Action Research – Metacognition Part 2

Research in Practice

In order to build the metacognition into my teaching, I knew I needed to start with the way I wanted to continue throughout the year. Students are much more astute and aware of their surroundings and, as the research has suggested, engaging in the dialogue of learning with students and teaching with them rather than to them has a dual effect: it builds the teacher and students’ relationship – which, according to Hattie’s Visible Learning research, accounts as the highest effect size when measuring students’ progress – and it explicitly explains what is in it for the students and how they are responsible and involved in their learning now they have the facts. Therefore making students the ones responsible for their learning (growth mindset).

Figure 1

Growth Mindset – in practice

From September 2015, my goal was to introduce the importance of Mindset to all staff and students.

Figure 2

Ideally, I wanted staff to be aware first so that the mindset rhetoric would feed into as many lesson as possible. This was half successful, with a page in the teacher planner being dedicated to explaining the basics of mindset, and also an optional training session for staff. This was attended by around 20 members of staff from a variety of areas in the school. It was an opportunity to introduce the key research and prejudices we are prone to. (figure 1). I ran the session similarly to the way I introduced the students so that the Mindset ‘diet’ was the same. I introduced some praise phrases and asked them to pick which they would identify as liking to receive. As these were a mixture of fixed, growth and dependent mindset comments, it allowed the conversation to develop into our own personal mindsets and therefore how we influence those children in the lives around us due to this. I showed some examples of strategies in the classroom; both long and short term, that staff could incorporate in order to address students’ mindsets. Over all the feedback for this session was very positive. (figure 2) with many staff commenting on the ease with which they could begin incorporating strategies to encourage a growth mindset in their classroom.

Translating this into my classroom practice was also a priority with all of my classes as I wanted students to be aware of the way they thought about English and approach learning in my classroom over the academic year.

Another member of staff, Sam Cook, the Learning Dispositions Coordinator, also asked me to deliver a growth mindset lesson for some of his Key Stage 3 students too, to help understand how to approach teaching this from a pedagogy stand point and how the students would react to the research.

Figure 3

I began the lesson by addressing common misconceptions about what it takes to be a great learner. There were lots of responses about ‘listening’ and ‘copying what was on the board’ (figure 3). As you can see from this starter activity my other aim was to see how many students chose to complete all the tasks or only one of them. Colour coding was one way I wanted to introduce differentiation into my lessons too, as the colours would indicate the effort they put in. Again, for the first attempts – I found the majority did one or two but not all three.

The lesson followed a series of quizzes and personal tasks, asking students to identify which praise they liked, which statement fitted them and where they ended up on the flow diagram (figure 4) before allowing them to see the definitions of Growth, Fixed and Dependent mindset.

Students were then asked to reflect on what they had learnt as a consolidate activity and note down things they needed to remember when they were learning. The act of reflection and writing in their own words was also a pedagogical approach from Make It Stick to ensure students remembered what they had been taught.


The reflections from the Learning Dispositions Coordinator, after teaching this to his students were positive:

“Hi Jemma

Thank you so much for coming into my lesson during your free time to demonstrate mindset this morning. The pupils and I learnt so much from the lesson! It was really interesting to see pupils responses to what they perceive what is an outstanding learner and the pupils their response to their mindset”

Of course, students cannot show progress and full understanding within one lesson and therefore it was not enough to just teach this as a one off lesson. Students can show their performance of their new knowledge (Didau: What if everything We Knew about Education was Wrong) but until they have remembered it and applied it, we cannot say they have taken on the new learning of Growth Mindset on board. With this reflection in mind, I created a min scheme of learning entitled ‘Thinking about Learning’ to be delivered before teaching the curriculum in which I continued to incorporate Mindset.


Thinking and Learning lessons

The first scheme I wanted to teach all my year groups from year 7 through to year 12 was thinking about learning. AS you can see in (figure 6) I chose to be completely open about the research and where the information has come from so the students could develop trust with myself and also the credibility that Willingham has identified as a precursor to lack of progress and students being disengaged.

The first lesson of the scheme took them through the idea of memory and how we forget what we have learnt. (figure 7)

This was coupled with several activities and quiz questions that tested their preconceptions of the ways they think of learning against what has been proven to work, according to the research.

