Author: Natalie Nezhati, Educational content consultant
Ben is a year nine student of English literature who has been assigned a verse of poetry to annotate electronically in preparation for class feedback later in the lesson. He decides that he likes the poem and has a few ideas about its themes but doesn’t know where to start. He wonders if the line about ‘eyes like fireflies’ is supposed to be metaphorical. Perhaps a simile? He considers calling the teacher to help him.
In this situation, responses will vary depending on the individual and their attitude to learning. A student who is actively involved in their own learning might reflect on knowledge acquired in another context and apply this to the new situation. A less engaged student, however, might simply call on the teacher in the hope of obtaining some ideas to passively note and later parrot back to the class. [[READ_MORE]]
Yet, educators know that the most successful students are those who see themselves as drivers rather than passengers in the learning process. Reflective and self-aware, they know how to self-monitor and take responsibility for their progress. Academically versatile, they are able to apply strategies to new situations and evaluate their efficacy.
And this is backed by research. According to the August 2016 Teaching and Learning Toolkit from the Education Endowment Trust, metacognitive approaches have ‘consistently high levels of impact, with pupils making an average of eight months’ additional progress’.
By adulthood our metacognitive capacities are more developed. When, for instance, assigned a new project at work, we might first assess the size and nature of the task before structuring our time accordingly, planning the tasks that need to be completed and deadlines that need to be met. We might reflect on a similar project undertaken in the past and consider specifically what went well, what lessons were learnt and how we might adapt our approach next time. Since we are more familiar with our strengths and areas for development, we can more easily identify any obstacles to completing the project.
Such behaviours might sound like a lot to ask from a classroom of children but metacognition can be cultivated in every learner and will often transcend any specific subject area. In many ways it is the ultimate differentiation strategy and it relies heavily on learner independence, engagement and reflection.
So how, as educators, should we teach metacognitive strategies to ensure our students are engaged with their own learning? How do we encourage our learners to set ambitious, realistic goals? How do we ensure they are evaluating their own learning strategies? How do we ensure that they are transferring what they have learnt to new situations? How do we help them to become better learners? And, perhaps most crucially, how are we supposed to find the time to do this?
Technology as a facilitator
Sometimes the solution lies in technology. Using the assessment tools within NetSupport’s Classroom Management solution, NetSupport School – a teacher can choose from a variety of question styles, such as ‘Survey Mode’ or ‘Peer Assessment’. As a mid-lesson assessment activity, for instance, a teacher might assign a quiz and set to ‘auto-mark’ so that students can instantly review their learning. This emphasis on real-time self-monitoring is a valuable tool for developing metacognition.
Likewise, a teacher can set up opportunities for learning discussions using NetSupport School’s chat function. With the help of this tool, a teacher can quickly create student groups and assign discussion topics using questions designed specifically to help learners ‘think about what they think’.
In the case of Ben, he remembers that his teacher has saved notes from a previous lesson titled ‘Identifying Poetic Tone’ and that this can be retrieved from his Student Digital Journal within NetSupport School. Using this feature, Ben can access a full digital record of all resources and information presented during the lesson, which include his own notes and screenshots.
Deciding that the speaker’s tone is angry, Ben uses the information in his journal to discuss this poetic technique. He then remembers a Point-Evidence-Explain-Link (PEEL) paragraph produced in an earlier non-fiction lesson and wonders if he can apply it to poetry too. Recalling that he’s used this model in History and Geography lessons, he decides to give it a try. It’s helpful.
By the end of the activity, Ben feels ownership for his learning and greater confidence in his analytical skills. He shares his ideas with conviction, even though he’s still not sure about the ‘eyes like fireflies’ part. As a plenary, Ben’s teacher asks him to review his progress and he decides to work on identifying different types of metaphorical language before the unit end.
Although its success will somewhat depend upon the attitude of the student, educators can encourage metacognition by helping learners access different strategies and resources. In the longer term, they should find that embedding metacognitive opportunities will save time as their students grow to develop greater independence and responsibility.
Learn more about NetSupport School here.