In my experience over the past few years of researching metacognition and delivering CPD to teachers, it seems the biggest issue teachers have with metacognition is not the theory itself, or even the strategies for applying it in the classroom, but rather the barriers to successful implementation. With the best will in the world, and with all the knowledge of the theory and strategies for implementing it, successfully taking metacognition from an abstract theory and turning it into improved classroom practice, whilst making a significant impact on the progress of students, is tricky. However, below are three points for you to consider, that will help to ensure that metacognition is firmly and successfully embedded within your classroom.
1. Take your time
As with any change to your teaching, metacognition will take time to embed and become natural within your practice. To begin with, it may seem difficult to identify areas where you can include metacognition within your lessons. It may also take time to evaluate your success after you have attempted implementing something new. Be kind to yourself and understand that introducing metacognition into your classroom will take time and reflection. Furthermore, do not be surprised should there be some resistance from students. Introducing metacognition into your teaching is going to force students to think harder, which may lead to some students challenging behavioural boundaries, such as during group discussions. Consider which groups of students may adapt best to these changes and introduce metacognitive strategies into their lessons first, before gradually working metacognition into all other lessons. Ensure that you appropriately scaffold tasks to guarantee as many students as possible can access them, and make sure to provide clear outcomes and expectations to ensure that students are clear on what they need to do. Remember, metacognitive teaching is a journey, and not something that you introduce once and then tick off.
2. Identify student weaknesses
When considering how to introduce metacognition into your classroom, first consider where students’ metacognitive weaknesses lie. Is it mainly with planning, monitoring or evaluation? As you evaluate your different class groups, you will likely identify that the focus for each group is different. Though it may be ideal for you to focus on only one metacognitive strategy at a time, it is best to identify which areas students most need support on, even if this varies between groups. Identifying these areas will help to ensure that the changes you make to your teaching will be of extra benefit to your students. It is also worth considering how you will scaffold strategies effectively. Considering that you are targeting a weakness, the gap between a student’s current level in say, planning, and where they ought to be, may be quite large. Take time to plan how to address this. Planning how to address a group’s weaknesses will always be more effective than winging it.
3. No add-ons
Once you have decided on the metacognitive strategies that you will introduce into your classroom, ensure that these are deeply embedded within your lesson, and are not add-ons. Introducing new interventions or teaching pedagogies is less effective when these sit as add-ons to your lessons, rather than as integrated components of your teaching. Teaching with metacognition in mind will improve your overall practice, whereas teaching as normal and adding in a ‘metacognitive task’ in order to tick a box, will make very little difference to student outcomes. Therefore, you need to ensure that the strategies you choose to implement fit authentically into the lessons that you are delivering. One of the first lessons you are taught in initial teacher training is to decide on your lesson outcomes and choose resources that fit your end goal, as opposed to the other way around. The same is true of metacognition. Decide what you want to achieve in your lesson and choose metacognitive strategies which will support that. Sometimes it may ‘only’ be modelling, and not an explicit task, whereas at other times the appropriate strategy may well be a full metacognitive task, such as a wrapper or a ‘Knowledge of’ planning grid.
In conclusion, when considering metacognition in the classroom, ensure that you plan effectively to introduce the appropriate strategy with the appropriate scaffolding; monitor to ensure that the strategy is moving students towards the identified end goal; and then evaluate the success of the strategy and how you will improve your practice for the next lesson. Happy metacognitive teaching!
Nathan Burns is a teacher of Mathematics and Assistant KS3 Progress and Achievement Leader at David Nieper Academy in Alfreton. He is a former Metacognitive Implementation Lead, as well as the founder of metacognition.org.uk, which offers metacognitive resources and CPD. Nathan is passionate about teaching and learning, and has researched, written about and delivered CPD on metacognition for several years.
Nathan has developed two free packs on metacognition one for teachers and one to use with students. These offer practical tips and strategies – simply complete your details to access the packs here.