes cognitive sense to work with metaphors.
Sperber and Wilson carefully delineated the difference between the code
model of communication and the inferential model of communication. They show
the ways they could combine these two types of linguistic understanding to create
what they call a relevance model of communication. They argue we can achieve
communication and understanding in ways that are as different from one another as
walking is from plane flight. It is into this niche that I fit metaphor construction as a
relevant communication and thinking tool.
To construct meaning we need to use language as a tool to connect thinking
in a way that makes sense to the individual learner (Piaget, 1968; Vygotsky, 1962;
Bruner, 1966, 1973; Wood, 1988, Pressley & McCormick, 1995). Metaphor uses
language as a connector and because it goes from what is known to what is unknown;
its very structure has an intrinsic relevance. This connection function provided by
metaphoric construction is not only relevant (because it starts with what the learner
knows) but it supports brain theorists ideas that the brain is more like a jungle
ecosystem than a computer (Caine & Caine 1991; Edelman, 1992; Kovalik, 1994).
This brain jungle is not just linear. Learners need mental models and schema that
support multiple layers of thinking, and multiple possibilities of building thinking
scaffolding; metaphorical thinking and connecting of ideas provides just such a multi
layered, multi dimensional tool.
As a practicing teacher and researcher in a constructivist classroom I am responsible
for providing an environment and learning experiences to optimize childrens
thinking and learning. I want to move my students from being inert thinkers to
dynamic thinkers. The question was, is and will be how best to build on sound
educational theories and use them appropriately in the classroom. One approach
could involve exposing students to metaphorical thinking as a cognitive tool.
Metaphorical thinking is often overlooked or treated as a poetic
embellishment, or a literary device to explicate. The study that I will describe in
chapter three deals with a unit designed to involve learners in the conscious
construction of metaphors. It is important to note that although metaphors have a
wide variety of uses, for the purpose of this study they are regarded as a thinking tool.
The metaphor is invested with the extraordinary power of invoking multiple
perspective. By shifting focus from the central to the peripheral limits of
language, metaphors can jockey around established categories and rule-
governing procedures to allow new saliencies to arise. By dislodging us from
fixed conceptual schemes, metaphors are primed for helping us place our
impressions into newly fashioned units of meaning. (Muscari, 1988, p. 229).
The central problem that constructivist educators face is not lack of a guiding
theory. In chapter two one can clearly see how that theory is nested in such
researchers as Piaget, Vygotsky, Bruner, Feuerstein, and Flavel. The problem for
educators resides in finding concrete strategies and tools for institutionalizing these
theoretical and practical understandings into more inclusive classrooms. As Tufte
(1990) relates, we live in information-thick worlds, not because of computers but
because of our human capacities to create complex designs. These designs are ever
more dependent upon integrated, nonlinear, visual representations. Todays students
need tools for sorting out, evaluating, and making decisions about information
This study examines the use of metaphorical construction as one such tool.
Language is an act of the imagination, a means by which we construct in our minds
images of each others thoughts and experiences. Unlike the dances of bees, the
songs of whales, or the scents of moths, our messages have meanings on multiple
levels, so the human language user is more poet than information processor. When a
person speaks the simplest sentence, ten listeners may interpret it ten different ways,
and yet we understand each other well enough to communicate, cooperate, or quarrel
in amazingly complex ways (Pugh, Hicks, & Davis, 1997). Language does not
simply describe or name things; it determines how they are seen. Something as simple
as the kind of adjectives we use will determine how we see a person, an issue, an idea.
For example is a person portly or fat; is an idea lacking substance or idiotic?
Language determines how something is seen. Thus categories and language reflect
our experience of the world and are constructed out of metaphors related to human
experience, its activities and concerns. We must raise metaphor construction to the
cognitive realm, not leave metaphors languishing as potential tropes used only for
embellishment or explication.
