Research focus – Metacognition
‘These learners are proactive in their efforts to learn because they are aware of their strengths and limitations and because they are guided by personally set goals and task-related strategies, such as using an arithmetic addition strategy to check the accuracy of solutions to subtraction problems. These learners monitor their behavior in terms of their goals and self-reflect on their increasing effectiveness. This enhances their self-satisfaction and motivation to continue to improve their methods of learning.’Zimmerman, B. J. (2010) ‘Becoming a Self-Regulated Learner: An Overview’, Theory into Practice, 41
Zimmerman’s view of a “self-regulated learner” could just as easily be a view of an ideal student. Pupils who are proactive, aware of their strengths and limitations and adapt to ensure what they do is effective, are a joy to teach.
Self-regulated learning is formed of three components.
- Cognitive strategies, comprising of those activities pupils do to ensure they have learnt what we are hoping they will learn. These include successful approaches such as retrieval practice, reviewing previous lessons, spacing of material and rehearsal. Without having learnt something there isn’t much to self-regulate.
- Metacognitive strategies, whereby the pupil monitors what they have learnt, is able to decide on strategies to use in their independent study and are then able to evaluate how effective that strategy has been and adapt in the future.
- Social-emotional strategies, which involve motivation and the ability to delay gratification (I’ll do my revision before checking Instagram), developing self-efficacy (their belief that they have the power to do something about their own learning) and their ability or willingness to ask for help.
This kind of self-regulation matters. Veenman et al (2006) in Metacognition and Learning: Conceptual and methodological considerations, say:
There is ample evidence that metacognitive skills, although moderately correlated to intelligence, contribute to learning performance on top of intellectual ability. On the average intellectual ability uniquely accounts for 10 percent of variance in learning, metacognitive skills uniquely account for 17 percent of variance in learning, whereas both predictors share another 20 percent of variance in learning for students of different ages and background, for different types of tasks, and for different domains (for an overview, see Veenman, Wilhelm & Beishuizen, 2004; Veenman & Spaans, 2005). The implication is that an adequate level of metacognition may compensate for student’s cognitive limitations [my emphasis].Veenman et al (2006)
Research suggests that pupils from more disadvantaged backgrounds, those who are more likely to have suffered stress and other trauma in early life, are statistically more likely to suffer from cognitive limitations in their working memory; possibly going someway to helping to explain the disadvantage gap in attainment and progress. It therefore seems plausible to suggest that developing metacognitive strategies may be even more useful for this group of students.
It is also likely that boys will benefit disproportionately from work done in this area as they are less likely to already be practicing this kind of self-regulation in their learning than girls. Griffin et al (2012) explored the impact that effective study skills had on academic achievement. They discovered that female students were much more likely to engage in effective study strategies and that difference in academic achievement was best explained this way. This is supported by research from Gagnon and Cormier (2018) who found girls were more likely to use distributed practice (ongoing study throughout the course and the mixing of topics).It is also likely that boys will benefit disproportionately from work done in this area as they are less likely to already be practicing this kind of self-regulation in their learning than girls. This is supported by research we have carried out as a college into the study habits of our pupils in years 11 and 13 and is why Metacognition is a key strand of the Boy’s Achievement Toolkit we have been working on with Priory School, Lewes, to help support East Sussex schools with this issue.
If we agree that metacognition is useful to our students, and in particular to those students not currently making the progress we would want, then what can we do to develop it?
There are three areas of metacognitive strategies:
- Planning strategies where pupils decide what they need to do and how long to spend doing it.
- Monitoring strategies where they check their understanding during a task through things like questioning and self-quizzing.
- Evaluation strategies where pupils then check on their performance so that they can adapt what they do next time.
These three stages should be familiar at Heathfield Community College because they mirror the Study Clock model that all our pupils should be using from Year 7 to Year 13. This model, adapted from Sandringham Research School, teaches pupils that they should spend 15 minutes quickly reviewing their notes, choosing an activity to do and getting everything ready, the bulk of the time should then be spent on this activity and done without reference to their notes. They should think about areas where they are struggling and any gaps in their knowledge that they are having to work around. The final step is to check this work (against their notes, a mark scheme, a friend’s attempt) and to make corrections.
We need to ensure that we are teaching pupils a range of study strategies and the means in which to put them in place. We also need to teach them which methods are likely to work, and why, but also how they can evaluate them for themselves. Dunlosky’s work, Strengthening the Student Toolbox (2013), is a great place to start. This might mean explaining to pupils the benefits of starting revision at the beginning of the course, and not the end, and then giving them the opportunities to see how effective this is by using homework time for structured revision tasks with quizzes as starters. We could vary the form of the homework tasks to that they get to experience a range of different strategies over the years and learn how each might help in different situations.
We also need to teach pupils what to do if they get “stuck” in an activity. How can they think their way out? The EEF Guidance Report on Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning suggests that teachers model how they solve problems and overcome difficulties. This might involve live modelling an attempt to answer a tricky exam question and narrating your thought process. “The question is about… so I am going to start to think about everything I know about this topic” or “I am not sure what this word means so I will cover it up and see if I can work it out from the context” or “I’m not sure how to start this answer to I’ll pick the key words from the question and use them in my opening sentence”.
This brings us to a final key point. This is something we all need to be doing. Metacognition is not a stand-alone skill. It can’t really be taught in form time or through an assembly. It will look very different in each subject. If we want to create pupils who are independent learners then we are all going to have to equip them with the knowledge of how to study effectively in our unique subjects.
The ResearchEd National Conference in London has just been and gone and was an extraordinary event with speakers from all over the world coming together to share their research and/or their classroom practice. It was great to see academics and teachers sharing and enjoying each other’s expertise.
There are now three ResearchEd events in our local area.
ResearchEd Surrey is on October 19th – currently sold out but keep an eye out for more tickets being released.
ResearchEd Kent is November 30th
ResearchEd Durrington is April 25th.
Research at Heathfield
As ever there is a wide range of research and research-informed activities going on at Heathfield Community College. Here is just a flavour of what is going on.
The Institute for Effective Education funded project into the impact of low stakes quizzes on meaningful learning in geography and history at KS3 has come to an end and we are starting the analysis. Early indications are that there are some very interesting findings. They’ll be published soon.
We are working with a small group of East Sussex schools on a project with Professor Becky Allen looking at the role of disadvantage on school attainment with a focus attention, working memory and what it means to be “secondary ready”.
As mentioned above, we are working with Priory School, Lewes, on Boy’s Achievement with workshops being led by both schools alongside visiting speakers Chris Runeckles and co-author of Boys Don’t Try, Mark Roberts.
The East Sussex Research Lead Hub will be starting up again this year with a focus on evaluation of in-school interventions.
The Assessment Innovation Team will be meeting towards the end of this term to look at the role of formative assessment as way of developing truly responsive teaching across the college.
If you would like to be involved in any of these projects, please do get in touch.
Mark Enser – Research Lead