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Thinking and acting independently

The role of metacognition in the secondary classroom

Being able to think and act independently remains one of the most important skills that a student can learn. We live in a culture where independence is central to our ethical and social worldview. So how do we, as teachers create more independent students? Earlier this year I was introduced to metacognition and how it could improve my student’s independence both inside and outside the classroom. Although I was initially scepticalit slowly became obvious that the metacognitive interventions I put in place were making a big difference.

During the last forty years metacognition has become one of the major fields of cognitive developmental research and educational psychologists have long promoted its importance for regulating and supporting student learning. Many researchers explain it in simplest terms as “thinking about your own thinking” or in an educational context; “thinking about your own learning process”. One of the biggest benefits of learning metacognition skills is that students understand howto learn. As we all know there is big difference between studying a subject and learning a subject. If they can understand how to learn they will be able to tackle problems in any context, they will feel more responsible for their own success and failure and ultimately become more independent learners. The most widely acknowledged model developed by researchers in the field is the metacognitive regulation cycle that encompasses three stages that they recommend we must consider when students are participating in any activity. They are planning, monitoring and evaluating. Whilst implementing this cycle teachers must be explicit in their teaching methods. Explicit doesn’t mean to simply tell or model examples for students but instead to speak out loud their thinking process so students are aware of how they are planning, monitoring and evaluating their work. This explicit process involves teachers making gradual changes in support so eventually their thinking become habitual, acting as ‘internal scaffolding’. Students are able to overcome the fluency illusion by pinpointing exactly where they went wrong during a task and how to correct it next time as well as where they did well, fostering feelings of pride. These feelings promote ownership over their work so they could be more willing to risk failure when attempting tasks of increasing complexity.

Analysing the effectiveness of metacognition has produced some interesting findings. I saw an increase in motivation, ownership, accountability and communication across the board and significantly with dis-advantaged groups. My studentshada greater sense of self efficacy, started to attribute their success to controllable factors such as effort and strategy use, and persevered when faced with challenging circumstances.I urge teachers to look into simple ways of encouraging students to monitor their learning, because as the growing body of evidence is telling us, these approaches (when embedded properly) are powerful levers for boosting learning. Unlike many other educational interventions, implementing metacognition does not require expensive, specialist equipment or changes to school infrastructure, in fact the interventions are simple and easy to implement and can be extremely effective.

Jo Brewin

Swavesey Village College

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