Metacognition is an approach to teaching and learning that draws attention to the explicit ways in which students learn and apply skills, facilitating them to develop an autonomous and independent approach to learning.
Many teachers will be aware of the frustrations of teaching a concept or skill thoroughly for a number of lessons, only to ask students to apply the skill independently and be greeted with ‘I don’t get it!’, ‘I’m stuck’, or ‘I can’t do it!’.
Part of the Oxford Smart Curriculum Service, underpinned by Oxford Smart pillars, Oxford Smart Quest is the new evidence-informed KS3 English Curriculum Service.
Metacognition in Oxford Smart Quest
In Oxford Smart Quest, which follows the Oxford Smart Curriculum for English, metacognition is embedded with the aim of explicitly making students aware of how they learn so that they can adapt their learning strategies when required and apply them correctly in new situations. Crucially, metacognition in the Oxford Smart Curriculum for English aims to promote and facilitate confidence, independence and resilience.
OUP Metacognition Research
The research that OUP conducted into metacognition (from a variety of sources – see research summary here) found that metacognition has a high impact for a low cost and has a proven impact on learner’s academic performance, particularly for disadvantaged learners. In school, students experience a wealth of learning across one unit of work in one subject, not to mention across one entire school day. However, the skills and knowledge that are transferable from one task, lesson or subject to another are often viewed in isolation by students; they do not necessarily transfer their skills effectively across different learning situations, potentially impacting their progress.
Identifying Learning Journey
Connecting learning and sharing the learning journey is an integral part of developing metacognitive learners. For this reason, at the start of each Chapter in Quest you will notice a learning journey. This learning journey, and indeed the starter activity for each lesson, activates students’ prior knowledge to connect the learning for the lesson ahead with what they already know. The learning journey also displays how the unit will develop knowledge and skills from lesson to lesson so that students can make connections between where their learning is and where it is going next. From summer 23 there will be an optional ‘learning log’ resource on Kerboodle in which the learning journey is utilised as a way for students to monitor their own learning with space for personal reflection of challenges faced and to record strategies used to refer back to.
Plan, Monitor and Evaluate
If teachers can facilitate students to reflect on and evaluate how they learn, they will be more able to transfer and apply their knowledge. In addition to the learning journey, in Quest you will see that students are encouraged to ‘Plan, Monitor, and Evaluate’ for key tasks. This explicitly encourages students to plan for tasks, use self-assessment to check their own progress and consider reflective questions to evaluate their performance, thus making them explicitly aware not of what they have done but of how they have done it. Consequently, should students come across similar tasks in future learning, they have an awareness of how they approached this last time, what worked and what didn’t and as a result they can approach this new task with confidence.
The aim of metacognition in Oxford Smart Quest is to make students not just aware of how they learn but to facilitate them to reflect meaningfully on the way they learn. If a student cannot identify if a strategy has or has not worked for them, they will continue to make the same mistakes. Throughout the Student Book there are questions for students to consider such reflection. This includes students considering not only their strategic approach to tasks but also their motivation and mindset in approaching a task to help develop understanding of the role students play in their own learning and to further develop learner identity.
Understanding Success Criteria
In order to reflect accurately on the quality of the work they have produced and the efficacy of the strategy they selected, it is imperative that students understand the success criteria and end goal of tasks. In English it is sometimes the case that students can identify that they have done something (for example, used a quote from the text), but they cannot necessarily identify if they have done it well (for example, the evidence selected is not relevant to the question). Throughout Quest, there are model answers and teacher comments for key tasks that explicitly state the components that make up a successful answer to facilitate students’ developing a nose for quality.
Alex Quigley‘s Closing the Vocabulary Gap and Closing the Reading gap was instrumental in the approach taken in the ‘boost your vocabulary’ sections in each lesson, and his assertion that learners need to be taught an array of strategies very explicitly to develop their reading skills has influenced the approach taken to pre and post reading activities. Again, these activities explicitly ask students to consider how they’re finding meaning in texts to enable them to apply similar skills in future reading to build independence, resilience and confidence over time.
Metacognition is utilised throughout the Quest Smart Curriculum for English with the aim of increasing the independence and resilience of learners.
Metacognitive activities students might engage with as part of Oxford Smart Quest include:
- Exploring their learning journey within the curriculum
- Activating prior learning to make connections between learning both in this curriculum and in other subjects
- Applying a ‘plan, monitor, evaluate’ approach to tasks
- Self and peer assessment and reflection supported by success criteria and exemplar student examples
- Consistent structured approaches to reading and vocabulary
Through this structured approach to metacognition learners should be able to confidently articulate not just what they know or can do, but how they have learnt this and judiciously select the best strategy for their learning in future tasks.
About the author
Sarah is a current Assistant Head of English working in a secondary school in Manchester with responsibility for Literacy, Metacognition and marking and feedback.