During our PPD session on Wednesday we discussed some common misconceptions and effective strategies to use in the classroom to encourage metacognition and self-regulation. In preparation for this session I read the Metacognition and Self-regulation Guidance report from the Education Endowment Foundation (Published in 2018). Their evidence suggests the use of ‘metacognitive strategies’ – which get pupils to think about their own learning - can be worth the equivalent of an additional +7 months’ progress when used well. The guidance report from the EEF outlines 7 key principles to encourage metacognition and self-regulation in the classroom. Some are directed more at a management level but I’m just going to focus on 4 that relate to subject teachers and start with addressing some of the misconceptions the guidance report also highlights.
Misconception: Metacognition is just “thinking about thinking”
Although metacognition does indeed involve thinking about thinking, it is much more complex. Metacognition is actively monitoring one’s own learning and, based on this monitoring, making changes to one’s own learning behaviours and strategies.
Misconception: Metacognition is a general skill that can be taught separately from subject knowledge.
The clue is in the word: without cognition there is no metacognition. Metacognition is specific to the task being undertaken and most effective when students have a solid grounding in subject knowledge. Some teachers think they need to teach metacognitive approaches in ‘learning to learn’ or ‘thinking skills’ sessions. The report warns however that metacognitive strategies should be taught in conjunction with specific subject content as students find it hard to transfer these generic tips to specific tasks.
EEF Guidance Recommendation #2 explicitly teach metacognitive strategies in the classroom
This doesn't necessarily mean using the word 'metacognition' with students, it may cause them to put up a barrier before we even start. We should however give them tools to help them to plan, monitor and evaluate their learning in the metacognitive cycle.
Strategies such as check lists (seen here in English), step by step guides, exemplar work, and success criteria can help encourage students to reflect on their own progress and give them their 'next steps' in learning.
Teach students how to self-assess or peer assess against the success criteria – this builds self-regulation as they can monitor their own progress. This doesn’t have be only be done at the end of a task – it could be a mid-point so students can identify their own steps to achieve the LO.
EEF Guidance Recommendation #3 Model your own thinking
Before starting a demanding task its effective to set a ‘meta cognitive’ frame around it to prevent learners entering the ‘panic zone’ in response to what they’re faced with.
Model to students how to think about their approach to the task and consider what the task is asking of them. It is essential we show empathy and model the disposition needed to achieve in the task, particularly ones that have a high cognitive load. Modelling our own thinking can also pre-empt the setbacks and anxieties a task or problem might lead to.
As we model we should guide students through strategies that overcome these using phrases such as: “When I first looked at this problem I didn’t know where to start ” or ”When I tried this initially I found it frustrating so don’t worry if you feel that too”. Remind them that you wouldn’t be asking them to do something you know they can’t handle.
EEF Guidance Recommendation #4 Set an appropriate level of challenge.
According to Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development”:
• We should perform tasks that are challenging but attainable.
• If the task is beyond our student’s ability then they will give up easily; if the task is too straight forward they will perform it out of routine. In both instance they learn very little.
• The ‘sweet spot’ exists where the task is hard yet just their reach. When we learn our brains are rewarded with a dose of the naturally occurring chemical dopamine which will make students feel good and encourage them to continue learning.
EEF Guidance Recommendation #5 Promote and develop metacognitive talk in the classroom
As discussed earlier, metacognitive talk is an effective strategy to encourage students to think about what they are doing or how to face a task. Pupil to pupil and teacher talk can help to build knowledge of cognitive and foster metacognitive strategies. However this dialogue needs to be purposeful, with teachers guiding and supporting the conversation through questioning and keeping student talk focused.
Group work or using talking pairs can be an excellent strategy for this but again, parameters and success criteria should be used to help students understand the learning behaviours that they will need to demonstrate to succeed in the task.
Tips for Success:
• Give student’s a ‘check list or success criteria ’ that lead to achieving the Learning Objective – they can use this to reflect on how far they have come and reflect on their progress and know the ‘next steps’
• Use drafts to show a process of ideas so students aren’t under the illusion that exceptional outcomes don’t require practice: include marking, corrections, working out to model the metacognitive process.
• Model your thinking to show that learning is a process that requires reflection throughout a task, not just at the end.
• Consider using poorly worked examples for contrast and so students can ‘spot the mistakes’ it’ll give you and greater understanding of what they understand.
• Don’t overdo it - Beware that overuse of one strategy doesn’t lead to a dependency culture. The struggle zone should move so slowly remove the support to allow students to think and make mistakes for themselves.