Dora the Explorer Inspires Metacognitve Thinking

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This paper describes a lesson I completed with my pre-k class. It utilizes cognitive assets to teach thinking skills. This lesson was created as part of a masters level course. For more information please visit


Dora the Explorer Inspires Metacognitive Thinking

By Kelly Walters EDU612-BS2 (33495)/613-BS2 (33496) Thinking for Results

Nova Southeastern University February 22, 2009


A few weeks ago I taught a lesson on systematic planning to my pre-kindergarten class. At the time we were working on a dinosaur theme so I created a dinosaur hunt. We began the lesson by creating a list of items we would need to take on our hunt. Then we planned the route of our hunt on a classroom map. We proceeded to use those tools to search the room for our missing dinosaur hunt. After this lesson my graduate class began discussing the use of an icon to help students remember when to use specific cognitive assets. In the discussion I discussed a popular character that my children could relate to and also used some of the same skills in the television show. I decided to extend this lesson and incorporate Dora the Explorer as my icon for this asset. To practice the lesson we focused on applying the skill to dramatic play. This area is one of the most significant areas for fostering language development. According to Davidson, Dramatic play encourages children to use rich, elaborate language although play is not a necessary condition for learning language and literacy skill, play is probably the best environment for these abilities to thrive (1996, p. 6). This paper will illustrate how I used the icon to extend the cognitive asset of systematic planning to help my students plan scenarios for playing in the dramatic play center. I chose to use the cognitive asset of systematic planning for two specific reasons. First, I noted in the Thinking for Results assessment (Wilson, 2006) that my children hardly ever used systematic planning and were having difficulty deciding what to play and sustaining that play for a significant length of time. This lack of skill was particularly noted in the dramatic play center. Secondly, the role that systematic planning in the context of dramatic play could play in their future language development was intriguing. According to Wilson and Conyers, a current and common problem at the processing phase is that many students have not had an opportunity outside of school to develop adequate language skills for processing, (2006, p. 115). Carter


explains that the angular gyrus is a key area in the brain where the visual, spatial, and language merge and acts bridge between the visual word recognition system and the rest of the language process, (1998, p. 153). This region is essential for helping the brain make meaning of language especially written language. Reflecting on this information in the context of the older students I previously taught, I noticed a trend in which this skill became even more vitally important to teach. Prior to teaching this grade level I spent the majority of my time teaching third graders. I noted in teaching writing that my students seemed to lack the imaginative skills and the planning skills necessary to become proficient at writing stories. Given the lack of creativity needed to play in todays society, with games and toys that do most of the creative thinking for us; I pondered the effect this might have on the development of creative writing skills. Davidson discusses the ways that dramatic play helps students to develop mental pictures or a schema of events (1996). Through dramatic play this schema becomes fluid and changes to develop a wide variety of scenarios. The ability to create mental schemas and change or evolve these images is a critical factor in creative writing. The other component necessary for writing effectively is the ability to plan. With this in mind I decided that teaching this skill early and providing multiple opportunities to practice could help my current students become more effective and creative writers in the future. Before I could teach the skill further to my students I had to implement the strategy myself. I took a long time to think about how I wanted to approach this lesson. I considered a number of different angles. Finally, I decided to break the lesson up over the span of three days and I carefully formulated a plan for teaching the process. One key component for success in this lesson was to break down this process in a way that allowed my students to clearly understand both the purpose for the skill and the process. I began this lesson with a review of the way we


used this skill in our dinosaur hunt. Next, I illustrated the intent of my lesson by sharing my concerns about how they played in the dramatic play center during center time. I explained that we would be practicing a new way to play during center time and that we would be using the cognitive asset: systematic planning. I reminded my students of one of their favorite videos Doras Christmas. I asked several prompting questions about how Dora might use systematic planning. As expected, I got a few vague answers that were on the right track, but not exactly what I wanted. Before I began the video I asked them to pay attention to how she used the skill, but I knew that I would have to spend a little more time coaching this before I got the responses I expected. I stopped the video at several key points and asked guiding questions to get my students to think about the process. After the video my students had a much clearer picture of how Dora used systematic planning. We discussed Doras plan to take a gift to Santa and reviewed how Dora used the map to plan where she was going. Several students responded that she went over the snowy mountains and icy river. Next, we explored the items she prepared in her backpack. Some noted that she needed the snow suit and gloves to keep warm. At the end of the video I pointed out that Dora reviewed her actions. One student noted that she had to retrieve the gift from a fox named Swiper at one point. I asked him if she came up with a plan, and he responded by pointing out that she looked for rectangles that were shaped like the gift. I concluded by explaining that I would be introducing a poster tomorrow and that we would be using it to help us use systematic planning when we played during center time. The next day, I reviewed what we learned about Dora and introduced my artifact poster. The poster consisted of the heading Systematic Planning followed by the question- What would Dora do? I chose to include this question so that I could remind students of the icon when it was not readily visible. Following the question was a picture of Dora and her monkey Boots. At the


