Mocks and Metacognition

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.

Chris Runeckles

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