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#Open Classroom 11: Using Elements of Reasoning to Teach Metacognition

Subject:                 Year 3 History

Unit:                       Authoritarian Regimes: Communist China under                                            Mao Zedong (1949-1976)

Topic:                     Cultural Revolution in China (1966-1976)


Topic: Potential Appeal of Extremist Ideas

The lesson is on the Cultural Revolution in China (1966-76). Students would be able to use Paul and Elder’s Elements of Reasoning as a metacognitive tool to examine the (potential) appeal to extremism. This would be linked to contemporary appeals to extremism through a simple case study of how religious “fundamentalists” continue to have broad support in areas under their control.


The Year 3 students in this class are generally participatory in the class. There is a great potential for the students to elevate their thinking processes from the cognitive to the metacognitive thinking.


At the end of the lesson, students will be able to

  1. use Elements of Reasoning to metacognate on the essential question of ‘Why are extremist ideas appealing?’


Through the use of video/documentaries as triggers, guiding questions and Elements of Reasoning, teacher was able to get students to uncover the Essential Question (Question at Issue).

Students would be asked 3 questions:

  1. Why am I doing this (Question)?
  2. What do I need to Know?
  3. How would I know I have Learnt?

The above 3 questions are mapped to relevant Elements of Reasoning, so that student see a logical connection from the cognitive aspects of thinking to the metacognitive aspects of learning.

There are 3 activities altogether in the lesson.

Activity One was done as a flipped lesson. Students must have prior experience in using Elements of Reasoning in self-directed learning. Guiding questions posed would help the students address important cognitive aspects of the lesson, in preparation for the main metacognition lesson.

Activity Two was a Trigger that provokes students into thinking about the subject matter from an emotive perspective. It was deliberately chosen to evoke a personal-emotive response to prepare students to metacognate. Teacher also shared a personal anecdote on why the essential question is important to him at a personal level. The lesson was set for metacognition to take place, after the role-modelling and the mood-setting.

Activity Three was the main activity. The guiding questions posed helped the girls chart out their metacognition further. The 3 questions of ‘Why am I doing This?’, ‘What do I need to Know’ and ‘How would I know I have Learnt?’ is mapped to the Elements of Reasoning.


Elements of Reasoning was used as both cognitive and metacognitive strategies. The structure of lesson mapped out the cognition and metacognition process. 3 questions posed helped students to question their personal responses to the Question at Issue, to encourage the students to examine their purpose of thinking, to take charge of the information that they need to gather and to take on the burden of figuring out what is next in their extended learning.


Question at Issue: Why are extremist ideas appealing?

(Flipped Lesson was done as Homework)

Activity One: Watch the Video on the Cultural Revolution in class and refer to the table on the Elements of Reasoning

Historical Context:

  • End of the Great Leap Forward (GLF)
  • Mao had stepped down from running day to day affairs of China
  • Mao retained the powerful post of leader of the Chinese Communist Party
  • Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping began reversing some of Mao’s GLF policies, even allowing for private farming.
  • Peasants’ conditions seem to be improving with Liu’s and Deng’s leadership

paul's wheel of reasoning.gif

*Sample worksheet with actual student responses

      Question at Issue: Why are extremist ideas appealing?

  • Appeal to the conditions of the time i.e. people were so desperate at that time, they were able to accept anything despite it being illogical
  • Gave people a sense of hope, which worked especially well in conditions where people were desperate due to the dwindling social and economic conditions
  • Appeal to the people’s emotions, fears, hopes for the future
  • Gave people a sense of the empowerment e.g. in context, CR gave youths a role to play in society, so they carried it out w. great passion/vigour
    • Appealed to youths’ idealism
Purpose of the Thinking (goal, objective) What are the extremist ideas in question?

  • Mao encouraged youths to bombard and attack the headquarters of the CPP: “to rebel is just”

Why do we want to find out the answers to this question?

  • By analysing what lies behind extremism and the reasons behind why millions of people can/have been moved easily against logic to support radical policies e.g. historical events like the Holocaust, Trump’s presidency etc.,
  • we can then take it as a lesson for the future and be more self-aware to better prevent ourselves from falling to similar, extremist-nature ideologies
  • (especially relevant in today’s world context in which radicalism is rapidly growing through various modern means)
      Information (Data, Historical Facts,        Observations, Experiences) What does the historical evidence tell us?

