Going Meta

When we encounter new information, we process it first through concrete examples. Organizing those concrete examples into abstract concepts is a second step in our learning. This is why it is so important to choose your examples carefully, and to present multiple examples, which, ideally, differ in all but the key concept you are trying to teach. Once students have grasped the concept behind the examples, they’re ready to learn the next concept, with more examples.

But how can we get students to see that we’re always looking for the abstract structure underlying the specific data? Well, maybe some humor can help:  this 2-minute play, performed by the Neo-Futurists, is all metaspeak, and it’s also really funny. Instead of regular dialogue, the two characters exchange conversational abstractions (“Superficial compliment.” “Self-assured agreement as denial.”). After your students are done laughing, you can ask them to think about how this dialogue differed from regular conversation, and then remind them that this is the leap into the meta that distinguishes factual recall from analysis and interpretation, and that it’s a leap they should always be looking to make.

This post was written by Odile Harter.

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