Children's use of meta-cognition in solving everyday problems: children's monetary decision-making.In a knowledge economy that rewards highly adaptive and creative individuals who are able to assume epistemic agency and learn intentionally (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2006), students need to be actively involved in the construction of knowledge and the evaluation of choices that they make (Osana, Tucker & Bennett, 2003). Recently, the Ministry of Education (Singapore) announced a new framework to enhance the development of 21st-century competencies in Singaporean students. Such a framework seeks to better prepare students to thrive in a fast-changing and highly connected world (Ministry of Education, 2010). This new framework suggests 21st-century competencies and student outcomes. One of the desirable outcomes is responsible decision-making. As a type of problem (see Jonassen, 2004), decision-making is complex because the problem solvers need to consider factors such as time and cost (Lee, Teo & Bergin, 2009). Decision-making is defined as the process of choosing a course of action from among two or more alternatives while in the midst of pursuing one's goals (Byrnes, 1998). The ability to make sound decisions is a vital life skill.
Meta-cognition is an important aspect of problem-solving (Gardner, 1991; Karmiloff-Smith, 1992) because it includes problem-relevant awareness of one's thinking, monitoring of cognitive processes, regulation of cognitive processes and application of heuristics (Hennessey, 1999, 2003). Generally, meta-cognition comprises two main components: regulation of cognition and knowledge of cognition. Problem-solving is considered the most essential cognitive activity in everyday and professional contexts (Jonassen, 2000), and recent studies show that the ability to solve everyday problems predicts on-the-job performance (Cianciolo et. al., 2006; Sternberg, 2005). Everyday problems, often characterised as ill structured, are emergent, their solutions are unpredictable, and they typically require multiple criteria for evaluating solutions (Jonassen, 2000). Although Hong, Jonassen and McGee (2003) found that meta-cognition is called for when solving ill-structured problems, research on the role of meta-cognition in solving ill-structured problems is scarce. Most research on understanding meta-cognition focuses on classroom settings (Everson & Tobias, 1998; Schraw & Dennison, 1994; Sperling, Howard, Miller & Murphy, 2002) and little is known about the influence of meta-cognition on children's problem-solving ability in everyday settings. Some researchers have argued that everyday problem-solving requires more complex cognitive processes than solving well-structured problems, such as most textbook problems. For instance, Johnson-Laird (1982) argued that everyday reasoning involves implicit inferences that depend upon general knowledge and generally go beyond the strictly necessary conclusion. Solving well-structured problems requires meta-cognition, and this is even more the case in solving everyday problems.
A particular focus of this research is on elementary school children's meta-cognition, because studies in this area are found to be limited (Sperling et al., 2002; Stipek, Feiler, Daniels & Milburn, 1995). There is great potential in unravelling the roles of meta-cognition in children's day-to-day problem-solving. This refers, in particular, to solving problems that are 'frequently experienced in daily life, that are complex, and multidimensional, and that are often ill-structured as to their goals and their solutions' (Berg, Strough, Calderone, Sansone & Weir, 1998, p. 29). Hence, understanding the role of meta-cognition in children's day-to-day problem-solving may lead to the development of more effective instruction that can help children in acquiring important skills. The type of problem of interest is decision-making as illustrated by Jonassen (2007). In addition, the study will focus on children's monetary decision-making for pragmatic and theoretical considerations.
Since 2005, the Ministry of Education has implemented financial literacy programs in primary and secondary schools through a systematic approach. Financial literacy is not taught as a subject in the curriculum, but rather it is infused in relevant subjects such as Social Studies. Substantial effort has been made to enable students to begin to acquire sound financial decision-making skills at a young age. The importance of adult and youth financial literacy to Singaporeans is being increasingly recognised as both the spending potential and their access to money increase with the rise of affluence in society. It is of practical importance because such understanding can bring insights to the way we design programs to enhance or develop children's decision-making process. It is therefore important to understand how children exercise logical reasoning when making monetary decisions.
Meta-cognition is the awareness and regulation of the process of the learner's thinking. Baker and Brown (1984, p. 353) defined it as 'the knowledge and control a child has over his or her own thinking and learning activities'. Some argue that meta-cognition consists of two main components: knowledge about meta-cognitive resources, and self-regulation of cognition (McLain, Gridley & McIntosh, 1991). Both are critical components in problem-solving, especially with everyday problems that may have no clear solutions and require the consideration of alternative solution paths and competing goals. In such situations, problem-solvers may stand a greater chance of success if they are aware of their own cognition and are able to use such awareness to control and regulate the problem-solving process.
