Planning For Metacognition

What is Metacognition?

A few definitions for you:

i) Thinking about thinking.

ii) Reflection on skills, attitudes and processes to improve performance.

iii) Actively considering the thought processes involved in a task.

So basically it’s thinking about how we’re going to do something, checking if we’re doing it right and then thinking about what we did well and what could be improved. At this point you’re probably thinking I already do a lot of this in my lessons. You’d also be right in thinking a lot of good and great teachers already do this; making processes and methods explicit and focusing on how we learn does make sense to me.

Why bother?
First of all to check if we’re doing things right in our classrooms; looking at what we do well (and sharing it) and what could be improved (perhaps one of those things that someone else is sharing could help.) if we do then our performance in class should improve. It’s also incredibly valuable for the learners in our classroom to use this process.

Meta-Cognitive Strategies have been praised in the recent Sutton Trust Report and shown to have an effect size of 0.69 according to Hattie (2009, Visible Learning); in real terms 0.4 or better is what we should be aiming for in terms of effect size for any intervention in our classroom. In non-jargonese; the learners in your classroom will have a much better chance of being successful in their learning and ultimately their exams. It makes more of an impact than a learners prior achievement if we get it right. Personally I think that is impressive.

How to make it happen
The trick to making any change is to plan for it. It’s really easy to think something is a brilliant idea, get really excited, get busy and go teach your lessons exactly the same way as you did before. I’m sure many of us have been to really inspirational training courses then done nothing about it. The key is to put a plan in place to make it happen; below are a few ideas to build Metacognition into your lessons.

Have the thinking and thought processes you have as your core learning focus in your first task. A quick PMI categorisation task if they’ll be categorising more complex ideas later, an Odd One Out if they’re working on comparison or Silent Questions if they’re working on an enquiry to suggest but a few. When discussing their responses to the activity get them talking about how they did it; get a conversation going about their methods. This forms a foundation for deeper use of the same skill later on.

Success Criteria
1) Make explicit use of how you want then to think or strategise as part of the criteria. This makes them aware of how you want them to try and achieve the lessons goal.

2) Discuss how they could successfully achieve the targets you’ve set for the lesson. Get them to identify what they need to do to excel.

Choice of Task
If you like a bit of personal responsibility you can give students a choice of activity. Make them justify their choices and explain how they will go about making it a success. Again, generating dialogue on the processes they choose and their reasons for them.

We’ve got a lot to learn from maths teachers; the demonstration of a process on a worked answer to show students how is obvious to them. Model the process you want them to use, not as an exclusive method, but at least as a possible one. You’re giving them tools to think this way.

During Task
When you walk around checking students are getting the content and working hard, talk to successful ones about how they approached it, share these loudly. If someone is struggling, coach them through the thinking process or pair them with someone you’ve identified as doing it well to explain their method. I like to send them off to visit successful work elsewhere in the class and report back to their own team and me.

Post Task
When feeding back get them to share the how they did things as well as their final product to reinforce the strategies and make them explicit if they’re successful. If not, get them to talk through difficulties and possible solutions, get others involved too.

When you see great strategies and methods being employed praise this. When they try different ways to do things praise this too. Basically whenever you catch them being strategic or reflective let them know you value it.

The same theme again…add the word how into your repertoire. They’ll be forced to start thinking about their processes at first, eventually they’ll get into the habit because they know you keep asking. If the answer for how isn’t detailed enough pull out the questioners best friend…”Tell me more.”

1) Don’t let them be vague. “We worked well as a team.” is about as much use as “We did good as we finished the work.” Don’t let them get away with spouting vacuous drivel, what was good about their teamwork? How did they split up the tasks? Was the distribution of work fair? How did they plan as a group? Did that plan need to be adapted? Did the group use its potential? What better ways could the group have used its time?

2) Don’t forget to teach them stuff. I’m not suggesting a false dichotomy; for two reasons. Firstly, it sounds painful, secondly, you still need students to gain knowledge. These are ideas to weave metacognitive thinking into the rich tapestry that is your professional practice, not to replace what you already do well.

Barry Dunn – @SeahamRE




  1. gwenelope · December 7, 2014

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.


  2. BB2 · December 10, 2014

    Reblogged this on BB2 Collaborative.


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