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Improving Students’ Metacognitive Abilities

It has always puzzled me how some students appear to have no independence when it comes to revising, working their way through tasks, answering extended questions and generally getting their brains engaged at the start of lessons. My students are incredibly lucky to have their own iPads with all the prepared resources sent to them and can be accessed at any time, revision resources, and generally everything they could possibly need to learn independently on a Google Site that has been tailored for their requirements. Despite all these resources and they still need me to repeatedly walk them through some very simple tasks. There was clearly a key ingredient needed to unlock their potential and break down the persistent barrier of “what are we doing?” and “I don’t get it.”

Once I started to explore the possible causes of this lack of independence it occurred to me that every day these students are bombarded with all these different digital platforms, such as Google Classroom, Emails, and Padlet, that they are all expected to be able to use competently for each of their subjects, as well as trying to embed the actual subject specific knowledge capital. I do think we throw so much at our students, possibly too much for their age at times but unfortunately this is in line with the advanced demands of life outside of the classroom. We need to help them to understand the thought process behind their own learning. To put it another way, we need to help their metacognition and self-regulation.

It has been suggested that metacognition is one of the most effective approaches for improving pupils’ attainment outcomes (Education Endowment Foundation, 2018). In the short time I have used metacognitive strategies with one of my Year 9 GCSE classes I have really noticed a positive change in their ability to approach tasks and exam questions more independently without having to ask for support before making their own attempt. With my research focusing on the levels of independence in my GCSE class, I initially completed an independent behaviours teacher assessment sheet, along with capturing the students learning through IRIS video software. I will repeat this data capture at the end of my research period, as well as observations from other colleagues to assess the impact my strategies have had on their learning.

The strategy I have so far found to have the biggest impact on my students’ metacognitive abilities is the way I use modelling in my lessons. From modelling where to find certain resources to answering extended exam questions I have been able to go through the thought process, step-by-step how to approach each task that they face. Rather than revealing the correct answers and moving on I have taken more time to go through the whole process that they should be following, so they become more confident in what they are doing and understand how to use the resources that are available to them.

Students are able to follow my own approach and attempt to replicate in their own learning, drawing upon the observations of successful approaches as well as being able to watch and understand how not to approach a particular task. It appears that the way the students’ minds worked was that they should instantly know the answer to a question, and if they didn’t it meant they either did not understand what was being asked of them or they were lacking the relevant subject knowledge. They now appear to have a much better understanding of how to go through a set of thought processes in order to answer an extended question or other tasks that require the students to draw knowledge from a number of topics in order to formulate an answer. It is very common in my subject, Science, for exam questions to make the students feel like they are being asked a question on an unrelated topic, when in fact it is merely a varied scenario that shares the same scientific concept of an example they have revisited countless times.

I am yet to progress this further and focus on their reflective techniques, which would of course help my students to understand how to evaluate their own learning and understand exactly what they need to do in order to progress further, but the development in their independence so far has been significant enough to suggest that they are beginning to set a strong foundation of these metacognitive strategies that will become routine to their studies, setting a strong foundation to move further into more complex self-regulation techniques.

Clay Harrison

Science Teacher

Honywood School

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