What do we gather from the testimonies of the people who lived through the Cultural Revolution?

  • Peasants were allowed to return to a semblance of normal life, sell their produce in free markets: their lives got better (not drastic conditions)
  • Mao saw the return of bureaucracy and materialism and began to plan his return
  • Mao’s supporters compiled his sayings into the anthology, the Little Red Book
  • Mao used the arts to conduct the Cultural Revolution
  • He first started with the ancient art of Beijing Opera: if he could use and manipulate it to conduct his Revolution and promote himself, then he could manipulate anything
  • All students read aloud and memorized Mao’s sayings in class
  • Youths did not really know what was going on, but they were overcome with enthusiasm
  • They were given a reason to skip school
  • Mao used education to indoctrinate the youths to gain their support and essentially their obedience. The youths then made up the new army of Mao
  • Had the belief things will get better, belief that lofty goals can be achieved → sick of their lives or the way they were living → wanted a change
  • People in authority were denounced, regardless of how much they had helped the peasants e.g. teachers → felt liberating
  • Result: Up to a million were killed or driven to suicide, some were left with permanent injuries
       Interpretations and Inferences                (Conclusions) What conclusions can we draw in relation to the Question at Issue?

Extremist ideas are appealing when…..

  • Conditions during the time are so drastic that people are desperate enough to look past the logical flaws
  • People are in need of empowerment/people feel marginalised/people are passionate about ideals but are denied the means to carry them through

Extremist ideas are appealing because…..

  • They promise ambitious results i.e. revolution to overthrow oppressive conditions, leading desperate people to look past the logical flaws
  • An extremist policy may m
  • ore likely convince the people of the leader’s commitment to his ideology than a moderate one

They appeal to the human emotional (irrational) side as they appeal to idealism/strong emotions such as hope for the future/fears

     Related concepts to Question at Issue What concepts as you understand them would be relevant to the Question at Issue?

  • Cult of personality
  • Ideology
  • Control
  • Coercion
  • Power
  • Propaganda
     Assumptions (which are made in             reference to Question at Issue or               related issues) What are the assumptions embedded in the Question?

Extremist ideas are appealing and non-extremist ideas are not.

“Are”: this question remains relevant until today

     Implications and Consequences What are the implications of the strength of appeal of extremism?
     Points of View (frames of reference,         perspectives, orientation) Whose point of view is being presented?

  • Beijing opera singer
  • Members of the Red Guards
  • Victims of the Cultural revolution (eg teachers, government officials)


Activity Two: Video on “A Son’s Guilt Over the Mother He Sent to Her Death”

Question at Issue: Why are the extreme Cultural Revolution ideas appealing to the Chinese youths?                                                                -Father and son denounced mother as an anti-revolutionary, leading to her execution.                                                                                                 -“Mother and father are dear, but Chairman Mao is dearer”

Activity Three: Understanding My Own Learning and Reasoning (Metacognition)

Question at Issue: Why are extremist ideas appealing?
Below are examples of students’ work*
*Students names have been replaced with alphabets for privacy reasons.

Question at Issue/ Purpose of Thinking/ Point of View

(Getting READY)


Guiding Questions:

  • Why is this question important/significant to be addressed to me?
  • What connections do I have/make with the Question at Issue?
  • What do I already know about this topic?

Extremist ideas still happening now (so it is relevant)

A: Extremist ideas are still being supported up till now and I want to know what about extremism allows people to disregard their moral system (eg. go against their family) just because of a party and their policies? I feel that youths are also at high risk of falling for extremism and thus I feel it is a prevalent issue to youths like us. By finding out why extremism is appealing, we are able to learn how to look past the grandeur of a certain policy and truly look at the underlying truth of these policies.

B: I need to know how people are ready to forget basic humanity and their values for the sake of a single leader or idea? How is the extremist idea/idol worth the personal and moral sacrifices made?

