In this reflective assignment I have chosen to explore standard Q28: Support learners to reflect on their learning, identify ; focusing specifically on the integration of metacognitive strategies into a sequence of lessons. These strategies included making peer and self-evaluation an established part of every lesson. Making pupils aware of what they have learnt, mirroring pupils’ responses, and modelling exemplary metacognitive thought processes by thinking out loud.
The essence of metacognition is thinking about thinking; having an awareness of what you already know and what you do not know, knowing how to learn and acquire new knowledge, knowing which strategies to use and when to use them (Wilson & Bai, 2010). Metacognitive skills can be taught to pupils of any age and ability, and research has shown that pupils with metacognitive skills perform better in school (Sternberg, 1998). The reason I am interested in cultivating metacognition is because it improves pupils’ critical thinking skills (Ku & Ho, 2010). In order to teach metacognitive skills the teacher must first create a learning environment in which pupils are expected to participate in reflective and evaluative activities (Leat & Lin, 2007).
The metacognitive strategies were trialled with a class of thirty top-set Year 8 girls over a period of two weeks (six lessons); coinciding with the start of a new science topic: Chemical Reactions and Materials.
At the start of the first lesson pupils were given a self-evaluation checklist for all of the concepts they were going to be taught during the following sequence of lessons. They were then given the opportunity to write down any prior knowledge of these concepts, and to tick off any they felt confident with already. Pupils were instructed to place the checklist at the front of their files for use later on in the lesson and during the rest of the unit.
A three-stage self-evaluation framework was devised in order to promote pupils’ metacognition at well-defined point within each lesson. At the start of each lesson all pupils were expected to record the learning objectives (as communicated by the teacher) in the appropriate space on the checklist. Approximately two-thirds of the way through the lesson, pupils were told to consider whether or not they were meeting the learning objectives. Pupils used a traffic light system of red, orange and green coloured pages within their planners to communicate their responses to the teacher. Pupils not meeting learning objectives were asked to write down what actions they would have to take in order to meet them At the end each lesson pupils were given time to identify what they had learnt and how they would address areas of weakness.
When planning fifty minute lessons, thirty percent of the total lesson time had to be allocated to the three five-minute self-evaluation stages. In hindsight, it may have been a more efficient use of time to either self-evaluate every other lesson, or to assign self-evaluation as part of the class’ regular homework. Starting and ending lessons with a metacognitive task is commensurate with the three-part lesson structure of starter, main and plenary that seems to be in vogue. Placing a metacognitive task in the midst of a lesson may appear to disrupt the natural flow, but the anticipated change to an habitual task could serve as an opportunity for some pupils to refocus their attention and make better use of the remaining lesson time than they otherwise may have done.
During the first lesson in the sequence the introduction and explanation of the self-evaluation system required a significant portion of the lesson time. I don’t think there would have been any way around this. I had anticipated that during each of the subsequent lessons pupils would become more accustomed to the system and would therefore need less guidance. However, some pupils had been absent from the initial lesson in which the system was introduced and required additional teacher time to bring them up to speed. I don’t think that this would be an issue if the system had been implemented over a significantly longer time scale, as pupils would inevitably become familiar with the format of checklist and how and when to fill it in independently. In addition, various pupils would either lose or forget to bring their checklists to lessons, hence requiring replacement checklists and losing information which they should have accumulated. For these pupils it is clear that they would not be in a position to reap the full benefits of completing the self-evaluations when the time came to prepare for their end of unit test. I think that all of the pupils had a degree of appreciation for the potential benefits of this system, but some more so than others. During the Year 8 consultation evening several parents provided positive comments after having noticed the checklists in the child’s file. The general feeling was that the parents approved of pupils thinking critically about their own learning.
At the end of the sequence of lessons, pupils who had been regularly completing the self-evaluation checklist were able to easily identify gaps in their learning. These gaps could then be addressed during revision the time allocated to prepare for the end of unit test.
I think that if I had been teaching practical lessons, and in this unit there weren’t any, I would have found it much more difficult to allocate a time slot for self-evaluation during the lesson.
This three-part framework is clearly an explicit means of artificially imposing a metacognitive activity upon the pupils. However, it is a usual part of my every day teaching style to think out loud, and to encourage pupils to do the same when answering problems. This is an established technique for enhancing pupils’ metacognitive abilities, which I find comes quite naturally. By thinking out loud the teacher is modelling the sort of processes, lines of reasoning, and questions which they are pursuing and asking themselves in order to reach the solution to a problem. By mimicking an exemplar under the guidance and elicitation of the teacher, pupils can assimilate this skill and apply it independently.
I think that pupils often do not know how to tackle a problem for which they down know the answer immediately off hand. Some will just sit there and wait for the teacher to come over to them and intervene. Others would unthinkingly throw their hand into the air and expect to be told the answer straight away. It is often frustrating when I discover that a pupil hasn’t even attempted to form an approach to finding an answer. Without explicit training most won’t automatically know the sorts of questions they need to be asking of themselves, and are far too easily waylaid or disheartened by perceived unfamiliarity when a known problem is placed in an alternative context. I was not been able to gauge or quantify pupils’ metacognitive skill and I think this could be the basis of an interesting research enquiry, however, I did notice that pupils were generally more persistent after the sequence of lessons. Particular pupils who previously would have given up straight away were at least attempting to engage problems more before asking for assistance. I think that metacognitive ability is intrinsically linked with pupils’ motivation and self-efficacy. In my experience, pupils who are not sure how to approach a problem can attribute this inability to their own incompetence, which will invariably initiate a cycle of negative feedback with their self-esteem.
Working with such pupils on an individual basis I was able to give them the confidence and necessary individualised scaffolding to attempt unfamiliar problems. I often began by asking them to think out loud so that I could see exactly how they were approaching a particular problem. I would then ask them if they could think of an alternative way to approach the same problem, or to ask one of their friends how they would approach the same problem. This has been an approach which I have always taken, but during this series of lesson I have placed a lot more emphasis on pupils sharing their thought processes with each other e.g. via a think, pair, share style activity.
As a consequence of having taught a series of lessons with a strong emphasis on simple metacognitive strategies, I am motivated to continue using these strategies and to seek out new ones which complement or supersede them.