Purpose of the Study
The study I am conducting is aimed at furthering the practitioners
understanding of thinking and learning in a constructivist environment. There are
many classroom teachers eager to support and extend students construction of
meaning, but they lack the understanding of how to take a learning theory and apply it
in a classroom. It was in my quest to find ways to give a shape to constructivist
instruction techniques, to participate in the movement to involve classroom teachers
in action research, and to discover what the thinking classroom might look like that I
began exploring. The questions that I will introduce as my guiding questions emerged
as I looked at data from my research; I didnt begin with them, rather these questions
evolved. Suffice it to say these questions became the essence of several avenues of
I sought to discover: What patterns of thought emerge when students
participate in a system of consciously creating metaphorical connections during an
extended study of language? I proposed:
(a) to determine how students evidenced skill in thinking as they learned to
create metaphor consciously, exploring what thinking strategies they used as they
moved through the study; and
(b) to describe in what ways students became more aware of themselves as
Sternberg (1987) said that someone once counted the number of personality
traits that had been written about in the research literature and found that the number
was pushing 1,000. He suggests that a reader might come to the same conclusion
about the number of thinking skinills that have been written about. Each investigator
who writes about thinking skills has his or her own preferred set of names and ways
to identify and evaluate. It would be nice if there could be some sort of factor
analysis that would provide a periodic table of the mind, but researchers have yet to
identify a unique factorial structure upon which psychologists can agree in the same
way that chemists agree on the periodic table. Thus, it seems to be expedient to
cluster thinking skills. In chapter one I explained Sternbergs (1987) clustering of
thinking skills into four categories. After editing a book on teaching of thinking
skills he said it was evident that there is much more to being a good thinker than just
having the right thought processes. He concluded there were four elements primarily
involved in being a good thinker. For the purpose of this study I focused on what
Sternberg calls strategies, particularly those strategies that I believe aid in
metaphorical thinking. I also focused on students awareness of themselves as
History of the Study
I didnt begin with Sternbergs categories or clusters of thinking. Initially I
worked with the notion of transfer and connection making. Since meta-pherine in the
Greek means from one place to another, I reasoned that checking how students
transfer knowledge, or connect to their learning because of metaphorical instruction
would be the best route to explore. Students often do not connect what they learned
in English to social studies, or what they learned in math class to a mathematical
problem they encounter in life. Metaphor construction is a way of conceiving of one
thing in terms of another and its primary function is most often in providing
understanding. This understanding involves transfer, connections or a shared
language of learning. Ordinary learning contrasts with transfer. In ordinary learning,
we just do more of the same thing in the same situation ... Real transfer happens
when people carry over something they learned in one context to a significantly
different context (Fogarty, Perkins & Bareli, 1992, p. ix). With this in mind my
initial questions were around transfer and connection making. These questions
emerged from work I did in my classroom in 1995 and guided the direction for this
research. Initially I planned to look at: (a) metaphorical learning and how it affected
connections with other academic areas, (b) students comfort level with exploring
unfamiliar areas, (c) learners changing points of view on a subject or area of
communication because of metaphorical thinking, and (d) conscious use of metaphor
creating a language of learning.
The student work I saw and the classroom discussions I noted in my own log
revealed something about these four questions. However, the questions did not seem
central to what I was observing and reading in student work. Students were sharing in
their reflections about how metaphorical thinking was working for them, how they
had to think to do these assignments, how they had to think to understand others
metaphors and so on. Student comments and student work were not mainly about
connections they were making. Rather, their comments were about themselves as
thinkers. From this initial analysis of student work I felt compelled to begin
exploring the issues around thinking. It was at this time that I tapped into Sternbergs
work and his four areas of thinking. These categories or clusters seemed a better fit
for the data that was emerging from my study.
Clustering the areas of thinking as Sternberg suggests worked for a while. I
did another analysis of data and I found evidence of knowledge manipulation, mental
representation and motivation to choose metaphorical thinking. However, I was
particularly impressed with the various strategies evidenced on students final
products and on the awareness of themselves as thinkers that continued to emerge
from metaphorical reflections and from the focus groups. Because of this information
I decided to look more specifically at specific thinking strategies students used, and
their own reported awareness of themselves as thinkers, so the focus of research
analysis once again altered course.
I concentrated on strategies that students used on assignments, particularly
those strategies that I believed would help them explore thinking metaphorically.
Good thinkers not only have the right thought processes, but know how to combine
them into workable strategies for solving problems. Virtually no problems can be
solved by a single process of thought in isolation, so one must learn to combine these
processes in a way that gets things done effectively. As students become better
thinkers, their ability to try different strategies should be enhanced.
Knowing and understanding vary with each learner and only in-so-far as we
allow for that will we be able to authenticate the individual and empower each
learner. This is foundational to how I view my research. I looked at growth over
time. I did not look at one particular task at a particular point in a sequence. I did not
analyze an assignment and determine if a learner could or could not think
metaphorically, or if the learner were choosing to make metaphorical connections.
Rather the learners provided me with points of information along the way, like pixels
that go together to create a recognizable image. I did not measure each task with how
well a child did or how badly he or she failed; rather I observed what kind of help was
needed and structured my explanation and instruction so we could progress in our
growth as thinkers. In this approach, as Newman, Griffen & Cole (1995) suggest, the
child is not assessed alone. In my research I looked at examples from individual
learners as well as the rich language of classroom discussion. The social system of
our classroom and the interaction of groups helped to provide the scaffolding for
making meaning for individuals as well as the larger group. Knowing and
understanding varied with each learner. I deem that to be an authentic and personally
empowering experience for the students in my classroom.
Almost a half century ago, the scientist R.W. Gerard identified two central
challenges to education: to teach rigor while preserving imagination, and to preserve
open-mindedness while teaching current systems. To illustrate these principles in
relation to each other, he constructed the metaphor of the river and its bed: The river
carves its bed, and the bed controls its waters; only by their continual interplay can a
particular system develop. This image, evolving the notion of guided but free energy,
captures my idea of the thinking language arts classroom. It is a place where teachers
and students together carry forward the processes by which the language changes and
grows, all parties having a creative license to stretch, bend, rearrange, and shape
language and thought in new ways (Pugh, et al., 1997).
History of Research Question One
The language arts classroom provides a very rich medium for combining
rigor, imagination, open-mindedness and knowledge of a current system.
Metaphorical thinking provides us with the thinking process of crossing from the
known to the new or unknown. Metaphorical thinking provides us with a map. We
can explore the territory that a map pictures for us just as we can explore the
mental territory a metaphor pictures for us (Pugh, et al. 1997). Further, the language
arts class is a natural place to examine how metaphors might be consciously used
because students in this class expect to be engaged in language and language
explorations of some kind. This study inquires carefully into the operation involved
in one aspect of this learning process.