Knowledge of cognition
Knowledge of cognition refers to how much learners understand their own memories and the way they learn (Sperling, Howard, Staley & Dubois, 2004). Knowledge of cognition includes subcomponents such as declarative knowledge (about self and about strategies), procedural knowledge (about how to use strategies) and conditional knowledge (about when and why to use strategies) (Schraw & Dennison, 1994). These subcomponents are meta-cognitive because they are thoughts about knowledge states and abilities (Cross & Paris, 1988). Research studies have suggested that individuals vary considerably in their knowledge of cognition (Palinscar & Brown, 1987; Schraw, 1994; Schraw & Nietfeld, 1998). The importance of knowledge of cognition is argued by Swanson (1990), who suggested that children with high meta-cognitive knowledge and low aptitude scores (metacognitive knowledge is similar to knowledge of cognition) performed significantly better than children with low meta-cognitive knowledge and higher aptitude scores. In a recent study on meta-cognition and decision-making, Batha and Carroll (2007) found that knowledge of cognition affects university students' decision-making. Some researchers (Baker, 1989; Jacobs & Paris, 1987) also argued that knowledge of cognition is as important as regulation of knowledge.
Regulation of knowledge
Regulation of cognition includes subcomponents such as planning, evaluation, and monitoring. It plays a crucial role in problem-solving as it enables learners to organise and monitor their thinking. It refers to the control of an individual's ongoing cognitive processes. Brown (1980) used the term executive control processes, which include planning (planning the use of strategies, organising materials to be used), monitoring (constantly checking the use of various strategies) and evaluation. When solving everyday problems that have no defined goals and solutions, the problem-solver not only needs to be aware of his or her problem-solving processes, but must also regulate such processes. Davidson and Sternberg (1998) stated that regulation of knowledge (referred to as meta-cognitive skills) enables students to strategically encode the nature of the problem by forming mental representations of the problems, selecting appropriate solutions, and identifying and overcoming barriers to the process. Echoing the importance of regulation of cognition, Batha and Carroll (2007) found a stronger relationship between regulation of cognition ability and decision-making ability than between knowledge of cognition and decision-making ability when they conducted a study on university students' decision-making ability.
Like adults, children solve different kinds of problems daily, ranging from textbook problems that are mostly well structured and are characterised by a well-defined initial state, a known goal, and a finite set of rules and principles, to everyday problems that mostly entail multiple solutions, multiple solution paths, or no solution at all (Jonassen, 2004; Kitchner, 1983). Solving everyday problems required meta-cognition because such problem-solving situations are highly variable and success criteria depend on how the child clarifies and reconciles competing solutions (Lee et al., 2009). Jonassen (2004, 2007) described a typology for types of problems. According to him, there are 11 kinds of problems that vary according to their structuredness, complexity and dynamicity. One of the problem types is decision-making, which is an everyday part of children's lives (Jonassen, 2000). Children make decisions about daily expenses, time allocation (whether to do homework or to play) and social situations (the types of friends they will associate with).
When making decisions, children must compare and contrast the advantages and disadvantages of alternative solutions and justify their solutions. In such situations, problem-solvers need to identify the most relevant criteria. The decision-making process can be very complex because the problem-solvers need to consider factors such as time and cost. According to normative theory, people follow a linear process of decision-making from listing all possible solutions to evaluating solutions, choosing the solution, devising the plan based on evaluation and then evaluating the consequences (Osana et al., 2003). But everyday problem-solving is often complex and multidimensional and may be chaotically complex (Sinnott, 1989). The reliance on normative theory to explain everyday problem-solving may fail to acknowledge the complexity of such problems. Most decision-making models are intended to account for the adult's decision-making processes but these models rarely describe or explain how children make decisions (Byrnes, Miller & Reynolds, 1999).
The purpose of this study is to understand how children use meta-cognition in their everyday problem-solving, particularly when making monetary decisions. Three research questions guided our enquiry:
* what components of meta-cognition are observed in children's monetary decision-making process?
* what role does meta-cognition play in children's monetary decision-making process?
* are there emerging factors that help to explain children's monetary decision-making process?
