I first came across the term ‘meta-cognition’ 4 years into my teaching career when I attended a Stretch and Challenge Conference back in 2015. Yet I’d been applying meta-cognitive strategies since I started teaching. Once I was able to put a name to the strategies I employed it opened up a world of other examples, evidence and approaches.
What is Meta-cognition?
Put simply, it’s thinking about thinking.
However in reality is far more than just thinking about thinking. It’s active monitoring. It’s continual awareness. It’s our response and behaviours.
“Awareness of one’s own thinking, awareness of the content of one’s conceptions, an active monitoring of one’s cognitive processes, an attempt to regulate one’s cognitive processes in relationship to further learning, and an application of a set of heuristics as an effective device for helping people organize their methods of attack on problems in general”
It’s made up of two elements, meta-cognitive knowledge and regulation. The knowledge element being made up of the learner’s awareness of their cognitive abilities whilst the regulation refers to how learners monitor and respond to their cognitive processes.
Being able to consider, monitor and control how you learn, how you think and how you overcome struggles are vital qualities to build in our students in preparation for both exams and their futures.
“Metacognition describes the processes involved when learners plan, monitor, evaluate, and make changes to their own learning behaviours.”
Cambridge Assessment, 2017
Developing Independent Learners
I’ve posted many a time on strategies, resources and ideas for developing independent learners, but all to often I’ve not taken the time to discuss the use of meta-cognition in my drive to develop independent, self-directed learners.
I’m sure many readers will already apply elements of meta-cognition into their teaching but may not necessarily know it.
“Too often, we teach students what to think but not how to think.”
OECD Insights, 2014
I remember making use of some strategies back when I worked in EYFS between my PGCE and first teaching position. For instance when we were seeing what would happen to seeds grown in different locations I asked the children what they thought might happen and what made them think that, at which point they would apply knowledge they’d gained from other experiences. This led into a discussion of how they learnt that. Even at pre-school age they could think about what they knew and how they learnt it.
Encouraging and engaging learners to think about how they learn, the struggles they experience, how they overcome them and how to apply responses to future learning is essential to building independence in the classroom, so that when our students leave compulsory education they have the resilience and tools to be lifelong, responsible learners.
Below is a video of Dylan William discussing the importance of young people being able to reflect on their learning and how this has impacted his teaching practice.
In the Classroom
Until I started exploring meta-cognition, although I was applying elements in my classroom already I hadn’t been using it to its full potential. Once I got to grips with the theory, evidence and strategies I feel my practice developed and improved along with my understanding of my learners.
In my classroom you’ll see elements of meta-cognition on a regular basis from the planning stage to the reflection stage by both myself and my learners.
If you take my average year 8 extended writing task we will do the following:
– discuss the aims and objectives of the task
– identify prior learning that will be relevant
– discuss prior strategies and struggles in applying the required skills e.g. evaluation
– review targets and identify which will be of relevance to the task or seek out new ones
– consider application of targets in this piece of work
– as students work, meta-cognitive questions are asked about their progress and how they are monitoring their progress towards the aims and objectives of the task
– students are asked about the challenges they have experienced so far and how they’ve overcome them
– students peer and/or self assess the work against specific success criteria or using the ACE peer assessment strategy
Evaluation and Reflection Stage
– students are prompted to consider their success in the strategies they applied to achieve the aims and objectives of the task or learning goal either through questioning or written review.
– students are asked question such as
‘How well did you do at….?’
‘Is there anything that didn’t go well? What could you have done differently?’
‘What did you find hard with this task? How did you overcome this?’
‘What will you try to take away from this that you can apply to future work?’.
When I started at my current school there was a class I started with in year 8, I taught them again in year 9 and continue to teach some of them in year 10 at present. Over that time, I’ve witnessed their ability to self-regulate develop and grow as has their independence and enjoyment in the learning process. The ones I still teach, I do less for them now when it comes to meta-cognition. They’ve been scaffolded through the stages, supported in developing their independence and I’m now there to facilitate and support their self-regulation through meta-cognition. It really does support learners independence.
The EEF last published some useful resources on Meta-cognition and self-regulated learners including the summary sheet below.
Metacognition and self-regulation evidence from the Education Endowment Foundation
Metacognition and self-regulated learning from the Education Endowment Foundation
Metacognition from Cambridge International
Meta-cognition: A Literature Review from Emily R. Lai
Hope you find the post of use. Feel free to share any other useful links in the comments.