Getting metacognition into remote learning

    Published: 03 February 2021

    It is well known that the development of metacognitive skills in pupils can lead to better learning outcomes. In our everyday classroom practice we work hard to reinforce these and create opportunities for pupils to self-regulate, plan, review and understand the learning process to enable them to be more independent. It will come as absolutely no surprise therefore, that pupils with stronger metacognitive skills have often been faring better during periods of remote learning.

    In their Rapid Evidence Assessment on remote learning, the EEF include the supporting of pupil independence with metacognition practice as one of their key suggestions for making remote learning effective. In remote learning settings, research suggests that metacognitive skills can help pupils who procrastinate or have difficulty motivating themselves. Drawing on wider evidence, the EEF also emphasise that it is our disadvantaged pupils who are most likely to benefit from explicit support in developing their metacognition and working independently.

    Skills relating to understanding the learning process and self-regulating go hand in hand with many other formative assessment practices and strategies to develop resilience and self-efficacy. We are always seeking to advance how these are developed in classroom settings (we have made some e-learning videos about this here, including one on feedback and another for TAs), but it could be more useful in the short term to consider ways of incorporating these into remote learning.

    With this in mind, we have here some practical ideas for supporting the development of metacognition in remote learning.

    As a rule of thumb, the aim is to embed the development of the skills into subjects and lessons using prompts and metacognitive scaffolds. Teaching metacognition in discrete sessions can result in pupils not knowing how to apply the generic skills into specific subjects. What we are aiming for is to incorporate opportunities for pupils to be able to plan, monitor and check their work, to build their self-awareness of themselves as learners with the result of improving independence.

    There are many ways that schools may be doing this, and of course some approaches are more suited to older or younger pupils, but here are some suggestions:

    • Supporting self-organisation and time use. Provide manageable daily plans or tasks as a checklist so pupils can monitor their progress and get the motivating, satisfying hit of crossing things off the list. This could include timetabling suggestions, taking into account breaks, which, can act more as a scaffold to help learners manage their own time and breaks, as they become more confident with self-regulating.
    • Modelled or guided strategies that pupils can independently apply. These could be via short videos or a document where pupils have the clear instructions to return to, rather than needing to ask you.
    • Following from that - providing reminders or prompts for strategies that pupils can use if they get stuck. This could be reminding of the success criteria, looking back in books for explanations or using an internet resource.
    • If there is a ‘live’ teaching part of the lesson, encourage discussion about strategies for getting started, how pupils plan to do an activity or what the pupils understand about the learning process. These opportunities for talk can be a chance for pupils to reflect on their own understanding and magpie ideas from peers.
    • Provide scaffolds for planning for pupils to complete. This is something we may do for younger pupils but remains a useful way of helping pupils organise their work even as they get older. For Key Stage 2 writing, James Durran’s device for focussing pupils on the purpose and audience and generating ideas to include can be useful, but simple scaffolds with some examples included can help with organising content in all subjects at all ages and help overcome the daunting ‘getting started’ hurdle.
    • Use checklists to help pupils review and reflect on their work before they send it back to you. For example, ‘did I remember to …’ checklists or, for writing activities, having an appropriate ‘every time we write’ checklist that may be less activity specific than the success criteria.
    • Similarly, include ‘stop-gaps’ or ‘mini-breaks’ into the activity to scaffold pupils pausing regularly (after, say, a few sentences) to re-read and check against checklists or for technical errors. This approach works well in the classroom, and could be beneficial in remote settings for pupils to get into the habit of frequently reviewing what they are doing.
    • Create opportunities for self-checking and pupils monitoring their own progress. One example of how this could be done is through the pupil marking some of their own retrieval practice activities. Dylan Wiliam frequently emphasises that retrieval activities should be ‘low-stakes’ and so it isn’t necessary for these to become teacher-marked quizzes. They could keep a log of their performance for their own purposes and use that to inform the questions they would like to ask of the teacher or the areas they think they need to develop. Being able to self-validate and notice one’s own progress is an important element of metacognition which can support self-motivation and independence.
    • For primary children, consider providing some prompts or suggestions in activities for parents placing them in the talk-partner/coaching role rather than trying to ‘be teacher’. Parents may not know that struggle and making mistakes is helpful for the learning process and may feel under pressure to over-correct their child’s work. Suggestions could be things like: ‘read your child’s writing back to them and ask them if they can see anything they think needs changing’, or ‘identify an example where your child has used their capital letters and full-stop correctly and ask them if there are other places they can see that, or think they may need to include them’.
    • Build self-reflection and self-evaluation into activities with prompts, questions or resources. A chance for pupils to reflect on things like: what they found interesting or curious, what built on what they knew before, what went well with their approach or understanding and what they think they need support or input with. Important to a wider view of self-awareness and regulation can be adding reflection for how they felt about what they did or how it felt when they got stuck or when they worked an answer out, and so on. For younger pupils this can be a simply ‘daily high five’, or a ‘top three’ looking to identify instances when the pupil felt successful, was interested in something, corrected an error in their work etc.
    • This self-reflection can also be expanded to allow writing for pleasure to give space for processing experiences. Writing down thoughts and feelings helps pupils to externalise and identify emotions and build self-awareness.  Emotional self-awareness and regulation play an important part in developing metacognitive skills and at this time pupils may have a lot in their head that can distract and overwhelm them.
    • Allow for pupil choice where appropriate. This may be particularly applicable in self-directed activities, perhaps including those away from screens. Using a chat stream to briefly report on what they have done can provide an element of peer accountability and encouragement.
    • Use live 1:1 or small group sessions for teacher or peer coaching where the learning, reflecting and evaluation process is discussed and modelled and pupils can share their self-reflections.

    There of course will be many other approaches for embedding metacognitive practice in remote learning and we’d love to hear your suggestions via email or on Twitter at @hertsassessment.

    And finally, if you would like to talk about any of the ideas discussed or how they could work with your pupils, please contact

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