Data were collected from 136 mixed-ability fifth-grade students from six different government primary schools in Singapore. Twenty focus group interviews were conducted, with each group comprising six to eight students from different classes. Eight students were later selected for one-to-one interviews, each interview lasting for approximately 40 minutes. These students had been taught English language as part of their formal schooling for at least five years. They were able to understand both printed and spoken instructions and respond to interview questions. Permission was granted by the school leaders and parents to conduct the focus group interviews. Because of the age of the participants, opportunities were provided for them to ask questions about the data collection process. Their participation in this study was voluntary.
Each focus group interview lasted approximately one hour and was conducted by the first author and trained researchers. All interviews were audio-recorded and were later transcribed and coded for detailed analysis. Before each interview, specific advice was given that participants were free to choose not to participate at any time during or after the interview. To gather multiple perspectives, a maximal variation sampling strategy (Cresswell, 2005) was used. The assistance of the level head of department of each school was sought in selecting students from high-, middle- and low-performing academic classes. Specifically, in each focus group interview, there were at least two students from each band.
The focus group interviews were conducted in quiet rooms during class time when the children were taken out from their classes. Before each interview, the children were briefed on the purpose of the interview. Among these 136 students, eight students from a particular primary school were selected for one-to-one interviews on a recent monetary decision to obtain in-depth understanding of their thought process.
Description of monetary decision-making
Participants were asked to describe their everyday monetary decision-making process. This is a different means of eliciting information from the hypothetical problems constructed by researchers to reveal dimensions of everyday problem-solving (Berg et al., 1998). In addition, studies have documented that decontextualised self-report data do not align well with actual activities in concrete situations (Veeman, 2005;Veeman, van Hout-Wolters & Afflerbach, 2006). Some principles of the critical incident method (Jonassen, Tessmer & Hannum, 1999) were incorporated into our semi-structured interviews to elicit information from the children. This method enabled the collection of in-depth information on children's reflection on how they dealt with a particular incident that had significantly affected them. Hence, the interviews were constructed to ask students several questions:
* to describe a recent and significant decision they made involving the use of money
* to explain why the incident was successful or unsuccessful,
* to describe when the incident occurred,
* to assess the student's experience of this decision-making process.
The students took turns to describe their decision-making, with the researcher probing by using prompts such as: 'Tell me why you decided to buy the thing that you just described?', 'What are some of the things that helped you to make that decision?', 'Did you seek advice from friends/family before you made the decision?' and 'Why do you think this is a bad decision?' to further elicit information from the children.
During the focus group interviews, it became apparent that some students from a particular school were willing and eager to provide more information. One-to-one interviews were conducted with eight students from this school on another day. During these interviews, the students were given approximately 10 to 15 minutes to think of a significant recent monetary decision. Paper and pencils were provided to the students to draw diagrams representing their decision-making process. They were then asked to explain to the interviewer the process. Figure 1 shows an example of such a drawing. This method has been shown to be effective when children use their drawings to represent their ideas of concepts such as evaporation (McGuigan, Qualter & Schilling, 1993; Rennie & Jarvis, 1995). These drawings were coded and analysed together with the interview transcripts.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
In the first phase of coding, grounded theory principles (Strauss & Corbin, 1990) were used to assist in generating theory where existing theories did not deal with the research problem under study (Creswell, 1998, 2005). Such an approach was salient to this study as it helped to generate theory to explain the complex nature of everyday problem-solving. The first three transcripts were coded independently by two coders looking for emerging categories or themes. The rest of the transcripts were thereafter coded by a single coder whose work was checked by the other coder. The open coding process involved breaking down, comparing, and categorising data. In such a coding process, specifying the characteristics of categories is crucial. Initially, general terms were used to describe segments of data. For instance, when asked where they get the money to purchase things that they want, one student mentioned: 'I often buy things that I want only when my mother or father is around'. This phrase was coded as 'declarative knowledge'. It was then subcategorised as 'strategies'. During open coding, 64 concepts were identified and verified by two researchers. In the second phase of coding, the codes were refined, based on an initial coding rubric constructed from the meta-cognition literature (discussed earlier). During this process, two researchers coded the data several times, and several rounds of discussions took place in order to reach consensus. The final codes were determined once 'saturation' (Strauss & Corbin, 1990) of data coding was reached. The codes were refined and restructured to eventually form 24 codes.