Models are means that scholars use to shape and communicate their ideas
about potential answers to their questions. The scientific method is a model of
inquiry that scientists embrace and use as their touchstone. Metaphors can also be
seen as a model of inquiry. They can ascribe concrete and sensual qualities to
abstract ideas. They can help make the strange become familiar by calling up images
that prompt multidimensional association. There is often an interplay of rational
thinking and feeling through metaphors. Metaphors give ideas a larger form. They
help uncover ways to group related concepts. Metaphors are models and vehicles for
communicating and constructing complex ideas.
In this study I will describe 8th graders responses to using a metaphorical
model of thinking via the strategies they chose and the awareness that surfaced as
they explored the idea of themselves as thinkers. To the best of our knowledge,
human beings are the only form of life that can reflect on their own thinking
processes (metacognition). We have the opportunity to explore what happens when
we raise to student consciousness this thinking and reflecting ability in a natural
History of Research Question Two
I believe that the purpose of thinking skills instruction is to increase students
control over the workings of their own minds; consequently, I believe that the first
audience for evaluation results is the individual student.
As I mentioned in chapter two, the mind is an amazing manager.
Nevertheless, this management means that we must be active and create an
environment where learners can acquire the skills needed to provide the strong
management required with so much work going on at once in the mind.
Metacognition describes the minds management system. This system includes two
linked capabilities: the ability to focus awareness and the ability to control or direct
mental processing to achieve goals. Metacognitive awareness monitors activity in all
the layered systems of the mind, but allows attention to be focused on one thing at a
time. Metacognitive control directs the work of the mind toward purposes (Clark,
1990). This kind of focusing played an integral part in my research. I worked to help
learners be aware of their mental processes, by practicing, discussing and calling to
their attention the mental management available to them. Students need to be aware
of their own mental processes in order to learn to control them. It was the recognition
on my part of how students were coming to be aware that led me to change the focus
of data to analyze.
Qualitative research is, for the purposes of this research, an umbrella term.
The work itself highlights the primarily qualitative-as-descriptive nature of work
within this paradigm in contrast to the primarily quantitative emphasis of positivist
approaches. The approach taken in this study is consistent with the following four
defining characteristics of qualitative research proposed by Ely (1991).
Events can be understood adequately only if they are seen in context.
Therefore, a qualitative researcher immerses herself in the setting. I used my 8th grade
class room and worked with a curriculum I designed to meet district standards. I will
include contextual information as I discuss more about my research.
The contexts of inquiry are not contrived; they are natural. Nothing is
redefined or taken for granted. The curriculum I designed met with approval from
School District Administration and my building principal. It was appropriate to the
context of the 8th grade Language Arts classroom. With or without my research
project the curriculum dealing with language structure would have been natural to use
with this group of 8th grade children.
Qualitative researchers want those who are studied to speak for themselves.
They are expected to provide their perspectives in words and a variety of actions.
Therefore, qualitative research is an interactive process in which the persons studied
teach the researcher about their lives. Accordingly, I used student work as a principal
source of data, students writing assignments, their metacognitive assignments, and
language from large and small group discussion. I supplemented these data with my
The aim of qualitative research is to understand experience as unified. I
looked at a ten-week period of time, to give this sense of a unified experience.
Different kinds of research fit under the umbrella of qualitative research. I
believe action research is the term that best encompasses what I have chosen to be
about in this study. Action research is situational; it is concerned with a problem in a
specific context. The scope of action research as a method is impressive. Its usage
may range at one extreme from a teacher trying out a novel way of teaching social
studies with her class, to a sophisticated study of organizational change in industry
using a large research team and backed by government sponsors. Whatever the
situation, however, the methods evaluative frame of reference remains the same,
namely to add to the practitioners functional knowledge of the phenomena with
which she deals. This type of research is therefore usually considered in conjunction
with social or educational aims (Cohen & Manion, 1994, Krathwohl, 1993).
Action research relies chiefly on observation and behavioral data. That it is
therefore empirical is another distinguishing feature of the method. That the method
should be lacking in scientific rigor, however, is not surprising since the very factors
that make it distinctively what it is and therefore of value in certain contexts, are the
antitheses of true experimental research. What is important to note about action
research is that its objective is situational and specific (unlike the scientific method
that goes beyond the solution of practical problems to build general theories). In
action research the sample is restricted and unrepresentative; it has little or no control
over independent variables; and its findings are not necessarily generalizable but
generally restricted to the environment in which the research is carried out (Cohen &
Action research has been practiced successfully since the 1920s (Miles &
Huberman, 1994) and incorporates some features of naturalistic studies, participant
observation, focus on descriptive data, nonstandardized instrumentation, a holistic
perspective, and a search for underlying themes or patterns.
The action research I engaged in involved discovering the patterns of thought
that emerged when students participated in the curricular vehicle of language study.
This included studying parts of speech, sentence combining, phrases, clauses and
The natural setting of a classroom was used and the students continued to
engage in district-sanctioned curriculum. When I began the study, the students had
already studied reading and writing nonfiction, reading and writing about biography,
reading and writing about mystery / detective stories, and reading and writing about
various types of media. Metaphoric construction and direct language study had not
been presented as a deliberate part of the curriculum.
