Date of Award

Spring 2010

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Education

First Advisor

Douglas A. Frye

Abstract

Applying self-regulated learning in early childhood classrooms assumes that children are metacognitive learners by default, an assumption which is deeply flawed. The theoretical advancement in theory of mind development provides new perspectives in understanding the challenges young children are facing in comprehension of mental states in learning. The present study proposed that theory of mind development is critical for children to engage in mindful learning, which refers to the learning during which the learner is consciously aware of own mental states and the changes in them, both motivational and epistemic mental states. This dissertation launched an investigation of children’s developing understanding of learning as a process of mental representational change from a theory of mind framework. The goal was to pinpoint the mental properties that are essential to children’s understanding of learning, examine their relationship with theory of mind ability including false belief understanding, and outline the developmental trajectory of mindful learning during preschool and early elementary school years. Six studies focused on children’s understanding of knowledge change in learning, children’s understanding of beliefs about knowledge state in learning, and children’s understanding of learning intention. Simple stories concerning various learning scenarios were designed to address children’s understanding of the concept of learning. The results found that vi young children first understood learning as a behavior independent of knowledge change. Changes in children’s understanding of learning were correlated with their emerging theory of mind ability, and developed through preschool and early elementary school years. Around the time of school entry, children began to appreciate that learning is a representational knowledge change in the mind, and people decide whether to learn based on their belief about knowledge state. They also began to understand that learning intention is often related to learning outcome; however, intention is neither a sufficient nor a necessary condition for learning. Based on the data on a theory of mind battery and those from the literature, it was suggested that children in different cultures might develop theory of mind understanding via different routes. The theoretical implication of mindful learning was discussed in relation with theory of mind, metacognition, and personal epistemology. The practical implication of mindful learning was discussed in the context of early childhood pedagogy and curriculum as well as school readiness.

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