Metacognition in PE

Deputy Leader of PE and Research School Associate James Crane discusses how he has been developing metacognition with his students.

The Problem

Teachers should acquire the professional understanding and skills to develop their pupils’ metacognitive knowledge. Whilst this is of course true, it is more complex than this. Metacognitive strategies will be very domain specific, so subject areas need to consider this within the context of their subject.

What does the research say?

The Education Endowment Foundation ‘Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning Guidance Report‘ provides 7 recommendations. The three I will be focusing on are:

Recommendation 1 – Teachers should acquire the professional understanding and skills to develop their pupils’ metacognitive knowledge.

  • Self-regulated leaners are aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and can motivate themselves to engage in, and improve, their learning.
  • Developing pupils’ metacognitive knowledge of how they learn, of strategies and of tasks – is an effective way of improving outcomes.
  • Teachers should support pupils to plan, monitor and evaluate their learning.

Recommendation 2 – Explicitly teach pupils metacognitive strategies including how to plan, monitor and evaluate their learning.

  • Explicit instruction in cognitive and metacognitive strategies can improve pupils’ learning.
  • While concepts like ‘plan, monitor, evaluate’ can be introduced generically the strategies are mostly applied in relation to specific content and tasks, and are therefore best taught that way.
  • A series of steps beginning with activating prior knowledge and leading to independent practice before ending inn structured reflection – can be applied to different subjects, ages and contents.

Recommendation 3 – Model your own thinking to help pupils develop their metacognitive and cognitive skills.

  • Modelling by the teacher is a cornerstone of effective teaching: revealing the thought processes of an expert learner helps to develop pupils’ metacognitive skills.
  • Teachers should verbalise their metacognitive thinking (‘what do I know about problems like this? What ways of solving them have I used before?’) as they approach and work through a task.
  • Scaffolder tasks, like worked examples allow pupils to develop their metacognitive and cognitive skills without placing too many demands on tier mental resources.

Implementing the Research

In PE at Durrington High School to implement these recommendations, with an aim of developing metacognitiion and self-regulation with our students, coupled with improving student outcomes in GCSE PE, we followed the following steps:

  • We ensured staff were aware of the guidance report and the importance of developing metacognitive learners. We also ensured they had read it and understood the 7 steps (below) in developing metacognition in pupils.

  • We developed the following strategy – Box, circle underline – where students box the command words, circle the marks and underline the key words in exam questions and IDEA – a structure for responding to these exam questions (see below). This is an important focus for us in terms of longer answer questions (4, 6 and 9 mark questions) as this was an area we fell down on in the summer GCSE exam as a cohort.

  • We explicitly modelled to staff how to deliver the IDEA strategy for longer answer exam questions in a SPDS (subject planning and development sessions – fortnightly subject CPD sessions).
  • Staff then went through the 7 step model with students in lessons.  Firstly they were shown how to do the BOX/IDEA strategy (explicit strategy instruction) and then had it modelled to them (modelling of learned strategy).
  • PE Staff are now using the 7 step model from the guidance report, in order to develop student’s self-regulation of the metacognitive process for PE longer answer exam questions students are given two of the same questions.  They are supported with the ‘memorisation of strategy’ stage, by being questioned on the strategy in lessons ‘Why did you do it like that?  What’s the next step?  What’s the importance of that stage?’

  • Students write down all of the process elements around the first question ensuring they have referred back to similar questions they have previously experienced – which can then act as a worked example. Students then answer the question under the second exam question (independent practice).
  • A fundamental element is ensuring students understand why they are using the metacognitive process (which for us in PE is to develop the quality of their response to longer answer exam questions) and what they have struggled with (structured reflection).
  • As a department we are currently between guided practice and independent practice with the students as the explicit instruction, modelling and memorisation of the learned strategy are embedded within our students.
  • During SPDS sessions we will review our delivery of the metacognitive skills to students through explicit instruction development of staff ensuring the ‘curse of the expert’ is eradicated i.e. the better you know something the harder it is to explain to a novice.  This has been the biggest barrier in our delivery of this in PE department at Durrington High School – but it’s something we are working on.


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