Data were collected during a unit of instruction taking place in February,
March and April of 1997. The data captured were field notes recording instructional
interactive sequences, student products responding to assignments dealing with
metaphoric construction, grammar instruction, writing and problem solving presented
during those ten weeks. Focus groups were also interviewed and video taped. The
emphasis of this study was on the description of student work generated in a
classroom culture rich in metaphorical thinking. I will describe and narrate the story
of Room E-102, point out the various ways that thinking was demonstrated and show
how students began to evidence awareness as thinkers and learners.
Data Collection and Analysis
Setting and Participants
The school that provides the setting for this study is a middle school located in
a suburban district in an area south of Denver, Colorado. Students come from
primarily middle-to upper-middle income homes and as many as 70 percent go on to
some post-baccalaureate education. More than 85 percent of the students are Anglo,
with the remainder consisting of African-American, Mexican-American and Asian-
The students participating in this study with few exceptions are semi-
randomly assigned to an 8th grade team of five teachers. The five subject areas
taught on the team are language arts, history, earth science, health / p.e., and applied
academics (computer, careers and communications). All 8th-grade students must take
language arts and pass at least two quarters, as part of the requirement to matriculate
out of 8th grade. The students in this study were in the second semester of their 8th
grade year. With few exceptions all 138 of these students were either 13 or 14 years
The physical classroom setting was in a newly constructed facility. The
learners had tables and chairs that could be moved to accommodate activities. There
was a carpet on the floor and students could use the tables and chairs or the floor
depending on comfort and appropriateness to the activity. The room had abundant
natural light and the classroom teacher took advantage of this natural light to have
plants in the window. Signs, suggesting possible categories of thought, hung from the
ceiling tile. Some examples of the signs are: weather systems, kitchen utensils,
musical instruments, transportation, and dwellings. The walls were covered at
various times of the year with student products, ranging from original book covers to
cereal boxes designed as part of a media literacy unit.
All activities and assignments were those that would be typically given in the
grade eight language arts curriculum. However, permission to use students work
was solicited. The permission letter explained both the study and the plan to use
only pseudonyms on samples of student writing or shared dialogue.
As a teacher researcher in my own classroom I had a dual responsibility. I not
only needed to collect data, but I needed to provide whatever direction was necessary
to try to lead students out of confusing situations. This study was as much a
classroom activity as it was a research study and I had a responsibility for the learning
of all. I worked to be unobtrusive and not lead the discussion or ask questions that
set-up a situation to work for my research. I maintained my commitment to
observe and support the process of understanding through metaphorical construction
in as much as my primary responsibility of classroom teacher allowed me to be an
The knowledge I have of the students and their comfort level with me gives
me a lens through which to interpret the collected data that would be unavailable to an
outside researcher. An important part of this study for the participants is the timing.
To begin constructing metaphor as a way to construct meaning is to invite risk. A
relationship had to be built with these learners, or authentic exploration would not
have happened. My twenty plus years in the classroom confirmed the need to spend
time with a group before certain activities could be attempted. Thus, it is important to
note as part of the setting and participation that the researcher and the subjects must
have had a period of time together to develop trust. In the case of this study the
researcher had been with these learners in a classroom setting since the second week
of August 1996. The study did not begin until the academic year was at a mid point.
The instructional context. A unit on English grammar served as the
instructional context for introducing metaphor as a metacognitive tool. I did not set
out to establish a causal link between instruction in metaphor and measured gains in
knowledge of grammar. The main purpose was not primarily to teach grammar, but to
use grammar and language activities to empower students as thinkers and learners.
However, I am aware through my own experience, that an explicit awareness of the
formal structure of language, and analytic attitude to communication, fostered by the
written word, combine to produce a stage-like change in thinking in these learners and
I wanted to use this language vehicle to support and move that change forward. The
tests, rules and practices implicit in practical logic, what Piaget refers to as concrete
operational thinking, may now be applied to (hypothetical) propositions found in text.
Statements about events or things that have never been directly experienced can be
tested for either consistency or conflict with other statements. Statements thus
become propositions. Understanding of grammatical syntax enables the learner to
begin exploring and examining such things as the generation of nonsensical ideas
(Wood, 1988). As childrens experience of communication moves from talk at
home, through stories, classroom conversation, to educational narrative, information-
giving, question-answering and into reading and writing, they are encouraged to rely
increasingly on the content and structure of language. While they meet a wide variety
of special linguistic problems as they make this journey, many of the demands they
face are also intellectual in nature. It is with this in mind that I chose to use language
instruction as the vehicle to teach thinking, particularly metaphorical thinking, as a
structure to be aware of and as a structure that could be owned and constructed.
The language study that we engaged in was very traditional, and included
diagraming sentences, practicing sentence combining, as well as various writing
exercises focusing on parts of speech. This traditional choice was deliberate on my
part. My experience leads me to believe that students can memorize and for the most
part have memorized, several definitions regarding parts of speech by the time they
arrive in 8th grade. However, transfer is often nonexistent. Kids can say a noun is a
person, place or thing, but when asked to vary the sentence order, they are hard
pressed to figure out what might be the subject of the sentence or the predicate so they
can manipulate the order. I wondered if I took a concept as abstract as grammar and
combined it with a different way of thinking, the use of metaphors, whether I would
see students latching onto language structure in a way they could actually use. I
wondered if helping the students to think in a different way would allow them to
make connections that gave them new understandings and an improved facility with
language. Facility with language was certainly a hoped for by-product of this study.