In axial coding, the researchers assembled the data and put them back together in new ways by making connections between a category and its subcategories. This necessarily enabled the researcher to build a 'skeleton' of the findings. The researcher made links among categories and subcategories by using different types of arrow keys and relationships. For example, the researcher was able to link 'fact finding' to 'planning' using the relationship 'is a type of'. In selective coding, the aim is to allow a core category to emerge that captures the essence of the findings. To do so, the researcher re-examined the data and the research purpose and questions in order to narrow down the focus and select a core category. As a result of this, a theoretical model was constructed from the data to represent children's monetary decision-making.
Analysis of the coding suggested the relationships of various subcomponents of regulation of knowledge and knowledge of cognition in children's monetary decision-making process. A theoretical model was constructed from our data analysis (Figure 2) that will deal with the research questions. The findings will be illustrated with actual excerpts from the interview transcripts.
Components of meta-cognition in children's monetary decision-making process
From coding and analysis, it was found that there were different subcomponents of meta-cognition in children's monetary decision-making processes (see Figure 2).
[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
Two dummy components (planning and decision made) were added to complete the model. Figure 3 shows the frequencies of these subcomponents. It was interesting to note that even within some of the subcomponents, further subcategorisation was possible. For instance, within declarative knowledge, another three categories emerged during coding; they were declarative (parents)--for example, 'If I ask them, they will say "don't buy this, don't buy that, this is not good for you"'; declarative (self)--for example, 'always think twice before you buy things ... otherwise you won't have money to buy things that you need to buy', and declarative (strategies)--for example:
I went to Beijing and we went to try the Chinese tea. The person who let us try the tea told us that we can buy it at his shop. But I know that outside the shop, there'll be some more shops and the prices and designs will be different, so I compared prices from all shops and I used the money my parents gave me for the trip to buy the cheapest one.
Our analysis suggested that children not only possess knowledge about themselves, but that they also possess knowledge about their parents' behaviour, and knowledge about the strategies they can use during problem-solving. Similarly, within evaluation, four other categories were identified (alternatives, comparison, reflection, and strategies) and two other categories within planning (fact-finding and goal setting). Children were able to analyse their performance by evaluating their alternatives, strategies used, comparison made, and reflecting upon their problem solving. During planning, children set goals and found facts to support their planning process. There were no emerging subcategories for conditional knowledge, procedural knowledge or monitoring (shown as CK, PK and M in Figure 3).
[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]
The roles of knowledge of cognition in children's monetary decision-making
The coding analysis revealed that in making monetary decisions, children's knowledge of cognition was observed. There were 37 instances suggesting children's declarative knowledge about themselves. When asked about what is most important when it comes to using money, one particular student said: 'you don't buy things that are too expensive, and you need to make sure whether it is something you really need or you want.' Another student said: 'sometimes I buy things that I want, but most of the time, I buy things that I need.' Our evidence suggested that children not only possess knowledge of cognition about themselves; they also possessed knowledge about strategies. Some strategies they knew included purchasing from stores that are perceived to have lower overhead cost and therefore lower prices This was evident when one student mentioned that, to make the money worth more, he would:
go somewhere where stuff are cheaper ... there are some shops that have stuff imported from China and that's cheaper than stuff from elsewhere ... Even if it's a pen imported from China it's cheaper, because they are selling on the streets. Whereas if you go to a shopping mall, the rental is more expensive, so you pay more.
Another common strategy was to compare prices from different stores. For instance, one student said:
I went to Beijing and we went to try the Chinese tea. The person who let us try the tea told us we can buy it at his shop. But I know that outside the shop, there'll be some more shops and the prices and designs will be different, so I compared prices from all shops and I used the money my parents gave me for the trip to buy the cheapest one.
To be able to use money wisely, a large number of children also chose to save as much as possible for future needs. This was evident when one child said: 'use as little money as you can and save the rest for future needs'.
The children we interviewed seemed to use knowledge about their parents as well, and such knowledge helped them in monetary decision-making. During the coding, it became apparent that children were able to anticipate their parents' behaviour towards their monetary decision-making. One child tended to report every element of his spending to his mother because: 'if I don't tell her and she found out, she would scold me and think that I steal'. It was also interesting that some children did not see the need to seek permission to spend because they knew that their parents would not ask them about their spending. When asked whether he would need to seek his parents' permission, one child replied 'no need. . . because they are rich and they just give'. Having knowledge of their parents' likely behaviour and their anticipated reactions enabled children to make monetary decisions that were to their own advantage.