C: I find this question to be very fascinating because it helps me to better understand different people’s world views. Extremist ideas may seem “extreme” to me, but they do still hold a certain appeal to other people and I’d like to find out why. I currently attribute this to the fact that people have different world views and thus view situations in the world very differently. Hence, something that may seem “crazy” to a person might actually be very logical to another. This was triggered by the fact that I used to think that Trump was an absurdity whose policies were so far-fetched that no one in the right mind would support him. However, after discussing such issues with some of my American friends, I have come to realise that Americans may view domestic problems differently from me and that the gravity of certain situations there have made Trump’s policies seem to be the only solution that will solve the problem once and for all.

D: I want to find out why so many people would join terrorist groups, even when their ideologies are not logical.

F: the fact that my relatives still support extremist ideas and support most of Mao’s views has always confused me, hence I feel personally invested to find out why they would see the same world views differently from me, even when they are older and (currently) more educated than me. I couldn’t imagine supporting an extremist idea myself but maybe after finding out why people did, I might gain an insight as to how I myself might accept/have already accepted certain extremist ideas

G: extremist ideas are still relevant to us, especially since there are organisations like ISIS on the rise, and these ideas may impact society negatively, which affects me!

K: it is very interesting that people will listen and actively partake in extremist ideas even though it goes against the basic human moral code. In the modern world now, there are still many youths and adults who are readily joining extremist groups. Do extremist ideas appeal to youths because youths might be easily swayed and influenced? However, youths that have grown up around extremist ideas will continue to see these ideas as normal, as they have never seen the “normal” of the world.

M: Extremist ideas become ingrained and “normal” to people influenced by them, causing them to act in a particular way, which can (positively or negatively) affect the society as a whole. I want to know how extremist ideas becomes normalised  and why.

Q: this question is important to me because it enables me to learn about the possibility of those around me to accept/ adopt extremist viewpoints make assumptions about my religion and race, or how they may view me as different in today’s community as a minority. how susceptible am i to the effects of the changes in mindset of those around me in the near future?

R: it’s easier than we might perceive to convince a large number of people to do irrational things that don’t make sense if you think about it (like challenges on social media) and the fact that extremist ideas managed and still manage to get a lot of followers is scary because we might unknowingly accept some of these ideas

S: Extremist ideas are still being accepted and well-received despite how much society has progressed, and it is important to ask ourselves this question in order to properly understand the nuances that come with these ideas.

Assumptions/ Information/ Concepts

(READY to Learn)


Guiding Questions:

  • What assumptions have I made in attempting a response to the question?
  • What (further) information do I need to help me address the Question at Issue?
  • What are the relevant concepts that I would need to bring in?
  • What were the most confusing points in the lessons to me?

C: I want to know how can large numbers of people accept extremist ideas at the same period of time? How are extremist ideas spread across a community without being rejected immediately? Why (in the CR) did people feel so passionate/aggressive in their support for socialism despite the fact that they weren’t living in dire conditions at the time? In the CR, did people actually begin to doubt the extremist ideas (how?) and what happened to those people? What exactly were the enduring impacts of the CR/unique implications behind the CR to make people consider it as a major historical event

E: Why is it that people want to go back to extremist ideas even if it had harmed them before? Why were extremist ideas still supported even when the lives of people were improving under the reversal of extremism? What makes the youths more susceptible to extremism than adults? What about the policies of extremism that make people willing to give up on traditional values that have been ingrained in the country’s history? Why did a large majority of people who lived under extremist rule not question the rule and policy of the party even when they were suffering?

J: I need to know how such ideas came about, why they are respected and followed. Why would people choose to follow an ideology which caused them to live in a living hell and caused them to turn their backs on their family.

P: How can governments make use of education and propaganda  to indoctrinate students in the government’s ideology?

T: i need to know why youths will willingly dedicate and risk their lives for extremist ideas. What is the driving force behind the influx of youths joining the Red Guards? If education can be so easily manipulated, will the government take advantage of this weakness of the education system, and try to influence youths to partake in extreme ideas? What made the youths in China idolize Mao so much, even though Mao’s ideas were so severely flawed?