As you can see in (figures 8 and 9), I addressed the ways in which I wanted to give feedback to the students for their work and the way I wanted to teach my schemes because of what the research told us. This enabled the students to see my thinking and provide the credibility and ‘proof’.

The second lesson was tied into the growth mindset lesson taught previously and applied to the method I wanted to use for marking. To encourage independence I wanted the students to interact with the marking and feedback rather than become dependent and passive. I created a MAD time mark sheet for students to use when I mark. The students would see numbers in their margin to indicate a certain mistake. It would be the students responsibility to look up what the number means and read the guidance to then improve or correct their errors.

This dependence was developed further in this lesson with the introduction of the progress stickers. I designed these to help students take responsibility for their own progress and take ownership of how they were progressing through the year. Using the growth mindset thought process I took them through how this worked and why they want to aim for beyond expected progress. This was something students have used all year and every term have recorded their progrerss. Students are now seeing, at the end of the academic year, how they have progressed in their subject are and, particularly my year 10 students, have noticed their progress and how far they have come.

In addition to the growth mindset lesson and applying it to the marking and tracking progress, I also encouraged students to use the resources around them. Therefore, this display (figure 12) is an example of the growth mindset display I created that was designed as a constant reminder about the effort the students need to put into their owkr in order to do well. This has also encouraged me and altered my phrasing in the classroom. I often find I now say ‘this is a challenging task’ ‘it will take time to master’ ‘if we are struggling then we are learning and improving’.

Finally, as part of this mini scheme, I wanted to provide students with tangible and transferable learning tools that would help students revise and learning in all areas. Again, using the strategy of explaining where the research has come from, I asked students to go around the room and read the 9 strategies. They had to use elaboration (one of the strategies) to write down, their own words, what the learning tool was and how it could be used.

(see figure 13 and 14)

On reflection of this scheme, I do feel it was a lot of information at once – and could further be differentiated in terms of year groups – especially as a whole school initiative – ‘drip feeding’ elements each year and building on the knowledge of learning to learn would have a more consistent and long term effect on the students.

I did have a positive experience in terms of the students’ reaction to the information, being treated like adults in their learning and responsible allowed them to feel like they were involved and many students said so. I even had some interesting conversations with year 7 students on their learning and how their parents were reading and telling them similar things.

Incorporating metacognition throughout the year

Now I had taught my students the methods I wanted to use, I began incorporating these into my schemes, designs and pedagogy on a daily basis. A few examples I will explain below.

(figure 15) This is an example of interleaving (Willingham) for year 11. It covers the final year revision of all topic areas. I developed this interleaving for all the topic areas with areas in black key places for low stakes testing to help them prepare. This covered the other research findings which identified testing often help students recognise key mistake and errors.

Another example of interleaving with year 10 poetry can be seen in (figure 16). Here I wanted to incorporate Didau’s explain circle for creating a scheme which developed students’ independence through building the confidence of students. The colour coding (which I also shared with students) showed how I began with explaining how to analyse a poem, modelled it, talked though it and then gradually pulled back the help leaving the scaffolding in places. Finally, the purple shows where the students were required to use their growth mindset and confidence built throughout the scheme in order to analyse poetry on their own. This is a requirement of the GCSE too so was a tool they can take with them and apply elsewhere.

Retrieval practice is something I have made much use of with year 10 and year 8 studying of texts. (Figure 17). As a way of measuring progress rather than performance these have been placed as my connect activity of the next lesson to see how much students have remembered / learnt from the previous lesson. This has had a positive impact on students’ view of testing but also a clear way for students to see how much they know.

Alongside this openness, I have kept track of these low stakes tests as seen in (figure 18). Using my own pedagogical approach of FAIL SAIL TAIL (first, second and third attempt in learning) students have been scored and then reflected on their performance – keeping track of how they have done and where they need to improve.

Calibration and Reacting to Feedback

At the beginning and end of every scheme for each year group I have tied in a routine way of approaching the skills to aid the students in their progress and understanding of their learning.

