All about Metacognition: interview with Alexandra Volckaert

How about Metacognition? Alexandra Volckaert, a doctorate in psychology, specializing in neuropsychology and more specifically in the development of Executive Functions in young children, tells you all about it!
Babaoo The Mag All about Metacognition: interview with Alexandra Volckaert
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Video interview with Alexandra Volckaert


And below: the transcript

I can’t help giving my opinion, even when I’m not asked. Is that a bad thing, Doctor?

[laughs] It depends on the situation! But learning to control yourself and turning your tongue seven times in your mouth, you’d better be able to do that in a lot of situations, anyway.

And precisely, what is Inhibition in a few words?

It’s being able to say to yourself “stop, I’m thinking before I act”.

Is controlling impulsivity innate or can it be learned?

It can be learned!

Fairly, do you have any tips and tricks to help children learn to control their impulsivity?

The little Metacognition characters, like Mr. Stop, are a great everyday tool for reminding kids when to stop.

In an even simpler way, we can learn to control our impulsivity by playing board games such as Uno, Jacques a dit… These are games that almost all of us have at home, and that we can use on a daily basis to learn precisely to stop ourselves, not to go too fast.

Is being distracted necessarily a problem?

No, it depends on the situation. In some situations, distractions can save our lives: for example, if we’re crossing the road, it’s rather better to hear the sound of an oncoming truck. On the other hand, that same noise can be a distractor we need to inhibit when we’re working on the fourth floor of an office.

You’re Chief of Cognitive Research at Babaoo. Can you explain?

It’s working in collaboration with all the teams in place to be able to make sure that Babaoo is indeed a neuroeducational game, that’s really going to bring in all its share of neuroscientific concepts and teach kids how their brains work.

Babaoo is to inhibition what … is to … ?

Babaoo is to Inhibition what the brake is to the race car.

Concretely, how do you train yourself to regulate your impulsivity by playing Babaoo?

When we play Babaoo, we explore a world that is our Inner World, our brain. We meet little characters, the Babaoos, who represent the 5 Executive Functions; for example, Inhi is the Babaoo guardian of Inhibition.

The game allows us, through challenges, to train different skills, such as being able to control our thoughts or our bodies.

And through these little challenges, different information will be given to the child to help him understand how his brain works. It will also help teach them that, in fact, there are plenty of things they can’t do yet, but that they’ll soon be able to do, because they’ll understand how their brain works.

The fact that each Executive Function is symbolized by a little character was inspired in particular by the INEMO Program, which provides teachers with several scientifically validated tools to help children manage their impulsivity and emotions, as well as conflict situations at school.

You were talking about Executive Functions. Can you tell us more about them?

Executive Functions are cognitive functions that develop at the front of the brain, in the prefrontal cortex. They enable us, children and adults alike, to control our behavior so we can adapt to a whole range of situations. When routines no longer work, we learn to stop and adapt. We must avoid falling into the trap of our automatisms when they are not relevant to the situation in hand.

Executive Functions include Inhibition, Attention, Flexibility, Working Memory and Planning. Then there are higher-level Executive Functions, such as Reasoning, Emotional Regulation…

And all these are functions that we need on a daily basis and that it’s really important to develop, from a very early age.

As a mom, are your three children among Babaoo’s little beta testers?

Of course they are! For them, having a mom who works in the video game industry is totally class! They’re the first to test as soon as something comes out.

“PhD in psychology, specializing in neuropsychology”, that’s pretty cool! But what does that actually mean?

It means that we study human behavior, whatever the population. In my case, it’s a population of young children, in whom I went to see how to stimulate impulsivity management, stimulate Inhibition, to teach them to control themselves.

And how often do you metacogitate?

We all metacogitate really, without even realizing it!

As an inhibition expert, do you always manage to say “stop” to yourself when you need to?

Of course… No, absolutely not! [laughs] In fact, being able to realize that you’re not at all capable of controlling yourself all the time and at all times, that’s also what metacogitation is all about.

Monsieur Stop, Madame Zen, the Detective… Who are all these people? Can you introduce them to us?

They’re metaphorical characters, inspired by Pierre-Paul Gagné’s Réflecto method of metacognition.

Mr. Stop helps you to say to yourself: “stop, I think and then I act”, and not to want to go too fast in what you do.

Madame Zen allows you to control your body, to know which parts of your body should not move. For example, if you’re building a Kapla tower, you need to be able to control your body’s movements so that it doesn’t collapse.

Then there’s the Detective, which lets you check everything you do afterwards, to evaluate yourself and see if what you’ve done is what you were asked to do.

The messages and advice given by these little characters are also symbolized in the Babaoo game.

Do you have anything you’d like to read?

The Babaoo Mag, of course!

What did you think of the exercise? Did it seem easy to you?

Easy, no! But in the end, it’s a good exercise in inhibiting the nonsense you shouldn’t say, and getting to the heart of what you want to get across.

The final word?

I inhibit, therefore I am!

Educative app for children Babaoo

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