This year my quest to use the principles of metacognition to make permanent changes to the habits of our teachers and students has seen a narrowing of focus to two key areas of practice: questioning and modelling. I wrote about this briefly in the summer on our research school sister blog.
Essentially, the issue with my implementation thus far was that metacognition was being used primarily to support students in tackling the most complex GCSE exam procedures. Now, to be clear, there is nothing wrong with that. Using metacognitive modelling and metacognitive planning strategies to help students understand the complexity of these procedures and organise their thinking in such a way that they become able to tackle them unaided is useful work.
However, for metacognition to have the transformational effect that it potentially can, this is never going to be enough. Essentially this turns metacognition into what I described to our curriculum leaders as a “cherry-on-the-cake” intervention. Something that we use to refine a particularly tricky part of our curriculum, but not something that governs our day-to-day practice. What is needed are interventions that fundamentally change our habits as teachers, and by extension the habits of our students, as it is ultimately how students direct their thinking that dictates the relative success of metacognition.
Metacognition sits proudly at the top of the newly revamped EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit in terms of relative impact on student progress, so it deserves to be more tightly and comprehensively woven into our curriculum and teaching.
My plan to make this happen centres around two interventions, both of which focus on the explicit teaching of metacognitive thinking. The first involves teachers asking regular metacognitive questions and the second is teachers adding an explanation of their thinking to live modelling. Both are designed to be used for all year groups and habitually (a challenge I will return to later).
I’ve chosen to deal with the questioning first, hence the title of this blog. The thinking here is that if students are regularly asked the sort of questions that force them to reflect on how they plan, monitor and evaluate their learning, that incrementally and in a domain specific way, this will support a change in their thinking so that they generate these thoughts and questions independently. It is the comprehensive nature of this intervention that is so appealing. The hope is that as students move through the year groups and are asked these questions on a daily basis, they become a natural part of their learning. In turn this would mean that when they come across that complex GCSE procedure they are already primed to think about the best strategies with which to approach it and can evaluate their relative success in applying them. More importantly though it will change the way they think about and approach learning.
This may seem a relatively straight-forward intervention. Exemplify these questions to staff and then set them off asking them. However, through personal experience and familiarity with the evidence base for implementation and professional development I understand that eliciting any change to teacher habits is extremely difficult. Research shows us that even when teachers can see the benefit of changing their practice and are fully willing to do so, they still regularly revert to teaching in a manner that ignores the change they wish to make.
As a result my approach to this intervention has been methodical and cautious. There is always a temptation to dive headlong into an intervention and a desire to see immediate results, but this needs to be tempered by what is most likely to lead to sustained change. Luckily the EEF’s recently published guidance report on effective professional development has been here to help. This report explains the mechanisms required for the effective professional development of teachers, and you can read a short blog summarising its contents here. This has provided a useful structure through which I can work with curriculum leaders to identify how best to support their teachers in making permanent change to practice.
The starting point was a bank of generic metacognitive questions, taken originally from some of the EEF’s metacognition training resources and then refined by myself and the wider research school team. You can see the results below:
These are not exhaustive, and without contextualising would be too generic to be effective in all subjects. Therefore, before going out to all staff they were discussed at a meeting with curriculum leaders. There they could be picked apart, and leaders could be given time to think about which would work best in their subjects and which needed to be adapted.
The next stage has been for curriculum leaders to establish which mechanisms they would use to help develop questioning in their teams to regularly incorporate a metacognitive approach. To support this I recorded some chunks of my teaching in which I was asking these sort of questions as exemplification.
The professional development guidance report describes five specific mechanisms for developing teaching techniques. These are:
These were contextualised to our current professional development systems at Durrington to give specific examples of what this might look like in subject teams. For example, mechanism six would fit well with our fortnightly subject planning and development sessions, while mechanism nine could be achieved through fortnightly teaching and monitoring learning walks.
Curriculum leaders have over the past week or so been identifying exactly which mechanisms they will be using and by when to implement metacognitive questioning. What our leaders have produced is excellent, and testament to their commitment to the principles. Their frameworks will provide a thorough and importantly subject specific conduit for successfully implementing metacognitive questioning with reach and fidelity.
This work has already begun, and it will be exciting to see how it develops and progresses through the rest of this year.