I started the study asking for the students to help give me an idea of what they
understood about the parts of speech and what they understood about how the parts of
speech might be used. I handed out a sheet with reminders of what the eight parts of
speech were and handed out a graphic organizer / web.
When I gave students the graphic organizer, we talked about the kinds of
graphic organizers they had experience with. I explained this was just a visual way
for them to let me know what they knew about parts of speech and different ways to
think about the jobs that various parts of speech might do. I explained that their grade
was based on just giving this a try. They were to fill in what they could, but they
would not be penalized for not being able to fill in the whole thing. I gave the same
grading criteria when I asked them to fill out the same grid on week ten. There was no
direct instruction to develop metaphors for parts of speech. This, too, was deliberate
on my part because (a) I didnt want to pose directions in a way that would lead
students in a certain direction and (b) I had never introduced the idea of metaphor. I
had used metaphors in the normal course of explaining assignments and
communicating ideas and they all had experienced making metaphorical connections,
but I wanted the kids to give me a group picture that was as authentic and natural as
possible. I didnt want to be the one that added the coloration. (Appendix A gives
some examples of how students responded to the web and how I scored it.)
I want to know if the next ten weeks makes any difference. You all have to
run the mile in P.E. But Mr. Smith might need to know if you run the mile in 15
minutes because of the program or did you already run the mile in 15 minutes. I need
to know what you know now, so I can get an idea at the end of this unit what was
helpful or what was not helpful. So use this web for a part of speech to help me know
what you know and where you are in your understanding. Use the parts of speech
information sheet I gave you to jog your memoiy, use the signs hanging from the
ceiling to think of categories. Maybe you would say a noun is like a weather system
because ... ? Take 10 to 15 minutes please. These were essentially the same
directions I gave when students filled out similar webs at the end of the study.
Appendix B and C deal with more direct instruction during the first two weeks
of the study. I will share here the intent of the assignments and the progression of
thought. If someone wants to replicate this study, it seems a variety of assignments
would work. What is significant is the progress of thought, the path of thinking that I
attempted to provide for my students.
Some activities the students engaged in involved specific metaphor activities
and some did not. I wanted language structure and metaphorical thinking to be
juxtaposed in the curriculum. I didnt want to separate metaphorical thinking as
something apart from the language arts curriculum. I didnt want to foster a type of
learning experience that continued to promote learning in isolation, e.g., now we
memorize definitions, now we study about thinking. I wanted my students to
experience a unique way to think as they looked anew at language structure.
I designed this unit of study not knowing what assignments would be most
helpful to showing patterns of thinking. Obviously some work evidences this better
than others, but I didnt know that at the beginning. I chose activities not knowing
what the results would be.
Diagraming. Students were introduced to diagraming and learned to diagram
a simple sentence. They moved onto diagrams with modifiers, with adjective
phrases, adverbial phrases, prepositional phrases and compound subjects and
compound predicates. That was as far as diagraming went for this study. There was
no direct instruction involving metaphor.
Professional Prose. These assignments started with Subject, Verb, and
Relative Clause manipulation. The progression moved to work with commas,
restrictive clauses and non-restrictive clauses. Students worked with these patterns
while doing sentence combining. Verbs as participles and participle phrases was the
next step and exercises were provided showing how this affected sentence combining.
That was as far as the professional prose strand went for this study. There was no
direct metaphor instruction in this strand.
Newspaper assignments. Newspaper assignments were given that asked for
the students to read the newspaper and find evidence of figurative language and
multiple points of view.
Writing assignments for work on parts of speech. In the parts-of-speech
writing, I always gave a brief overview of the part of speech, then suggestions of
writing assignments. These writing assignments were put in writing portfolios to be
used as a final year end writing presentation. There was no direct metaphor
instruction. ( See Appendix D for a specific example).
Writing assignments using metaphorical thinking. This was the only part of
the research where there was direct metaphorical instruction. I purchased 30 jewelers
loupes and used them in different situations. These loupes provided opportunities
both structured and unstructured to view objects, e.g., hands, plants, jewelry,
something in the room, a science experiment, etc., all from a different perspective.
The next metaphorical writing assignment was called simply Section Two.
The purpose of the Section Two assignment was to make the familiar strange, to
begin switching points of view. There were writing exercises in this packet that had
the student take the same situation, e.g., a forest fire and write from the point of view
of a trapped animal and from the point of view of the fire. The writing in Section Two
packet was followed by a reflection about the work.
The next major writing assignment in the metaphorical thinking strand I called
Slipping and Sliding. In this writing exercise the purpose was to help the student
understand one subject by seeing how it was like another subject. Biology was
compared with mathematics, history with music, science with social studies and so
on. This writing was also followed by a specific reflection and application piece of
The metaphorical writing that I planned to use during week six, Thinking for
Assessment, I abandoned. It seemed that I would be crowding my students to use
that. Because of an incident in school, I inserted another kind of reflection instead.
Five students from our team of 145 students were expelled for selling Ritalin. I
designed a reflection sheet that dealt with that incident (see Appendix D for a specific
The next two writing assignments dealing with metaphors were not mentioned
in the original assignment sheet I gave my students. I felt a need to work with the
inherent tension in metaphors. I did this as an assignment called Falling Up and one
called Straight Twist.
In Falling Up I introduced a compressed conflict as words used to describe
more than one thing. In the writing exercise students had a chance to make
connections between some compressed conflicts and things that they might describe.
