Further reflections on our linear exam training: metacognition

22 January 2018

Author: Karen Roskilly - Sandringham Research School Lead

The EEF states that ‘meta-cognition and self-regulation approaches (sometimes known as ‘learning to learn’ approaches) aim to help learners think about their own learning more explicitly’ and that such approaches have consistently high impact with pupils making an average of eight months’ additional progress, as shown below.

EEF met 3

I have had a passing interest in metacognition and how it can boost learning for a while, tentatively dipping in and out of websites, articles and books on the topic and dabbling with metacognitive approaches in the classroom, though not consistently.  Our recent training course, Maximising Achievement in Linear Exams, enabled me to revisit this area through Peps Mccrea’s (2017) book Memorable Teaching, which contains a short and highly readable chapter on metacognition. Memorable Teaching

According to Mccrea, in a classroom context, students can benefit from the following components of metacognition:

  • Meta-knowledge Students develop an understanding of memorable learning principles and strategies.
  • Self-regulation Students are clear about their academic goals, aware of how they are progressing towards them, and can course correct in the moment.
  • Calibration Students are able to accurately assess their own level of understanding.

Using these three components helped me to clarify my understanding of metacognition and how I can use metacognitive approaches in the classroom.  Usefully, this was then illustrated with a range of practical strategies classroom teachers can use to develop each of these components.

In terms of building meta-knowledge, Mccrea suggests that we can support this by routinely outlining the rationale behind the teaching strategies we use.  This is something I only tend to do when a student gives me the ‘why are we having to do this look’, rather than a routine part of my classroom practice.  However, I can quite easily see how making this routine can, as Mccrea suggests, increase student buy-in and demystify the learning process.

As self-regulation is about monitoring our thinking and modifying our actions, strategies to develop this focused on self-awareness, and the importance of catching ourselves thinking or doing before we can change it. One interesting way of achieving this is offered:

  • Trigger Set an alarm to go off at 15 minute intervals in your lesson.
  • Check-in Following the trigger, students make a quick note of what they were thinking about, and then carry straight on with their work.

Mccrea suggests that using such a strategy will, over time, enable students to auto-self-correct, resulting in more focused thinking time and less distraction.  I’m not sure about this on first reading, and Mccrea does offer it as ‘an interesting starting point for experimentation’, so perhaps I just need to give it ago and see what happens!

Evidence from Willingham, cited by Mccrea, suggests that we tend to overestimate what we know, and underestimate how long it will take to learn something.  Certainly my own experience in the classroom suggests that students are not very effective at accurately judging their own understanding.  Mccrea suggests that, if we regularly provide students with opportunities to calibrate their understanding, we can alleviate this issue. He suggests the following:

  • Predict Get students to anticipate how well they will do in a question, test or quiz before they do it.
  • Evaluate Help students to determine how well they have done using a clear framework.
  • Reflect Get students to identify differences between their prediction and the outcome, and reflect on how they might more accurately judge next time.

Exam wrappers, worksheets containing reflective questions that help learners to review their performance in a test or exam, are a related strategy that you could use to enable students to reflect on exam performance.  More information can be found here about how to use exam wrappers.

Finally, it got me thinking about the classroom climate I create and the routines that I develop with students and whether or not they support metacognitive processes.  I think the answer is that my classroom environment has the potential to be conducive, and that the students I teach would buy-in to the strategies.  However, I know that I am guilty of using metacognitive strategies as a bolt on rather than something that is routine and embedded and, therefore, my use of such strategies is not as effective as they could be.  More thinking (and doing) required!

Hopefully, our delegates on the Maximising Achievement in Linear Exams training course got as much out of the book as I did.  I look forward to hearing how they used the research we considered in the first session at our next session on the 6th February.

More about metacognition can be found in our previous Research School Teaching Tip here.

Posted on 22 January 2018
Posted in: Blog

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