Analysis also revealed an interesting phenomenon. Children's conditional knowledge (the knowledge about when and why to use strategies) and procedural knowledge (about how to use strategies) were very much related to their views on their parents' behaviour towards their monetary decision-making. In other words, the declarative knowledge about parents contributed largely to their conditional knowledge that, in turn, formed the basis for procedural knowledge. For instance, one particular child said that because he did not have enough money to buy a birthday present for his brother, he had to borrow from someone else, and he therefore negotiated with his parents by asking them to first pay for the present, and he would then reimburse them at a later date with his savings. This child knew that proper negotiation with his parents was critical as this would ensure that he got the money for his brother's present. Another child was also aware that he needed to seek his parents' permission for making purchases because: 'sometimes I buy games that are more expensive'. For this child, knowing when and why to use such knowledge was important so as to avoid being scolded by his parents. In terms of procedural knowledge, it was evident that children clearly understood how to go about achieving their goals and what rules to apply. For instance, when asked about where to obtain money to buy things she wanted, one child said that she obtained the money from her father because 'he says that I can only get what I want once in a month.' Another child also showed that he knew how to apply rules to realise his goal as he said: 'I got the money from my father, because I help him to run errands so he gives me some allowance.'
The roles of regulation of cognition in children's monetary decision-making
Most of the children interviewed showed evidence of planning when making monetary decisions, and 47 instances of planning were captured in the coding. One child, when asked whether she plans her spending, replied that:
my usual pocket money is $2. My mother said that I must save at least half of the money that I bring to school. So I plan on the bus on my way to school.
Based on their knowledge of cognition, goals were set. For instance, another child said: 'I get $25 per month and I save $10 a month. Then the rest is spent on Ezlink card [transportation card] and I save the extra money'. Knowing that he only had a limited allowance, this child rationed his money and set a goal of $10 savings per month. When the child's goal was simple and did not require much consideration, the plan would be executed without much evaluation. Facing a difficult decision, children evaluated their plans by comparing options or by evaluating the strategy used. For instance, when asked to describe the most recent decision made on using money, one child said that:
at the fun fair in school during the March holidays, there were many stalls, and one stall was run by other people instead of the teachers, and there was 'Awfully Chocolate' cake [name of a cake made by a famous cake shop] for $30 and it was this big. And on the opposite side, just at the corner, because no-one went there as all went for Awfully Chocolate cake ... they were selling one slice at $2 and it was about this thick. And if you were to buy a cake, I calculated, it would be $12 for an entire cake and it's bigger than the Awfully Chocolate one and my cousin said it was tastier. So why buy an entire cake when it's smaller and costs $30 when you can buy this one where there is no long queue ... with lower price and you get more?
In this case, when the child faced choices, he compared his options. He not only compared the prices, but also the size and taste of the cake and the wait time. When making a difficult decision, another child evaluated his strategy. He said:
I go to my parents for advice. If I need something which costs $200--$300, they'll ask me if I can wait for a while to see if there's a discount. Or if I really want the item they'll save the money first and see if I do some good deeds or do well for the exams and then decide. In this economic recession my father lost a lot of money and he said that we should learn to save now.
The process of evaluating strategy and comparison triggered the process of evaluating alternatives when the children's plan was difficult to succeed. For instance, one child said:
Last Saturday, there was this new model of an airplane that you had to put petrol in but it was quite costly, it cost $250. I had only $170 and I was short on money so I actually went to my parents for advice. They asked why I wanted it and what's so good about it. It was quite fast and flies 40 metres into the air, like a [real] airplane. They asked me to look at other models which were less expensive, like those which cost $150. I thought about it and I went to the market again. There was a plane which was not so good. It flies 14-15 metres into the air but it cost $150. So I decided to buy that plane and I had to put a receiver on this plane. The receiver cost $25 and the controller had a camera in it and I still have it now and I fly it almost every day in whenever I have free time.
