Metacognitive Modelling – Where Does it Fit in the Classroom?

metacognitive-modelling-where-does-it-fit-in-the-classroom

Modelling is something that we are doing lesson in, lesson out. Day in, day out. Come rain or shine, we’re modelling something! Despite the fact that it is something that we do several times a day and dozens of times a week, it is still something that we can improve on as a teaching profession. Modelling provides us with that opportunity to present a new concept or strategy to students, which, if presented clearly, succinctly and accurately, will allow for deep levels of understanding, and hopefully learning, from our students. As modelling is something that we do so often, it therefore provides a suitable area of classroom practice that we can inject with some high-quality metacognitive ideas. As I’ve written about previously, the introduction of metacognition ought to be straight forward. Our practices, honed over months and years should not be torn apart and replaced, but rather supported and improved through an engagement with metacognition theory and strategies.

If modelling is such a good avenue in then, what should we be doing? Below are three different metacognitive strategies that you could easily get into your classroom, as well as when and why you should be using them!

1. Explicit justifications

You probably think that each decision that you make with your modelling for students is justified. Every correction, strategy choice and assumption has been clearly explained to students, and they are completely enlightened as to your choices. However, if you take a step back, and actually consider your dialogue, you will quite often find choices that you are selecting, changes that you are making, and assumptions that you are taking are not clearly explained to students at all times. This prevents a student from truly understanding where these changes, choices and assumptions are coming from. Through discussing these areas explicitly with students, we are unmasking our implicit metacognitive thinking – removing the veil of our ‘expert blindness’. Students deserve, and need, to understand where these decisions are coming from. Through careful consideration of language, and an emphasis on why you are making choices, changes and assumptions, student learning will very quickly become significantly deeper.

2. Strategy comparison

One way in which to upskill our students is to provide them with a range of alternative strategies that they have access to. A range of strategies will ensure that students can be fluid in their strategy choices, adapting and meeting the demands of new questions and problems. Though we may provide students with the opportunity to use different strategies, do we actually provide students with sufficient time to evaluate the respective utility and purpose of each strategy? One solution to this potential problem is through very visual comparison of strategies, for example through comparing two or more strategies side-by-side on a PowerPoint or on the whiteboard. This will allow you to build a dialogue, and for students to explore, the relative strengths, weaknesses and practicalities of both (or all) strategies available to them. Take for example solving an equation involving a bracket. Sometimes it is most sensible to solve without expansion, where as sometimes is pays to expand first. Without ‘playing around’ with various examples in your modelling, and without students being able to compare the alternative strategies for the same problems, they would never truly understand their respective utility, and hence, would never be in a position to choose, time in time out, the best strategy to meet a new challenge.

Metacognitive Modelling: One solution to this potential problem is through very visual comparison of strategies, for example through comparing two or more strategies side-by-side on a PowerPoint or on the whiteboard.
One solution to this potential problem is through very visual comparison of strategies, for example through comparing two or more strategies side-by-side on a PowerPoint or on the whiteboard.

3. Model scaffold use

This is one area that I know I am guilty of – simply due to a lack of time. There are numerous occasions where a student is struggling in class, and the teacher simply reaches for the nearest scaffold – a textbook, Knowledge Organiser or dictionary. Something that will provide the support that student needs, so that they can access the learning and make the desired, and required, progress in that lesson. Though this is of course great reactionary teaching, could we actually make this better? Again, we know why we are giving the student that scaffold. It may allow them to access formulas, utilise specific definitions or check for spellings.

Metacognitive strategies: Do student who have just been handed the scaffold understand this purpose?
Do students who have just been handed the scaffold understand their purpose?

However, does the student who has just been handed the scaffold understand this purpose? Therefore, we could take a step-back, and consider explaining to the student, or students, who are using the scaffold, the exact purpose of the scaffold that they have just been given. By providing students with an understanding of what the scaffold does, it also provides them with an understanding of what their area of weakness is, as well as what they can use in the future to provide them with support. Therefore, not only does the student start doing better because they have the scaffold, but they also know why it is beneficial and know why they need to seek it out in future. Furthermore, for reticent workers – those who believe that they don’t need a scaffold, a ‘cruel’ twist can be applied. Evaluate a student’s success sans scaffold. How many points have they made, how many spelling errors, or how few questions they have done. Educate the student on the scaffold that they have been provided with, allow them to then re-complete the task, and then re-evaluate their success. Watch a student’s attitude change once their outcomes have significantly improved!

In conclusion, modelling provides us with the perfect opportunity each lesson to support student understanding. It is our gateway to provide students with new learning and understanding. If metacognition provides us with the improvements we need to make this learning even better, then why wouldn’t we take it?


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.


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