Students did this in pairs and worked with such comparisons as: a healthy poison,
delicate armor, wriggling boredom, swinging stability.
Another kind of writing exercise dealing with the tension in a metaphor was
Straight Twist. In this exercise the students worked with words that seem to battle
each other. For example, delicate violence describes two conflicting aspects of an
elephant. Why? One part of this assignment that provoked quite a discussion was:
What compressed conflict might describe your condition when you grab a
sizzling pan of freshly cooked fudge? If you let go, you lose the fudge. If you hold
on, you bum your hand.
Mind glow. The first time I gave the class an exercise in this problem solving
strand it failed. The groups were generally in shambles. The students seemed
incapable of functioning if they had to deal with process and not a specific tangible
product. The problem I presented them with dealt with success and how they might
view it from multiple perspectives. After debriefing the day I designed a reflection
sheet on success. I didnt use any more activities in this problem solving strand, but
as a group we were able to arrive at some group norms that proved to be invaluable
for groups in my class and the whole team for the rest of the year.
Metacognitive reflection. The various metacognitive reflections were
questions I designed in an attempt to elicit as much information from my students as
possible about what this experience was like for them, how they viewed its possible
use, the need for this kind of thinking to be a part of their life from now on, etc.
Final unit evaluations. I gave two final evaluations. One assignment required
that they present an illustrated book around some topic of instruction. In another they
had to write three I Am poems about parts of speech. (See Appendix D for the
specific work sheet example).
For further information on the instructional context I refer you to the
Appendices. In Appendix AI share some examples from students graphic organizers
and how I analyzed the data. In Appendix BI cover in depth week one of the study.
In Appendix CI cover week two of the study. In Appendix DI provide specific
examples of assignments week three through week ten.
Data collection took place over a ten week period. I will briefly identify the
types of data, and then address each in greater detail. There was an array of data
collected: Each week students did a variety of writing exercises. This work involved
sentence combining exercises, diagraming sentences, practice writing with the focus
on a particular part of speech. Four times during the study students wrote
metacognitive reflections. Further, I kept a personal log of daily classroom activities
with reflections about those activities. My personal classroom log was supplemented
with randomly done video tape recordings of class activities and interactions. These
video tapes were used as a check against the log. I also had students in four classes
work as record keepers and at the end of the study they turned in their logs to me as a
further check on the events of the classroom and my accuracy in record keeping and
recording. Finally, I conducted three focus group sessions over a period of a week to
check students perceptions of the experience they were having with metaphorical
thinking and what their understanding of potential transfer of this thinking
methodology might be. These sessions were video taped and transcribed.
Writing assignments. The writing assignments throughout the ten-week study
were varied in their scope, design and length. Their commonality was found in my
analysis of them. I looked first for evidence of the kind of thinking suggested by
Sternberg (1987): strategies, mental representations, knowledge, and motivation (or
choice) to use thinking skills, but later decided to attend only to students use of six
thinking strategies. I determined that students using metaphorical thinking might also
evidence some specific types of thinking strategies and I explain my choices further
later in this chapter and in chapter four.
Metacognitive reflection. Metacognitive reflection is a significant part of my
data collection. Meta-pherine in the Greek means from one place to another.
Checking on that transfer, that cognitive connection, and helping learners raise to
consciousness the thinking they are engaged in is an important part of a constructivist
classroom. In order to transfer knowledge or skills from one situation to another, we
must be aware of them; meta-cognitive strategies are designed to help students
become more aware (Bareli, 1992. p. 259). Students often do not connect what they
learned in English to social studies, or what they learned in math class to a
mathematical problem they encounter in life. Transfer plays a key role in
metacognition. Metacognitive reflections allow students to manage and assess their
own thinking strategies. The students in this study did four written reflections to give
me an idea of how this metacognitive skill progressed for them.
Classroom log. A classroom log with my reactions and observations as well as
video tapes taken to verify and confirm student discussion and lessons taught
comprise two forms of data. McEwan and Eagan (1995) reminded me that narrative
structure forms a framework within which our discourses about human thought and
possibility evolve. Narrative provides the design and functional backbone for very
specific explanations of this or that educational practice. The personal narrative log
of the classroom provides a form of record keeping that makes connections rather
than makes divisions. My personal classroom log recorded the shape and rhythm of
the life in El 02. David Lodge observes, Narrative is one of the fundamental sense
making operations of the mind, and would appear to be both peculiar to and universal
throughout humanity (1990, p. 141). I have a chance then, to use a method already
established as a way the human mind works and makes sense of events.
Focus groups. The focus groups were used in lieu of following one or two
students and noting change over time. I felt because the study was only ten weeks
long it would be difficult to see the seeds of change bear fruit in such a short time.
However, I assumed that several groups of students collectively could give me some
ideas of what their impressions were, how they think they might be changing as
thinkers and what the prognosis was for metaphorical thinking in their lives. I used
the transcripts of these sessions qualitatively to look at changes students were
suggesting as they talked to me. I asked them specifically if they thought they would
ever use this kind of thinking, or if it had just been a fun set of lessons. What they
shared gave evidence of how they view change that took place for them and how they
might envision change in the future.
