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Metacogition: see, feel, think...

For this year’s Whole Education Lab Classrooms project, I chose to explore Metacognition with my Year 10 and Year 11 Photography GCSE groups.


As a relatively new teacher marking work against assessment objectives, I sometimes need to look up how to determine whether a piece of art is, for example, ‘perceptive’ or ‘rigorous.’ I wanted to help my students understand their assessment tasks by using clear and simple language and visual prompts.

I trialled the following interlinked strategies with them, with the aim of helping them to manage their own learning. The trial included setting and monitoring goals and assessing progress and identifying their personal strengths and challenges.

Strategy 1: Flash Cards

Ask students to arrangeflash cards in sequence to show the stages of a Photography GCSE project. Follow this with a teacher-led discussion to correct any misconceptions.

How does this link to metacognition?

The aim was for students to gain an overview of the GCSE learning process, helping them to manage their own progress with more in-depth understanding of why each stage is important and how to approach the tasks.


This strategy was particularly useful for Year 11’s who’d just begun the exam component of the GCSE. They all put the flash cards in the correct order and understood the sequence. Although relatively easy, this task allowed students to recognise their prior knowledge, increasing their confidence and motivation. I realised that some students were still struggling with understanding key words like ‘development’ and ‘evaluation,’ potentially hindering their ability to take control of their own learning.

Strategy 2: Questions Toolkit

Ask students to create a toolkit of questions to help them to create a ‘perfect’ picture.

How does this link to metacognition?

I wanted students to formulate their toolkitquestions usingpersonalised language to replace the official words used to describe the exam board’s Assessment Objectives. The aim was to ensure they clearly understood what was expected of them.


The students found this very difficult. It was too far removed from how they were used to working. I shared my own toolkit questions which were:

  • Does this picture communicate its intention successfully? If yes, how? If no, why not?

  • Does this picture make links with other artists’ styles and ideas? If yes, how? If no, why not?

  • Is the technical skill and qualityof this picture refined and sophisticated? If yes, why? If no, why not?

  • Does this picture show a good level of understanding?

I designed a resource that made clear visual and written links between the language used by the exam board and the more straightforward, familiar and accessible language of my toolkit questions. This resource was the most successful component of this strategy and highlighted the importance of making sure all students understand exactly what’s required of them to do well.

Strategy 3: Visualand Verbal Modelling

Use visualand verbal modelling to show students how to approach creating relevant design ideas.

How does this link to metacognition?

The aim was for me to make thinking visible to students so they could learn how to approach tasks through observing Teacher’s approach.


Of course modelling what to do is standard teaching practice, but this strategy made me realise the importance of giving good clear examples that don’t over-complicate tasks. Since trialling this strategy I’ve seen a marked improvement in students’ presentation and content. It strongly suggests that less teacher-talk combined with strong visual resources will help my students access what I want them to do and work independently with confidence.

Strategy 4: Checklist Post-it Notes

Model how to approach tasks using visual examples, then ask students to create a checklist using Post-its to assess their progress.

How does this link to Metacognition?

The aim was for students to use the Post-it checklist to mimic how the teacher assesses their work, and avoid loose paperwork, which could become separated from students’ books. To maintain momentum it’s essential that student self-assessments stay with their work.


On the first attempt I gave too much information at the start and students were left to write down what they still needed to do. This didn’t give students the opportunity to use their prior knowledge to assess what they needed to do. For the second attempt, I started by asking students to write down what they thought they needed to include for the task set. I then asked them to share their thoughts with the class, which allowed me to address misconceptions and helped students understand exactly what was expected of them. Later on in the lesson I asked for feedback, which was positive.

Teacher: “How did using the Post-it notes help you?”

Student One: “It showed the main thing that we should be focusing on first, and then afterwards we do the extra bits instead of getting them all done at once”

Student Two: “I think it sorts your thought process out because in your head you think you have loads of stuff to do but then the list just shows the specific things you need to do and there’s not actually as much as you think.”

Student Three: “It’s good because it helps you to set out your ideas and shows what you still need to do and you can find out what other people’s ideas are.”


It’s difficult to measure the successes and limitations of the strategies I trialled so soon, but the 2019 and 2020 Photography GCSE results will be good indicators. In the short term, the students’ feedback and my own analysis of formative assessments has already proved useful. The trial showed me that to help students to become independent learners I need to:

  • continue creating strong visual resources that model what to do

  • continually refer to the assessment objectives using clear and accessible language

  • remember that overload of information isn’t smart teaching and switches students off

  • check that students understand the language I’m using by asking them ‘what do I mean by that?’ or ‘what do I mean by development?’

  • go round the class and ask students what they need to include in their question toolkit or their checklist etc

  • encourage students to listen to each other’s answers so that the whole group is inspired and encouraged to participate and understand what they need to do

  • never underestimate how versatile students are – if they fully understand what’s required of them, they’re likely to achieve. If they don’t understand, they experience lack of direction and are unable to take control.

Bridget Norton

Swavesey Village College

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