I recently wrote a blog detailing the two aspects of metacognition that our teachers are working on here at Durrington. You can read it here. Essentially, we are focusing on two elements: modelling our thinking and metacognitive questioning.
As the person overseeing this implementation it falls to me to attempt to uncover this in action. Not the easiest task, as you either have to get lucky or pre-empt your visit (which rather defeats the purpose). I use a practice know as “trace observations”, going into lessons but only looking for a specific teacher or student behaviour. Below are some of the bright spots I picked out on my travels:
- In year 7 maths Ellen McDonald was asking some nice metacognitive questions. The students were looking at how to identify coordinates on a graph. Ellen was posing students a useful open-ended question: “what do we notice about this?” and then asking them to discuss their responses in pairs. This was working to help the students think about the problem strategically. They were thinking through the nature of the task and weighing up what they knew about it in order to give useful responses in terms of what stood out to them.
- In year 10 geography Sam Atkins had set up a task where students had been learning key words and definitions for homework. During the first part of the task they filled in what they could from memory and then, using a different colour, what they did not know. This alone was building useful metacognitive thought into the task. However, what was particularly good was the questioning that followed. This was targeted at the different techniques students had used in attempting to memorise the answers. Rather than considering the task complete once students had finished the written element, Sam was building in structured reflection of the strategies students had used and their relative success. The discussion he elicited was really strong and was exemplary in terms of developing self-regulation in geography.
- In year 7 history Emily Hitchcock was breaking down a question to help students plan their answers. She was using a system that the history department employs in which the question is broken down into topic (words linked to the specific chunk of history) and instruction (what students are being asked to do) words. Within this modelling, Emily was also including her thought processes. This was specifically in terms of setting the question in its academic context; how this type of question fitted in to the academic discipline of history. This then was helping students to understand the purpose of the question and why, in particular, those specific instruction words were part of the question.
- In year 8 English Laura Pritchard was completing a retrieval starter going over definitions of keywords. As part of this Laura was asking questions to recap similes and metaphors and the differences between them. As part of this, when students were answering incorrectly, Laura was was helping to explain to students why it was difficult for them to give accurate definitions of the terms. She was breaking down the definitions and showing expert thinking in order to develop student understanding of why their common misconceptions existed.
- In year 8 science Tom Wardell was explaining to students why graphs connected to photosynthesis behaved in a certain way and why there were peaks and plateaus. As part of his modelling of the graphs Tom was explaining why the graphs looked the way they did and why they were useful to help explain the process. It was also his precise board work that allowed him to modelling the thinking that lay behind the graphs.
These were all excellent examples of our brilliant staff bringing metacognitive questioning and modelling thinking into their teaching. It is also true to say that we have a way to go at Durrington before these aspects of teaching are fully embedded in our practice. This is not surprising as metacognitive interventions are tricky to implement and represent a change to habitual practice. My next areas of focus will be:
- Encouraging periods of questioning to include one or two metacognitive questions (see previous blog for examples). These will often come at the end of a bout of questioning, but not exclusively.
- Structured reflection of the sort exemplified by Sam in his lesson.
- Ensuring modelling includes the why, by uncovering the expert thinking that runs alongside the process of answering the question.
- Teachers explaining why they have chosen a particular strategy for students to use when completing a given task.
This is very much the long game, but it is certainly encouraging to see the principles of metacognition starting to take shape in our classrooms.