An avalanche of mock papers are currently appearing on the desks of year 11 students across Britain. So much time in draughty sports halls. So much time marking them. So much time.
Once the data sheets have been compiled and poured over comes the thorny issue of how best to utilise the mock papers in the classroom with the students. How in fact to turn these most summative of assessments into something formative.
Often this involves complex feedback sheets and hours of teacher planning. Although, that being said, technology is starting to help here, with many platforms offering teachers helpful analysis tools. Our maths department are using one of these as we speak. Who knows, it might not be too long until AI is starting to do some of the heavy lifting for us.
However, what we really want is to activate the students themselves to both react to the papers in the right way and do something useful with what they find out. Here then mocks and metacognition go hand in hand. In the 90s Perkins gave us four levels of metacognitive learners:
What we want when we give those papers back is room full of reflective learners, reflecting deeply on what went well or badly, why that was, and thinking of strategies to fix it. Evaluation is one part of metacognitive regulation and those reflective learners would be asking themselves versions of these questions as they thumbed through their papers:
The first column is connected to the knowledge of the overall task, the second to the strategies it contains and the third to themselves. These sort of questions are going to lead to the sort of gap-filling and misconception-busting improvements that we all want to see between now and when our students return to the (by then sweltering) sports halls in the summer.
However, the reality is more diverse and not all students will think like this unprompted. There are all sorts of reasons for this, be that SEND, disadvantage or otherwise. Help though is at hand as we know metacognition can be explicitly taught.
Here are three ways you could try to elicit that metacognitive response:
Ask students versions of the questions above. Don’t wait to see if they appear in their brains, but instead force that metacognitive thinking. In terms of the mechanisms for this, mini-whiteboards would work well. You could ask a question like: “How would you approach this question if it came up again?” Students would then write answers on their boards. If you felt it was too open, you could potentially turn it into a multiple-choice question instead. As they held them up you could ask the more elaborative questions to probe further. From work I have done so far with metacognitive questions these would be best if designed according to the subject. Generic ones can only ever get you so far.
Start you feedback lesson with an evaluative checklist. It could look something like this:
Which questions did I do best on?
Which questions did I do worst on?
Where are the gaps in my knowledge?
How am I going to plug those gaps?
Which skills do I need to practice?
Do I have a strategy for every question?
What would I do differently if I sat that paper again?
Get students to look at the papers question by question and in a different colour to the one they used, list any strategies they used to tackle that question. If confident they could also add any strategies that they forgot to use but would use in future.
This is not an exhaustive list and is designed to be iterative rather than a lesson plan. The best versions will be the contextual ones. However, the basic message is that if we want the feedback we give about these papers to land, and make a difference in the summer, then we need to get the students that wrote them thinking deeply about the lessons they contain. Some of that will need to be directly taught, but another large helping must be through their own purposeful thought.
‘How are you?’ That simplest of questions, which most of us ask countless times a day. But how closely do we listen to the response? If you are like me, the answer is (sorry) not that attentively, because we predict what we are about to hear. Mostly, I anticipate, ‘fine’, but in a school in December, I am adding ‘cold’, ‘tired’ and ‘ill’ to my options.
This process of prediction is so instinctive in our first language, but it does not automatically transfer to second language learning and this is something that my team and I have been seeking to address with our students through metacognitive questioning.
Our aim is to make explicit how to approach tasks, particularly listening activities, in order to demystify the skill of listening to all of our students (our MFL classes are mixed ability). By repeatedly drawing attention to the process of listening, we are helping to build our students’ confidence in their ability to succeed, as well as their resilience as learners. Rather than allowing a student to think that another student is ‘just good at’ languages, we are teaching students how to self-regulate to complete a task successfully.
In recent years, we have been strongly influenced by the listening as modelling approach (LAM) espoused by Gianfranco Conti. While we are not using his approach in the purest sense, we have embraced the use of sentence builders, which present students with the language we are teaching them in a grid format, alongside the English translations. We create our own listening resources based on these and now use extensive listening practice to help students to acquire new language.
Regular readers of the Class Teaching Blog will no doubt be aware of Durrington High School’s focus on metacognition over the last few years and, as an MFL team, we are constantly striving to align what we believe to be best practice in MFL teaching with whole school priorities. We have an MFL-specific set of metacognitive questions based on planning, monitoring and evaluating and these are displayed in our classrooms as an aide-memoire for us. You can see a copy below:
It is fair to say that metacognitive questioning related to planning activities is the most embedded strand and a typical questioning routine prior to starting a listening task might be as follows:
What do we need to remember when completing this type of activity?