There was evidence that children do monitor their own monetary decisions. This was usually done as a result of planning for future monetary decisions. A number of children told us that they watched their spending and savings closely by 'budgeting' so that they would not overspend and would have sufficient money for buying things they wanted. To ensure the effectiveness of such monitoring process, some children resorted to the use of a booklet or savings accounts. For instance, one child said: 'I write them down in a little booklet ... Like, write down what I bought and how much I spent'.
Coding also revealed that children do reflect upon their own actions as 49 instances of reflection were coded. It was interesting to note that reflection usually occurred when the child recognised an unwise decision. For instance, one child said:
When I was younger, I always like to patronise the bookshop and whenever I see nice things I would use my pocket money to go buy them. But now I am bigger, I realise that those things are of no use ... and I regretted buying those things, now I just put them at a corner and [I'm] not using them any more.
Another child made a similar comment:
Last time when my soccer boots were worn out, I wanted to buy another pair. When my parents brought me to the shop there were an old and a new design. I wanted to buy the new design so I bought the more expensive one when the old design was also nice and cheaper ... it was a bad decision because the old design was actually nice and I felt I have wasted money.
Children's reflection was characterised by words such as: 'regret' (three instances), 'should not/should have' (six instances), 'think twice/think more' (six instances), 'check' (five instances), and 'careful/carefully' (three instances). No instances were found where children reflected upon decisions that they were happy with. It was also evident that the reflection on the decision made provided feedback into their existing knowledge about cognition. For instance, one child said:
Last time I used to buy those very fancy erasers with all the colours. But after ... a while, what happens is that they will turn black on the paper and they become awful. But if you buy those that don't look attractive like the white color ones, they will erase properly without any marks. So I decided not to buy those fancy ones any more, because it is just wasteful.
Another child also told the interviewer that his poor decision-making experience had influenced him to 'really think about what I am buying and why did I need it'. Such information suggested the recursive nature of decision-making (Abelson & Levi, 1985).
Parents as the most influential factor
Parents were undeniably the most influential factor in children's monetary decision-making process. They were perceived as financial supporters, or advisers in their children's spending and saving processes. Being financially dependent, children looked to their parents for support and advice. The advisory role of parents was seen mostly in the form of approval to purchase. Students whose parents had strong influence on them would seek their parents' permission before making a purchase. In the process of permission-seeking, parents engaged in discussion with their children and, if they disagreed with the purchase, might advise the child accordingly. For instance, one student said: 'Sometimes I go to my siblings or parents and ask if I should buy it because it might not be worth it or if it's too expensive', while another said:
I saw my favourite series [comic books] in the bookstore, so I went back home ... and asked my parents if I could buy it. As it was cheaper due to a discount, they agreed.
Another method used by parents to guide their children in making monetary decisions was by rewarding their children in exchange for their good behaviour or better performance in academic results. For instance, one student said that if he obtained good results on an examination, his mother would allow him to buy whatever things he wanted. One child told us that:
I get what I want by doing stuff, like, drinking apple juice everyday or getting first in class for exam. But I don't use my money to buy it. I ask my dad to buy it when I do something good.
Such transactions seemed to be quite common and to be an acceptable part of decision-making among the children.
Interestingly, not all children agreed with the way adults handle money. For instance, a child said that 'sometimes we think that our decisions are good but our parents may not think so'. While some students disagreed with the way their parents handled money, this created more awareness in the way they handled their own saving. In one such case, one student described her dilemma on handling her piggy bank. When asked for her reason for not asking her parent to handle the piggy bank on her behalf, she said: 'my mother will spend it later ... also ... she will use it to buy lottery tickets.'
Conclusion and implications
The intent of this study was to explore how children exercise meta-cognition in their everyday problem-solving, particularly in making monetary decisions. Using a qualitative approach, the study investigated whether there were subcomponents of meta-cognition observed in children's monetary decision-making process, the roles of meta-cognition in this process and, lastly, whether there were emerging factors that help to explain children's monetary decision-making process. Coding of data showed that there were subcategories of meta-cognition displayed by the children in relation to their monetary decision-making process. Three levels of categories of meta-cognition were identified, and within these there were subcategories. For instance, within declarative knowledge, three sub-subcategories emerged (self, parents, strategies). This important finding highlighted the complexity of everyday problem-solving (Berg et al., 1998). Such findings are very much aligned with relevant studies. For instance, Flavell, Miller and Miller (2002) divided meta-cognition into two subcomponents: monitoring and self-regulation, and metacognitive knowledge. They then further subdivided meta-cognitive knowledge into knowledge about persons, knowledge about tasks and knowledge about strategies. Our finding also complemented other studies that examined children's meta-cognition. Some of these studies employed quantitative methods to suggest the existence of two major components: knowledge and regulation of cognition (Lee et al., 2009) in children's everyday problem-solving. Schraw and Dennison (1994) also concluded that a two-factor solution (knowledge and regulation of cognition) fits more closely with theoretical predictions.
