Better with Meta?

Hannah Evans-Assistant Headteacher

I know there are many teachers out there who view metacognition as merely a pedagogical fad that won’t have any real impact in their classrooms.  After all, in a climate of more content, more exam hours and, arguably, more complexity, have we really got the time to build this type of reflection in to our schemes of learning?  Why not just get on with the doing rather than thinking about the doing? With the Education Endowment Foundation’s conclusion that students who take part in metacognition activities make eight months additional progress, however, it seems hard to deny that these strategies might enhance our students’ learning.  With this in mind, I set myself the task of trying some of them out in order to discover how much impact metacognition could really have.

Before I share these strategies, though, let’s clear up what metacognition really is.  Put simply, it is the process of learning about learning.  Metacognition activities provide opportunities for students to evaluate the ways in which their cognitive processes can be enhanced by undertaking methods and strategies that work well for them.  They also help them become self-regulators: students take control of the processes that enable them to be successful.  Here are my top three strategies for establishing a metacognitive learning environment:

1. Post-assessment learning quizzes

Rather than simply providing feedback after a key assessment, ask your students to reflect on their study processes.  How do they revise?  Do they prefer to learn from audio or visual notes?  Do colour or graphics make a difference or would they rather employ a clear bullet point list?  What about the significance of environment and collaboration?  This strategy not only creates a dialogue about the need to revise smart, not hard, it also provides you with an insight into the ways your students like to learn.  Ultimately, this can be invaluable when planning effective revision lessons.

2. What could ‘go wrong’ regulation reflection

Create a handout that asks students to think about what could ‘go wrong’ in the assessment and how they might overcome these challenges.  For example, if they come across a task where the question focus contains vocabulary they don’t understand, what strategies could they put in place to overcome this barrier?  Fostering self-regulation in students means that they are active and self-assured in the exam process.

3. Whole class revision resources

Rather than you creating a revision booklet that suits your needs but not necessarily every student in your class, ensure that all students are involved in the creation of the revision materials.  How long do they think they should spend on each question?  What should they do as soon as they see the question title?  How should they plan each question? By providing a sense of ownership over this process, students gain autonomy and are empowered during the assessment itself.

These strategies certainly had a positive impact.  David Perkins insists that the ideal learner is one who is reflective, strategic and self-regulating.  Employing these strategies went a long way in creating these types of learners in my classes.  What was also significant was the way in which these activities established dialogue and, therefore, a real insight into the outlooks and attitudes of the students I teach.  By asking students to reflect on their personal learning processes, I established a more personal, more strategic and, ultimately, more dynamic learning environment. I can definitely attest, then, to the fact that learning really is better with meta.