What can we use to help us with this activity?
What do we need to be listening for? What type of information will give us the correct answer?
Is there anything that we need to watch out for?
At times, we may also model our own approach to a task by talking through our thought processes. For example, when modelling a multiple-choice listening task to a Y7 class this week, I said something like:
Right, for number one I have to listen out for the opinion verb, so I need to find that column in my sentence builder. It is the first column, so I know that I am going to hear what I need at the start of the sentence. I have 3 options, so I am definitely going to hear one of those. In fact, I don’t need to understand the whole sentence to find the correct answer. So, if I scan down my sentence builder before we start, I can predict what I am likely to hear, which is going to make the task easier. I am either going to hear ‘j’adore’, ‘j’aime’ or ‘je n’aime pas’. ‘J’adore’ is going to be easier to spot, because it sounds different to the other two. To hear the difference between ‘j’aime’ and ‘je n’aime pas’, I am going to listen closely to see if I hear the ‘pas’.
Closely aligned to this is how we approach eliciting answers from students. As teachers, we routinely model the first question and in MFL, this typically involves allowing students to complete a question and then asking a student for the answer. However, a correct answer only tells us that one student knows how to complete the task, it does not actually model the task to other students, so we would typically follow up with, ‘How did you know that was the correct answer?’ Sometimes we ask further questions to ensure that the process the student used is fully articulated, but increasingly students are able to give full explanations of what they did unprompted. For example, ‘I know that ‘cumpleaños’ means birthday, so I realised that the answer would come after that. I knew that ‘quince’ was a number, but I couldn’t remember if it was 5 or 15, so I used my sentence builder to check. I remembered that ‘agosto’ means August because it is similar to the English’. This is much more powerful than an answer of ‘15th August’ and is well worth the additional time that it takes.
The challenge in bringing about change, as well all know, is to embed it in practice and, based on regular lesson drop-ins by me and members of our SLT, I am confident that we, as a team, have done this in terms of using metacognitive questioning to enable more students to experience success in listening tasks. Our next steps are to ensure that this is embedded as consistently for other types of task, as well as to develop our use of metacognitive questioning to help students to monitor and evaluate their work.
Regular visitors to Class Teaching will know that successfully implementing the principles of metacognition in Durrington classrooms has been an ongoing mission of mine for a number of years. In fact it has been over 5 years I’ve been at it. That feels a daunting amount of time, particularly when I think about how much we still need to do to to get student self-regulation to where we want it.
So it was with a certain amount of nervousness that I embarked on a fortnight of trace observations, dropping into lessons and talking to students about how they planned, monitored and evaluated their learning. This is something I have done many times before and with mixed results. To simplify our general position with metacognition it has been much easier (but not easy) to change teacher behaviour as opposed to student behaviour. Teachers may ask more metacognitive questions and model metacognitively but ultimately if that doesn’t elicit a change in the way our students think about their learning then it will only be a surface level impact.
However, I think, and this could well be my confirmation bias talking here, that this latest round of drop-ins did show a shift. Many of the students I spoke to across the dozen or so lesson that I visited were able to articulate the sort of thinking we are trying to arm them with through the explicit teaching of metacognition. To recognise this, here is a summary of some of those bright spots:
Y11 English student able to articulate the value of writing frames and structures but also how they could potentially limit their ability to write effectively.
Y10 history student able to explain the value of a metacognitive approach to planning a 20mark answer. Confident that they would adopt the same method when facing a question independently.
Y10 performing arts students explained how they appreciate the freedom of choice of strategies within a performing arts lesson as opposed to other lessons where they felt constricted by the frameworks given to them by teachers.
Y10 art student was thinking deeply about the piece they were was creating. Used the term metacognition unprompted!
Y9 PE student explained that they thought more about how they were progressing through PE lessons in comparison to other lessons as they enjoyed the lesson more. Recognised motivation as a factor in how deeply they thought about their learning.
Y10 computing students were able to explain several elements that would make them either successful or unsuccessful in the task they were completing.
Y10 geography student able to explain the value of a retrieval practice quiz and what the quiz had revealed about their areas of strength and weakness.
Y7 science students talked about the differences between primary and secondary science and were able to articulate strategies for remembering.
Y11 maths students using a checklist to RAG questions from an assessment. Explained that without this would still reflect on the success or otherwise of the test but would not be as precise.
Y8 Spanish student able to explain the purpose of doing DIRT activities. Also explained that motivation played a significant role in how deeply they thought about their learning.