Using a qualitative research approach, this study identified subcomponents of regulation and knowledge of cognition. The identification of levels of meta-cognition is important to the extent that it helps researchers and educators to obtain a deeper understanding of how children solve everyday problems, particularly making monetary decisions. The findings of this study suggest that normative models of decision-making are insufficient to explain children's decision-making (Osana et al., 2003), particularly everyday problem-solving. These decision-making processes are non-linear and far more complex than normative models can explain. This finding may potentially bring insights to curriculum planning. When designing and implementing financial literacy programs to help students acquire necessary financial decision-making skills, it is of importance to take note of the complex decision-making process of children if the programs are to effectively develop students' ability in making sound monetary decisions.
To capture children's thoughts on monetary decision-making, participants were asked to describe their everyday monetary decision-making processes. This method of eliciting information is different from the hypothetical problems constructed by researchers (Berg et al., 1998; Gummerum, Keller, Takezawa & Mata, 2008; Osana et al., 2003). By asking the children to describe their own personal experience through the critical incident method, it was possible to probe more deeply into their thoughts and to elicit practical and realistic information from the children. Such an approach is very much aligned with situated cognition (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989), which attempts to understand reasoning in context. Studying children's reasoning under realistic conditions may yield greater insights into how children make monetary decisions without the interference of adults' assumptions. To obtain a more in-depth understanding of how children make monetary decisions, it may be necessary to examine their reasoning process through methods that can potentially elicit important information about the processes children use.
One salient phenomenon that may warrant attention from researchers and educators is that children do reflect upon their monetary decision-making process. Byrnes, Miller and Reynolds (1999) suggested that researchers studying decision-making should focus on what people do before they reach a decision instead of limiting their focus to what happens after a decision has been implemented. But the findings of this study indicate that it is of critical importance to understand the cognitive behaviour of a decision-maker after a decision has been made, because this has implications for the subsequent decisions that he or she will make. What is even more intriguing from these findings is that all the instances of reflection suggest that unwise decision-making experiences trigger reflection, characterised by words such as: 'regret', 'should/shouldn't', 'think more/think twice', 'check', and 'careful/carefully'. Out of the 136 students interviewed, none described reflection on wise or good decisions. Does this finding imply that unwise decision-making or unpleasant experiences can be a necessary condition for reflection? If so, then curriculum and instruction may focus on creating similar experiences for children to develop and acquire meta-cognition in making everyday decisions. This research finding requires more analysis and further validation. In addition, this research presents evidence for the recursive nature of decision-making (Abelson & Levi, 1985), finding that reflection provides necessarily feedback to children's knowledge of cognition.
The significant influence of parental involvement was noted. In most cases, parents played an advisory role or acted as financial supporters in children's monetary decision-making process. Parents also exerted their authority over their children's monetary decision-making by providing financial incentives for good behaviour or better academic performance. Such 'transactions' seemed to be quite common among the children we interviewed. While it appeared that parents' authority was seen to be legitimate and acceptable (Helwig & Kim, 1999), children may not always be happy with their parents' involvement.
Future research in this area may include refining the conceptual model of children's monetary decision-making through similar research with larger samples. It will also be beneficial to conduct such research with students from different cultural groups and in different contexts. How culture-dependent is children's decision-making, and how does it develop with age? What are the beliefs and values that influence children's monetary decisions? Research considering these questions could provide substantial insights to assist in the design and implementation of monetary decision-making skills in school curriculum.
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Chwee Beng Lee
University of Western Sydney
Noi Keng Koh
Xin Le Cai
Choon Lang Quek
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Chwee Beng Lee is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education, University of Western Sydney.
Noi Keng Koh is a Senior Lecturer at Nanyang Technical University, Singapore.
Xin Le Cai is a Research Assistant at Nanyang Technical University, Singapore.
Choon Lang Quek is an Associate Professor at Nanyang Technical University, Singapore.