These data were analyzed to determine how students evidenced skill in
thinking as they moved through the study. Was learning about a traditional language
structure and metaphorical thinking allowing for students to develop appropriately
and / or use some thinking strategies? I looked for six different thinking strategies
that might be evident. These strategies will be discussed later in the chapter. I also
worked to describe students awareness of themselves as thinkers. I looked for ways
students shared their awareness of their thinking.
I selected two cores to study. I decided on Core One and Core Five. Core
One was the group of students that would be introduced first to an instructional
sequence and Core Five was the group of students that would be introduced last to the
instructional sequence. I wanted to see if results would be significantly different in the
core I had for my first round of instruction as opposed to the core I had at the end of
my instruction. I looked at sampling Cores, sampling activities, sampling students for
case study and sampling focus groups (a convenience sample).
My overall sampling strategy was to create a photo album of my class during
the ten weeks of the study. I wanted some large group pictures and some individual
snapshots and some smaller group pictures. Photos show how we change, if we are
taller, thinner, have a different hair style, etc. This photo album is to show the same
kind of thing. Does the class as a whole look different as thinkers from week one to
week ten? Do individuals in the class show growth as thinkers?
During the ten-week study of language the classes had a minimum of two
writing assignments weekly. These are what I used for snapshots of just a few kids.
Every three weeks my students were asked to write a reflection. These reflection
pieces were the large group pictures. There were numerous class discussions that
provided me with pictures of individuals and small groups. I have all of the work
from two of my classes, Core One and Core Five. There is a sampling from a low of
31 papers to a high of 48 papers for the data collected.
I looked at all the information from the webs that I used to begin and end the
study (question #1). I looked at all the metacognitive responses for their awareness
level (question #2). These assignments provided me with total class pictures as we
Further, I looked at individuals randomly on other assignments. I chose to
sample a few assignments from each class and make sure those student samples
changed for each reporting. As an example when I chose the six kids to participate in
each focus group I simply randomly tapped kids on the shoulder as I walked to the
back of the room. The only thing I was deliberate about was to have an equitable
I think it is important to note that there were things I did with my students as a
teacher that do not appear in formal ways in this study, but they certainly do inform
On all of the sampling of students I can rely on the fact there will be a
heterogeneous mix of ability. My school district adheres to a full inclusion model so
all of my classes are heterogeneously mixed by ability. Taking random samples gives
me individual snapshots of learners from differing academic levels and different
genders. Since our school does not have a strong racial or ethnic diversity, I cannot
always count on that kind of diversity as part of the student sample.
Weekly assignments. Following is a brief list of the student data collected
and a chart giving exact numbers of papers for each assignment:
Week one: A grammar web (see Appendix A for further explanation)
Writing assignment-dialogue with nonhuman object
Week two: (See Appendix B for further information on instruction from this week) Writing assignment, how is a beaver chewing on a log like typing on a computer Writing assignment, observing your hand using a jewelers loupe Reading and discussing Dr. Seuss stories (See Appendix C for further information on instruction from this week)
Week three: Reflection, advantages and disadvantages for using metaphorical thinking (Appendix D gives examples of assignments during weeks three through ten)
Week Four: Writing assignment, becoming different parts of an equation Application writing, how would you use this kind of thinking
Week Five: Writing assignment, slip from one arena to another, e.g., amoebas to army movement Application writing, how would you use this kind of thinking
Week Six: Read about success Writing assignment, re-vision success
Week Seven: Reflection, one thing Ill remember, and one thing that surprised me
Writing assignment, social studies, how a bill becomes a law
Writing assignment: an illustrated book on any school topic
Writing assignment, straight twist
Reflection, something everybody should know
Writing assignment, I Am poems about language
Assignments Associated With Research Question Number Collected
Core One Core Five
Graphic Organizer / question one 24 25
Dialogue with picture / question one 25 22
Beaver and log / question one 22 25
Jewelers loupe / question one 26 22
Metacognition. Advantages / question two 24 25
Sec. II Strange familiar / question one 23 25
Reflection, application / question two 22 25
Slipping and Sliding / question one 25 22
Application of slip and slide / question two 24 25
Success writing / question two 23 20
Metacognition, remembrance / question two 26 22
Social studies / question one 21 22
Illustrated books / question one 18 13
Compressed conflicts / question one 24 18
Reflection / question two 24 24
Graphic organizer / question one 24 23
I Am poem / question one 19 18
It would be tempting to use the data collected selectively and just report on
those incidents where students had wonderful ah has or where some huge obstacle
was confronted and overcome. To avoid this temptation I remind you that I analyzed
the data from my Core One and Core Five classes in several whole group snapshots
and with individuals in a random pattern. This will prevent a possible biasing of data
gathered and providing a particular slant to the study.
This study employed mixed methods within the tradition of teacher-led action
research. I sought to document changes in the aggregate through coding student
strategy use and reporting change for entire groups. Further, I sought to describe the
processes involved and provide illustrative examples to reveal how these changes
took place. My intent is to be able to share the story, to describe the journey of
thinking that became evident as students moved through the study. In chapter four I
will share in detail the results of my analysis and specific student examples.
Since I was working with metaphorical construction as a way to encourage and
empower students to think and be aware of the thinking process, one could ask, Is
having the right thought processes tantamount to being a good thinker? The answer
is No. There is much more to being a good thinker than just having the right
thought processes. However, it is possible to look for strategies as Sternberg (1987)
suggests as an important representation of thinking skills. In addition I also looked at
student awareness of their own thinking ability.