(figures 19 and 20) are both examples of these. With 19, it shows an example of feedback that the students have asked for and help they requested in order to improve. IN 20, this is an example of a calibration activity: students identified what they thought they felt for each skill – then were tested and re-reflected in the “truth” to show that their brain can sometimes trick us into the way we think about our knowledge.

Both activities had encouraged students to really be on board with the tasks and also take them seriously. Year 8 for example have significantly improved in terms of their effort, even when given difficult tasks. This is surprising with many of the students I have in that class, to see them pushing themselves to improve because the feedback in a lot of cases is instant. This is always an issue in English as things take a while to mark so this strategy I have found has had really positive responses from the students.

Flash cards are another method I have used with significant impact on students revision techniques and methods. There is a lot of content to remember for GCSE and figure 21 is an example of a flashcard for a poem. The questions on one side the answers on the back and again it is one way for students to have a piece of work that can be used to revise from with any one. And students know this is a tested method that words. I had really positive responses from Year 11 using this method in preparation for their English literature GCSE, both last year and this year. It is definitely one that I will be continuing to use.

Overall Impact

From my own personal perspective in taking on this research and actively incorporating it in my lessons, I feel it has significantly improved my knowledge and therefore my confidence in my delivery. I know I have research that backs up and supports what I teach the students and I can say so. This confidence has translated into the classroom and I feel really helped me build the credibility and rapport with the students that so essential to ensuring students make good progress.

When we look at more concrete impact and the data of students over the year we can see the progress they have made. Year 9 is the first set of data with students highlighted to indicate how much progress they have made this year. 6 students making outstanding progress; 8 making good progress and 10 making expected progress. 4 students haven’t yet made expected progress.

So over all 35% made expected progress and 50% made beyond expected progress. When we consider year 8 students progress we can see that 6 students have made outstanding progress; 6 have good progress; 13 have made expected progress with only 2 not making expected progress in this set 2 class. (3 students with no KS2 data). So, 44% made beyond expected progress and 48% made expected progress.


Both examples of data here have come from half termly assessments and an end of term test. Each half term they sit an assessment that tests the knowledge and skills taught in the new schemes I have created. Each scheme I have developed this academic year has incorporated the metacognitive strategies that I have addressed though out this evaluation. These final figures reflect the progress students have made this year based on KS2 data and where they are heading at the end of the academic year and beyond.

When we look further at the KS4 data we see a similar pattern however not as extreme as KS3 with 45% of year 10 student on expected progress and 80% of year 11 expected to get a C or above in their final exams.

On reflection of the data, it is clear that for high impact metacognitive strategies have to come into students’ educational careers much earlier to help them prepare mentally and also have the tools needed to approach their exams and futures independently and resiliently.

There is a question of using form time to help aid in this however for these strategies to work and be fully embedded within the school it has to be part of the ethos of staff and students. Whole staff training is essential with a clear teaching and learning focus on how to embed these into the daily practices of teaches and their delivery of the curriculum. If form time is to be used, like with BLP, then there must be a connection between form “activities” and what happens in the classroom – something that ties both together and form metacognitive activities are interweaved with what goes on in the classroom.

Finally, I feel there needs to be a step by step guide to introducing these to students. Growth mindset I feel is the baseline for students and was clearly really taken on board by the younger students. It was good to revisit and remind the year 8 and 9 students particularly when things became challenging however as Mindset plays such a big role in the students’ responsibility to engage with their learning I feel it should come first. After Mindset in year 7, year 8 students could move onto memory techniques and feedback strategies to build on the need for students to use their growth Mindset and improve their work and have a go at challenging tasks. This would then leave year 9 to work on the more demanding pedagogies like calibration and elaboration.

Again, I feel, as much as this has worked for my students on the whole in my classroom, if you want a bigger impact on progress then these strategies need to become part of the ethos of the school and be the driving message to students particularly in light of the new, more demanding GCSEs.

(all figures are below)

Published by krystaljem

The epitome of the cliche those who can't do... teach. More specifically English and Media... Oh one can dream can't they? My passion is creating: poetry, fiction, baking, clothes. I like to try my hand at anything. I love the escapism and have respect for anyone who can eliciate an emotion from me from their work! I hope that one day I can evoke that others.

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