Teaching for Metacognition/Document

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1 Developing your teaching: metacognition and teaching for learning

Metacognition is broadly thought of as ‘thinking about thinking’ and enables us to become effective learners. As such, it has an important function in any model of teaching which requires pupils to identify how they are going to approach tasks and activities, which checks on pupil understanding and which evaluates how pupils are progressing towards the completion of a task or activity.

Teaching for metacognition There are five elements in lessons which use metacognitive approaches successfully:

  • Concrete preparation: setting the scene for the pupils by explaining the focus and direction of the lesson. This will include a discussion about the learning objectives and learning outcomes of the lesson, and the way that pupils are going to work in order to meet the specified learning outcomes. It may also require pupils to recall aspects of the subject learned in prior lessons, or to present their ideas about the ‘problem’ being considered in the current lesson.
  • Action: the pupils work on the tasks and activities presented to them – they must, however, be given opportunities to check their work against the expectations that have been set and to question their approach to the work they are doing. Science teachers using the Cognitive Acceleration in Science Education (CASE) approach will know this element as construction. The pupils are asked to think about their ideas about the solutions to the tasks they have been set, and about the reasons for those solutions. Their thinking is also challenged through a process of ‘cognitive conflict’ where situations which do not fit pupil-generated generalisations or match their expectations, have to be reconsidered.
  • Metacognition: here the pupils are given opportunities to outline their thinking about the work they have been doing. The focus is on the evidence for their conclusions. The teacher’s role here is to ask strategic questions which enable all the pupils to identify the key aspects of the problems they have been working on.
  • Bridging: this element of the lesson is very important in making the pupils see how what they have learned in one lesson relates to other aspects of their learning. It plays an obvious role in focused starters and plenaries, and also in the transitions between one lesson episode and the next.
  • Mediation: teachers need to be sure that the pupils understand the nature of the tasks and activities they have been allocated, to keep pupils on track and to identify where pupils are having difficulties in engaging with the subject.

1.1 Case Study

A class of Year 8 pupils is being reintroduced to spreadsheet modelling. They are looking at how models can be used to identify when a school fête becomes profitable. They also look at the range of tools and techniques they can employ to make the model more efficient. The teacher focuses on questions and activities that require the pupils to set targets for achievement and understanding.

  • What elements of teaching for metacognition are applied in the episodes of this lesson?
  • How does the teacher build ‘bridging’ into the lesson?
Lesson episode Teaching for metacognition
Starter: the pupils are asked to reflect on their prior learning and to identify the components of a spreadsheet. The teacher questions understanding and uses pupils’ responses to make assessments of the range of knowledge and experience they have. Concrete preparation and bridging

Teacher - What tools do we have in spreadsheet packages that can help us to solve problems? You have five minutes to complete this task.

Episode 2 outlining the aim of the unit – the teacher explores with pupils the benefits of using spreadsheets to create a model, and explains the objectives for the lesson.

Teacher -

  • We are learning about how a spreadsheet can be used to model what will happen if circumstances change. We will learn more about the tools and making the model more accurate.
  • The context will be a school fête but we will consider where else we could use this approach to problem solving.
Episode 3: using and interrogating a model – the pupils load a file from the shared area. The teacher uses this file to point out the key issues that pupils need to consider. The task requires the pupils to work in pairs to identify how the school fête model has been set up and to explore the impact of changing variables. Teacher:
  • How are you doing? Are you on the right track here?
  • What do you need to remember? What did we say about variables in the starter activity?
  • Can you explain why you think changing the variables affects the amount of money the school fête makes?
  • Don’t forget to ask me for help if you need another explanation
Episode 4: making the model more efficient – the teacher discusses the trial-and- improvement method for finding out when the school fête breaks even.

The teacher then introduces a function that makes the process more efficient.

The pupils then use the function to explore its impact on the model.


  • What do you think is happening when we use this function?
  • What do you think the message ‘found a solution’ means?
  • Why do you think the answer is not an integer? Can we have part of a person coming to the school fête?
Episode 5: plenary – reviewing the model – the pupils are asked to consider what makes a good model, and then to reflect on the school fête model they have been using.

For homework the pupils are to collect information about the cost of running two types of mobile phone.


  • Is the school fête model a good model? What makes you think that?
  • How accurate is the model?
  • How can we find out how accurate it is? Can we improve it?
  • What do we need to know if we want to improve it?
  • Where else might this approach be helpful, and why?
Planning for metacognition
Select a lesson plan from your scheme of work for one of the classes you teach.

Use the list of elements and the case study to identify opportunities for developing metacognitive learning.

Identify teacher questions and pupil questions that will help the process. What extra resources will you need to prepare?