Educators are becoming increasingly interested in what metacognition is and how to incorporate it in their own unique school environment. This article explores Rosendale Research School’s journey of discovery; how we developed the ReflectED approach to metacognition and how we pinned down what metacognition was beyond the obvious ‘thinking about thinking’.
After the release of the Sutton Trust Report in 2012, Rosendale started to explore how we could implement metacognition successfully into a primary school setting.
Our first task – to find out what metacognition looked like at a primary level – was a challenge in itself. There was an air of suspicion and mystery surrounding this strange word and we were often faced with confused looks and queries of meta–what? Google searches provided very little with regard to primary education and even less on how to apply it to a classroom setting. The majority of research centred round older children with very few articles examining the metacognitive abilities of young children. However, with the admirable metacognitive skills of perseverance and resilience we managed to put together a scheme of work designed for EYFS through to Y6 which we felt gave the children a good introduction to the basic premises of metacognition. ReflectED – is a two pronged approach to teaching metacognition. One strand focuses primarily on equipping children with metacognitive skills while the other teaches the children how to reflect on and evaluate their work purposefully and effectively.
We are currently carrying out a national randomized control study with the EEF. This involves 110 schools across the country implementing our approach over a two year trial period. So far we have had very positive feedback from our participating schools.
‘ReflectED is quite simply changing the culture of teaching and learning at our school. It is such an incredibly powerful tool for helping children to reflect and articulate both how they are learning and what strategies they are using. Both Ofsted and our LA have been impressed and delighted by the conversations that have had with children from EYFS up to Y6 about their learning’ Chris Parkhouse, Headteacher of Grove Road Primary School in Harrogate;
The trial comes to an end in the summer term 2019, with the results being published in 2020 – it seems a long way off but watch this space!
However, we haven’t rested on our laurels and thought ‘We’ve cracked it!’ At Rosendale we are always looking at how to move forward and improve our practice and today, compared to when we started, there is much more evidence and guidance on the implementation of metacognitive ideas, most notably the recent EEF meta-analysis on Metacognition and Self-regulation.
After careful perusal of the document it became clear that despite teaching discrete metacognitve skills and weaving these into the fabric of our week’s learning we also needed to ensure that the very essence of our day to day practice was based around metacognitive principles, and that we ensured this was embedded into everything we did.
Consequently, I recently delivered training on the EEF Guidance on metacognition and Self- Regulated Learning, this concentrated on understanding how the cycle of planning, monitoring and evaluating feeds into improving our children’s awareness of their learning and can eventually affect outcomes. Other key areas covered were the importance of teacher modelling through techniques such as demonstration and worked examples. The amount of challenge we present children with was also considered, with emphasis being on the ‘Goldilocks amount’ – ‘not too hard, not to easy, but just right – the purpose of this being not to overload the children’s cognitive functions, especially when teaching metacognitve skills.
Metacognitive talk also featured heavily. This is the idea that we can model metacognition by working through a task or activity out loud. The point of this is to verbalise our thought processes and therefore help students to understand how effective thinkers solve problems. This doesn’t just have to be teacher to pupil talk and vice versa, but can be pupil to pupil. Thinking out loud with their peers can help ensure children are actively engaged in a lesson; they are given time to think about a question and properly formulate an answer and finally but importantly children are given confidence by discussing an idea with a peer first. They may be unsure of their answer until they have a chance to talk it over with someone else. Our school currently uses Kagan Co-operative learning and we were delighted as to how well this neatly dovetails into the key concepts and ideas of that approach.
Finally staff were encouraged to think about the ways to ensure on a daily basis that the children in their class were moving towards to becoming successful, reflective independent learners by using techniques such as feedback and guided and independent practice.
As our headteacher Kate Atkins has often said, ‘an outstanding teacher does a lot of these naturally, they are not add-ons, they are part of effective day to day teaching’, and this really hit home with our staff. We are fortunate to have a very innovative and receptive staff team at Rosendale and the training had an instant impact. Many teachers reported that the very next day they were much more aware of the language they were using in the classroom and felt encouraged to model their own thinking more.
Matt Ellis a Year 1 teacher at Rosendale and strong advocate of teaching metacognition to children in EYFS had this to say: ‘The area of the training that was of key importance for me, was that of modelling and talking about learning. Showing at the granular level how learning feels in front of our young learners. We need to not be afraid of showing our learning fears, worries and excitement about the learning process.’
As they say the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Visitors to our school regularly comment on how articulate our children are about their learning and how unafraid they are to take risks, experiment with their learning and learn from their mistakes through reflection and evaluation. Local secondary schools comment on how our children stand out as independent resilient learners. This we see as one of our greatest successes – sending children out in to the world who possess the skills to tackle any obstacles they face and are ready for life’s challenges.