bottom I placed a picture of a backpack with plan written beneath it, a picture of the map and the word do written beneath it, and a picture of Dora holding a book and the word review written beneath it. I introduced each part and explained how they helped us use systematic planning. Next, I held up a book and explained that this skill is important in many different settings. For example, the person that wrote this book had to use systematic planning before they could publish this book. I explained how the author decided on a topic, researched the topic, and wrote the book. I explained that in a few years they would become authors and begin writing their own stories. Incorporating this component was an effort to plant the seed in their minds for using this skill later when they begin writing. Next, I explained that we create stories when we play in the dramatic play center. We listed several scenarios and listed what we would do to carry on the story. One example was taking baby to the doctor. One little boy stated baby was sick throwing up and we would have to take her to the emergency room. After the discussion we moved into small groups. I chose two specific small groups to examine the reaction to the lesson from a wider range of ability levels. The first group consist four year olds with less developed verbal and expressive skills. The group began by discussing what they wanted to play. I encouraged them to think about a scenario and draw pictures of the items they needed for play. This group did not seem to understand the purpose of creating a plan and I had to do a lot of coaching and prompting. However, the group was able to develop a plan that involved everyone in the group in a common scenario. H drew herself taking baby to the doctor. She stated Im gonna feed the baby and take her to the doctor. J decided he would be the doctor. After some coaching and prompting from me, he began drawing pictures of shots and other items he would need to be the doctor. T is the quietest student of the group and seemed to be struggling with what she should do. After listening to H, she decided wanted to be the


mamma and take the baby to the doctor. H spoke up and stated that she would rather be the big sister and iron the clothes. The group proceeded to gather the materials they need. J grabbed the doctor costume and kit. T grabbed the baby and began cooking in the kitchen. Haley got out the iron and some clothes and proceeded to pretend to iron. J and T discussed what was wrong with baby. J pretended to listen to the babys heart and gave the baby a shot. We sat down to discuss what they played after cleaning up. I prompted them with questions about what they enjoyed and what they would do next time they played in this center. J decided that he would like to be a firefighter. H stated that she wanted to be the mamma next time, but she would also like to be a police officer. T wanted to be the doctor next time. I tried to get them to tell me what they would do in these roles, but they had trouble staying with the theme. J made an off-handed remark about doing the dishes. H and T shrugged their shoulders. My second group was significantly more expressive and had more advanced language skills. This group understood the purpose of the planning. During our planning session they easily discussed among themselves what they planned to play. They were able to easily represent their ideas with cohesive pictures. Unlike the first group, the ideas of this group focused more on individual scenarios than one interrelated group idea. B drew herself as astronaut chef and included the utensils she would need such as a knife, fork, and spoon. Br decided to be firefighter and drew a picture of the helmet and walkie talkie he would need. R drew herself as a doctor and drew pictures of a shot and stethoscope. K discussed being a cop and shared with Br how he would catch the bad guy, but he had difficulty drawing his idea or any items about his idea on paper. B and R continued to carry out their plan of playing doctor. B played the mother and R the doctor. The conversation between these two was much more expressive than the first group.


Baby has a fever and her tummy hurts, B stated. R proceeded to examine her and they carried on the conversation and scenario for a longer period of time than the previous group. After visiting the doctor, B took baby back to the house and began making dinner and putting that baby and another baby to bed. Br dressed as a firefighter and discussed the location of a fire with R. K decided to change his plan altogether and dressed as a graduate. He proceeded to march around a stage. After a few minutes, as the others gathered to carry on the house scenario, K picked up a duster and proceeded to clean. During the review I asked them what they would do next time and how they would plan for it. B stated that he would play doctor. I would ask someone kindly to get the babyI would check for sickness like throwing up. Then I would give them hot soup and they would stay in bed all day and all night until they get better, he explained. B stated, Im going to be mamma again and I would feed baby with a little tiny spoon like this, R said she would play cook instead. She declared, I would make dinnerand pie. I would get fruit and strawberries and watermelon. I would feed the babies. I hope B doesnt get the pie Im making. K lost interest and chose to go to another center before completing the review session. After the review B and R returned to the dramatic play center and extended their ideas. Brianna went with her original idea of being a chef. She prepared several dishes and proceeded to bring them to another table on a tray. Then she set the table and invited me to enjoy the meal. R started out making her pies and engaged in this scenario with a new friend-E. After a few minutes they returned to the doctor scenario. This time they each took turns being the doctor and the patient. E began as the doctor and R was the patient. E listened to her heart and checked her breathing. R rested against the mats pretending to be very ill. After a few more minutes they switched roles and Riley became the doctor. R listened to Es heart and checked her ears. They


had everything they needed to carry on the scenario for a span of approximately 10-15 minutes. They clearly planned how they would proceed in acting out their individual roles. The artifact made it easier to break down the process for my students. Attaching the meaning of the skill to the familiar way in which Dora used the skill enabled my students to easily transfer this cognitive asset to a new setting. I used the journal writing in our planning sessions to further connect the ideas of planning and writing. This was easy to connect because my students were used to writing in their journals before going to centers. However, it seems impractical to use this on a daily basis because they seemed to be impatient and I am not sure I could coax them into using this method while in the centers without my supervision. My paraprofessional did attempt to use the icon and cognitive asset in the art center. She reported mixed reviews. She felt it was helpful in helping them generate ideas for activities such as creating a card and for gathering the necessary materials, but she noted that they had difficulty extending the plan to other ideas. Next, week I plan to use the cognitive asset and icon in the block center. This lesson enabled my students and me to effectively use metacognitive skills to accomplish a deep understanding of the role planning plays in the learning process. I had to incorporate the skill in planning the lesson. Utilizing this skill enabled me to create a cohesive lesson that brought the process down to a level that my students could cognitively digest. My students gained the ability to plan and extend their play into scenarios that involved more complex language and play structures. One interesting discovery was the way in which K reacted to the lesson. K has very detailed and expressive verbal language skills. He is able to communicate very intricate stories with innovative scenarios, but he rarely attempts to draw or write about his experiences. An example of a previous journal entry was a blob of gray scribbles.


He stated. These scribbles are a tornado, we had a tornado drill that...