Robert Stake (1995) in his book The Art of Case Study Research says good
research is not about good methods as much as it is about good thinking. In a
qualitative research project, issues emerge, grow and die (Wolcott, 1990). I found it
important to let patterns emerge and see if they were sustained by the data. As I have
mentioned before I looked at questions mainly around connections students were
making. As the data emerged I charted these questions and looked for a fit with the
data. There was a modest fit, but other data was emerging that seemed to require
more attention. I found myself drawn frequently to look at how my students were
internalizing the work we were doing with metaphors as a thinking process, not just a
handy tool to build connections, and not just a comfortable communication device.
Because of my students voice, I turned to the thinking theorists. It was here that
Robert Sternberg provided a way to help me view the data that I was collecting.
After looking at the data for each of Sternbergs clusters or categories I again
changed directions. As I mentioned earlier in the chapter, it became evident that
because of the nature of the assignments I gave my students, it would be better to look
not at Sternbergs four clusters of thinking, but rather just one, that of strategies.
There are many thinking strategies. I picked six thinking strategies that I thought
would show evidence of metaphorical thinking. As I once again began analyzing data,
I looked just for evidence of those strategies.
Looking for how students evidenced skill in thinking as they learned
consciously to create metaphor might mean seeing an issue from a multifaceted
perspective. It might mean becoming something different, e.g., instead of being the
hunter in a swamp, be the alligator. If the learner changed perception would the issue
take on a different quality, or if you could see an issue from both sides of a
metaphorical comparison could you find the pieces of commonality and thus refocus
thinking? I used a list of six possible strategies. These were strategies that I
determined students would evidence after experiencing a system of consciously
creating metaphorical connections. I also looked at the thinking awareness in
students evidenced as they experienced consciously constructing metaphorical
I identified six strategies that students might exhibit as they began exploring
the idea of consciously creating metaphorical connections. In a constructivist
classroom we as teachers want to provide experiences for students to construct their
own meaning. This means that instruction still needs to be broken down into
manageable pieces, strategies need to be identified as they emerge and students need
to become aware of the learning process as something they are actively a part of.
Metaphorical thinking is both a cause and an effect of thinking. I would like to clarify
this concept for the purpose of this study. I will look at consciously creating
metaphorical connections as a cause and the strategies emerging because of this
connecting an effect.
Using these six strategies I analyzed three assignments from all of my Core
One and Core Five classes from week five, week eight and week ten. I noted the
number of times students used the six strategies and noted if there was evidence of
change in the use of these strategies. I also analyzed a graphic organizer (web)from
my Core One and Core Five classes from the beginning of the study and from the end
of the study. I analyzed the web for three elements that were a synthesis of the six
learning strategies. Further I analyzed in depth five students chosen from the large
group of students. I looked for patterns in these five students that might match what I
observed in the larger group.
Question one. How do students evidence skill in thinking as they learn to
create metaphor consciously? I identified six clusters of strategies that would help a
person think metaphorically. These strategies are: (a) use of humor, dialogue,
personification, (b) use of counter examples, (c) breaking problems into manageable
components, (d) working forward and backward in thinking, (e) using divergent
thinking and different points of view to communicate, (f) being able to manipulate
some basic skills. This list is not exclusive nor exhaustive. The following section
will explain in some detail how these six strategies might be evidenced. I will
concluded with an explanation of what assignments were collected and what students
provided data to be analyzed.
Ellen Langer (1997) tells of learning how to throw the tennis ball and swing
her racket while serving. That was how it was done at tennis camp. However, when
she watched the pros on TV none of them served the way she had been taught and
none of them did it quite the same way every time. Students need to be able to use
thinking strategies that do not limit or bind them; strategies that allow them to be
pros. Here is how these six strategies might be envisioned.
Humor, dialogue, and personification are ways that thinking can be made
attractive. They are ways to vary the intensity of the learning effort while also
allowing the learner to think outside the traditional frame. Using humor, dialogue and
personification allow the learner not to worry about getting the lesson right initially,
but encourage learning and thinking to be about process and experience. Josh used
this strategy as he talked to some clothes in a magazine picture.
Hey, how do you feel about being considered tight?
(Clothes answered) I like it, but I sure am used. Im only treated well
because Im a brand name. Also Im only used in the best shots and I always fit well.
Josh reflected later that clothes are also warmth and protection and having a
view of clothing from a magazine picture was limiting. In other words, by the use of
personification, humor and dialogue Josh was able to think outside his existing frame
When humor, dialogue and personification are used it is easier to deal with the
tension inherent in metaphor construction. For example, when a student can step
back from an experience and re-frame it with humor, with dialogue or by
personification that student has the opportunity to open new thinking possibilities,
without being swamped with the tension inherent in connecting dissimilar ideas.
Counter examples as a thinking strategy work to give us the occasion that
creates a different way of thinking. Langer (1997) suggests it could work like this: In
tennis, watch the ball. Feel the sensation in your muscles as you swing, each and
every time. In business, think about how the skills youve been taught to handle
situations might be more creatively adapted to solve problems at hand. She provided
a counter example. Metaphors go from the known to the unknown, they can provide
example and counter example, e.g., tennis is like business.
Breaking problems into manageable components allows learners to manage
the data and create new ways of looking at problems. Kate chose a magazine picture
advertising the Twister. She liked it because, she said, the colors and everything just