W: What is the effect of cults of personality on a population? What are the factors which affect the effectivity of cults of personality on a population (e.g. education)? To what extent is the government/’idol’ to blame for the actions of a population attracted to extremist ideas? How exactly did the cultural revolution affect the mindset of the people towards extremist ideas, such as socialism?

X: Why do extremist ideas in the first place? What is the goal of extremist ideas? Why are people receptive to extremist ideals even though they lack logical reasoning? What are the perspectives of the different stakeholders?What exactly are the needs of the different stakeholders involved? What are the mechanisms used to make extremist ideas work (e.g. education, propaganda)? Can social engineering be used to inculcate or ingrain extremist ideals? Or rather, is social engineering how Mao managed to influence the youths during the cultural revolution?

Interpretations, Inferences, Conclusions/ Implications, Consequences



Guiding Questions:

  • What are my inferences/conclusions with regards to the Question at Issue?
  • What is next for me in my learning? What do I want to find out more about?
  • How can I transfer my learning beyond History?
  • Has my thinking changed? How?
  • Is my reasoning CLEAR, RELEVANT, ACCURATE, PRECISE?Guiding Questions:

A: Extremist ideas are appealing to youths because they appeal to the very nature of youths- passionately zealous idealists by promoting the notion of a more utopian future. Even if such a world cannot exist, the very dire circumstances under which these youths lived in drove them, out of desperation, to subscribe to any ideology that promises a better future. This leads them to practice the concept of “selective viewing” or “selective listening” where they choose only to focus on the ideas that promise a better future for them. After a sufficiently long period of time, the youths would be brainwashed and desensitised to believe that these ideals are their only source of hope, even though circumstances around them might have approved, efficiently turning them into blind followers of Mao.

B: surprisingly, people may not be spurred by drastic conditions in order to accept extremist ideas. Extremist ideas are appealing to human idealism and the want for empowerment/the role to play in a revolutionary movement. When pushed and propagated to society through all aspects of life (e.g. Mao made use of the arts, propaganda materials, education, authoritarian coercion etc.), extremist ideas can become normalised such that people follow them blindly and passionately (? ? )

C: Extremist ideas are appealing when

  1. The conditions are so dire and in need when people need to look to an extremist cult of personality to follow and give them hope that there is a chance of a better future
    • This may not be totally relevant to the case of China under Mao but in the case of extremist ideas in general.
  2. When people are given propaganda and are coerced into believing that a particular idea, person, belief or party are the ultimate best way for the better of the community as a whole. This can be through the use of propaganda, education, etc. The ‘receivers’ of such propaganda are given some sort of incentive to believe in this idea/personality.
    • This was proven successful in the idea of China. An example would be when Mao convinced the youth to form the Red Guard, or to rebel against the CCP, with an incentive of providing an escape from oppression.

E: Extremist ideas appeal to the society due to its promise of a better future or life for the country and its citizens regardless of whether the means of carrying out the policy are logical. The determination to get a better future leads to its followers not questioning the reliability of the process, following through with it even if they have to suffer for it(believe they are working for the better good → want to reap their rewards at the end of the policy)

N: extremist ideas can be appealing when conditions are drastic and the people need something to hold onto in hopes of getting better prospects, however, can lead to people doing things that are nonsensical, regretful and illogical for example “sparrowcide” and the denouncement of family members.

S: Extremist ideas are appealing not only when they promise hope and a better life, but also when they offer the opportunity to belong to a collective and provide them with a sense of greater purpose. Societal conditions such as being exposed to only one ideology and drastic conditions make them even more appealing.

W: Extremist ideas are be appealing due to the societal conditions present, where people are desperate for change. Most of the time, it is when conditions are drastic but even if they are not, change is an appealing idea to the different needs of people in different communities, together with their ideals. For the cultural revolution in China, it was the idealism of the youths and how Mao utilised that to bring himself back into power. Even for more recent events, Trump used underlying social tensions or feelings of uncertainty or xenophobia (the social/political climate during the time) to come up with his campaign to appeal to people. He presented change when other people did not, and that was what made his proposed policies so appealing despite them being so radical.

Posted by:Mr Mohammad Faizal Bin K Abdul Aziz

Assistant Head Humanities (History)

Raffles Girls’ School

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