Metacognition is a set of skills that enable learners to become aware of how they learn and evaluate and adapt these skills to become increasingly effective at learning. ‘Curriculum Intent’ explains why a course exists, what skills it will develop and what possible destinations students could acquire. By developing metacognitive skills, successful learners will have a greater opportunity to reach their chosen goals, utilising newly acquired skills to significant effect.
Courses will typically have some scheme of work or learning plan identifying the order of delivery. Sequencing has become a key Ofsted buzzword that describes how the ordering of activities can better retain information due to a logical cognitive approach. For example, one may teach health and safety before students moving into the engineering workshop or teaching lower-order thinking skills before building evaluative skills. These planners should identify the content being delivered and the embedding of the relevant skills as specified in the course ‘Intent’.
Three key stages of metacognition:
1) Planning Before a Task
We must stress to students the importance of preparation. However, do we assume they know how to? Good preparation involves:
- Thinking about similar tasks already completed and the skills and strategies used.
- Setting clear goals to complete the task.
- Working out how long a task may take to complete selecting appropriate strategies
If done effectively, individuals will be able to allocate their effort more efficiently.
2) Monitoring During a Task
Students need to assess how they progress on a task to ensure they are on the right path. This self-monitoring is more straightforward if students spend time on the planning stage and know what they want to work to achieve.
3) Reviewing After a Task
After completing a task, students should reflect on what went well and what they would do differently next time. Therefore, ensuring that students learn as much as possible from experience and develop both content knowledge and relevant skills.
Metacognitive strategies facilitate learning how to learn. As previously stated, we need to consider whether the skills relevant to the subjects are also developed and the subject content. Below are a series of approaches that can enable the development of metacognition.
1) Ask Questions – At the beginning, middle and end of a lesson, ask questions that allow students to reflect on their learning processes and strategies, not just questions on what content they have recalled. We want to create reflective students who question their learning approaches.
2) Encourage Self-reflection – Emphasise the importance of personal reflection during and after learning experiences. Please encourage students to critically analyse their assumptions and how this may have influenced their learning.
3) Encourage Self-questioning – Enable independent learning by asking students to generate their questions and answer them to enhance comprehension. The questions can be related to meeting their personal goals but also their skill development.
4. Take a timeout – It’s very easy to be consumed by getting through a task without thinking about why we are doing it and what we are learning. It’s helpful to stop and reflect on what strategies we are using and their impact on our learning. In addition, whether the lesson is meeting the objectives and overall course intent.
5) Teach Strategies Directly – Teach appropriate metacognitive strategies as a part of an induction programme so students can be armed with various approaches to apply to a given task. Also, enabling a greater review of how successful those strategies were. You might share what methods past successful students have used and what positive destinations they have moved onto.
6) Promote discovery Learning – When students have some basic knowledge, encourage participation in challenging learning experiences. They will then construct their metacognitive strategies, which they can subsequently review how effective they are.
7) Modelling excellence – It’s key to provide experiences where novices can observe the proficient use of a skill from a mentor and then review the metacognitive strategies used. This modelling of excellence is a great way to try what works for others to see if it has the same level of success for us. It is interesting to note that it has become autonomous over time when one is excellent at something. Consequently, they may struggle to articulate what they do so well, believing by now it’s just something that happens. By breaking a strategy down step by step, it should be possible to model and try yourself.
8) Solve Problems with a Team – Discussing possible approaches with team members and learning through different methods can help enhance metacognitive strategies.
9) Think Aloud – Teach students to think aloud and identify their thoughts while performing a difficult task. A knowledgeable partner can then point out errors in thinking, or the individual can use this approach for increased self-awareness during learning. Another approach to thinking aloud is the ‘Walking, Talking Mock’ where the teacher and students work through exam questions, which can help students improve their comprehension of a complex subject.
10) Provide Opportunities for Making Errors – Allowing students to make errors in and outside of class stimulates reflection on the causes of their mistakes. In addition, because a safe culture is apparent, it helps develop a growth mindset as students won’t fear making errors.
Learning is about experimenting and understanding what works. As teachers, we need to create learning environments that inspire creativity and trial and error learning—ultimately building the necessary metacognitive strategies. If this is successful, we will have a more significant impact on lifelong learning as students will be able to face challenges with an array of tools to navigate their way through successfully. If they are unsuccessful, they know they can try a different strategy next time.
Author: Dan Beale
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